Welcome! I am so excited to finally launch this blog that I have been working on for quite some time now. This is an easy way for me to share with my fellow speech-language pathologists, as well as with other parents, my journey as a bilingual parent and as a researcher studying a very common, yet practically unknown (to the public) disorder called specific language impairment (SLI), more specifically in bilingual children who live in a linguistic minority context.
To start, let me tell you a bit about myself. I am currently an associate professor in the Speech and language pathology program at Laurentian University in Sudbury Ontario, Canada. I graduated as a Speech and Language Pathologist in 2002 and worked as a clinician for several years before joining the academia world. I was first compelled to pursue my doctoral studies while working for a French School Board, in French-medium schools, and found myself trying to determine if the children I was assessing had language difficulties that were due to a language impairment, or to the fact that they were in the process of learning a second language. More and more English-speaking children are enrolled in French-medium schools, making it increasingly difficult to make this distinction. With very few resources and a lack of standardized tools in Ontario-French, I immediately knew that I needed to find the answers outside of the clinical world, which lead me to submit my application to a PhD program. Fast forward a few years, my thesis "Second Language Learning for Majority-Language children in a Minority Context: Language Impairment or typical second language development?", which I successfully completed in 2013, focused on the assessment and the identification of children with and without SLI in a community where French is the minority language and English is the majority language.
On a more personal level, I am a proud mother of 3 wonderful children and wife to an amazing husband. Together, we are raising our kids bilingual. My first language is French and my husband's is English. We decided even before our first child was born to introduce French as our kids' first language for the simple reason that English is easily acquired in our community since it is spoken by 70% of the population. We wanted to make sure that our kids had a good foundation in French, a minority language, before learning the majority language. It was very important for us to give our kids the gift of bilingualism. Turns out, my husband has benefited from this language structure as well. Over the past 9 years, he has come a very long way in learning French as his second language! Having spent many years in and around the French medium school systems, this is a very common scenario where one parent is French and the other English with their kids attending a French school. This allows me to see, experience and study first hand how this exact scenario impacts the learning and development of my own three children.
In order to gain a broader perspective on the topic, I have also attended several conferences all over the World whenever I can (not a bad perk since I love to travel!). I have had the opportunity to present some of my findings at the National and International levels and have had the distinct pleasure of meeting many of the top researchers in my field. One of my most memorable meetings was with my colleague Elin Thordardottir in Cyprus back in 2009 who shares the same interests...funny how we both had to travel half way around the World in order to meet! We have since collaborated on many studies together and she has been pivotal in helping advance my chosen study. Another very beneficial trip for me was the Bilingual-SLI Conference in Denmark in 2010. I had the privilege of attending a 2-day PhD workshop prior to the start of the conference where I was able to receive input from top researchers such as Dorothy Bishop and Katherine Kohnert, among others. More recently, in Amsterdam-Netherlands (2014), I met a PhD student who was studying under Tina Hickey and learnt that there is a very similar linguistic scenario to the one here in Ontario, except in Ireland English-speaking kids are enrolled in Irish-medium schools to learn Irish, the minority language as a second language! I knew after meeting such wonderful people that this was what I was meant to study!
I came up with the title for this blog "Bilingualism in Ontario: communication disOrders and Typical development (BOOT)" in 2013 with my graduate and undergraduate students as we were trying to find a name for our research group. We have since created several mottos that relate to BOOT such as : "Always one step ahead"; "Innovation, one step at a time" and "An important step in SLP research". My kids came up with the concept for the logo, which I find so fitting since had it not been for them, I would not have had the drive and perseverance to study bilingualism and language impairments in a minority context like I do now.
As a speech-language pathologist (SLP), I always knew the meaning of specific language impairment (SLI), as defined in our textbooks, but I never fully understood what it "looked" like in real life. My next post will focus on how I gained insight on this disorder, both inside and out. In future posts, I will also write about learning two languages in different contexts. Living in Northern Ontario, bilingualism is often forced upon those of us who speak French as a first language. I don't even remember learning English. It just kind of happened! But what if it doesn't "just happen"? Research has shown that children with SLI can learn a second language with adequate support and exposure to both languages. In this blog, I will write about useful ways to increase input in both languages and how to overcome certain difficulties. I will also write about the importance of being involved as a parent and about the conscious commitment that parents need to make when deciding to raise their child bilingual.
Even though French is my first language, I decided to post in English, the Lingua Franca of the world, in order to reach a larger audience. My hopes are to translate each post into French in the near future. However, in the mean time, I encourage readers to post comments or questions in both languages. Thank you for reading!