Assessment of minority language skills in English-Irish-speaking bilingual children: A survey of SLT perspectives and current practices

Linda Mulgrew, O Duffy, Lynda Kennedy

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Background: An increasing number of children in the UK and Ireland are growing up speaking more than one language. The many advantages of bilingualism are acknowledged; however, this increased linguistic diversity presents particular challenges for speech and language therapists (SLTs). The case is often more complex with speakers of minority languages such as Welsh and Irish, which are acquired almost exclusively in bilingual contexts. Lack of appropriate standardized assessments for bilinguals is a key issue for SLTs internationally; however, little is known about the practices, personal perspectives or wider challenges faced by SLTs in assessing minority language skills. We focus on SLTs working with English-Irish bilinguals across Northern Ireland (NI) and the Republic of Ireland (ROI) where status, use and exposure to Irish differ significantly. Aims: To investigate the perceptions and practices of SLTs in NI and the ROI in the assessment of bilingual English-Irish-speaking children. Methods & procedures: A 33-item online survey was distributed to SLTs working with children in community settings in NI and the ROI. Outcomes & results: A total of 181 SLTs completed the survey. The majority of respondents had bilingual English-Irish-speaking children on their caseloads; however, less than one-quarter had assessed Irish language skills. Responses indicate confusion as to whether best-practice guidelines applied in this particular context where the majority of speakers have English as their first language and limited domains of exposure to Irish outside of the education system. Resources available to assess Irish language skills were found to be limited. Informal analysis of language samples emerged as the most popular assessment tool. SLTs in the ROI had a significantly higher level of competence in the Irish language than SLTs in NI. This reduced the challenge of assessment. Many SLTs reported scoring assessments standardized on monolingual populations when assessing English language skills in bilingual English-Irish-speaking children. Conclusions & implications: Our findings highlight the challenges faced by SLTs in meeting best-practice guidelines in the assessment of speakers of minority languages such as Irish. Further work is needed to ensure clinicians and other professionals have access to information and enhanced training on bilingual language acquisition in minority language contexts and implications for assessment and diagnosis. This study underlines the need for further research on the acquisition of minority languages as well as the development of alternative assessment tools to assist SLTs in meeting the needs of this population. What this paper adds: What is already known on the subject Existing research indicates that SLTs face challenges in assessing bilingual clients. Lack of assessment resources is a global issue, particularly with respect to minority languages. Emerging research indicates that SLTs and other professionals are dissatisfied with current resources for assessing Irish-speaking bilinguals and are struggling to meet best-practice guidelines. What this paper adds to existing knowledge The status of the Irish language differs significantly between NI and the ROI, while English is the dominant language in both areas. This study provides the first exploration of current assessment practices for bilingual English-Irish-speaking children as reported by SLTs across both regions. The challenges of assessing bilingual clients in many other countries are mirrored by SLTs in NI and the ROI. The majority of children acquiring Irish are doing so in a specific context: the immersion education setting. This raises uncertainty for SLTs about whether the definition of bilingualism actually applies. Despite clinicians and clients sharing the same majority language, the complexity of minority language assessment remains. What are the potential or actual clinical implications of this work? SLTs require specific support and resources to help them meet the assessment needs of bilingual English-Irish-speaking children. Ongoing education and training are required for clinicians and other professionals to facilitate understanding of the complexities surrounding bilingual speakers of minority languages and the application of best-practice guidelines. A greater understanding of the context in which children are acquiring Irish and the impact this may have on their acquisition of English would further support clinicians in identifying speech, language and communication needs in this population.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Language and Communication Disorders
Early online date18 Oct 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 18 Oct 2021


  • Multilingualism
  • Assessment
  • Minority Languages
  • English-Irish Bilinguals


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