Martin Fujiki

MARTIN FUJIKI

Martin Fujiki. F-U-J-I-K-I.

OK. If you are looking for, um, a characterization of language development, I think you would say it’s very interactive, that, uh, even before a child starts talking you have mother-child or father-child interacting and that father or mother would be providing a lot of support for the interaction that, uh, the child might burp and the mother says ‘Oh, you’re done eating.’ Uh, and she treats that child like a conversational partner, even when the child has no sense of communicating. And, uh, in addition to that, the parents or the caretakers will be scaffolding the child so they might be looking at a book and the parent says--would say, ‘Here’s a ball. This is a ball. Look at the ball. What is this?’ And the child goes, ‘Ba,’ and ‘Oh, you said ball.’ So the child is very successful. And then in addition to that, parents are modifying their speech. They’re talking in shorter utterances, there’s a lot of intonational variation, uh, doing a lot of things to make, uh, their speech signal more interesting and you get all of that going on before the child even speaks and so one of the real signs of, uh, normal development is the child should be very interactive and as long as--could be--because parents are doing all these things and normal kids are responding to them. If the child isn’t responding, that’s a danger sign very early. Now, one thing to keep in mind is that the course of normal development from child to child is highly variable, but, uh, in terms of just landmarks, you’d say at around a year, you get first words and that can actually vary from 10 months to 20 months and still be normal. But around a year you get first words and then by about a year and a half, uh, you start having two words put together into combinations and at about that same time, you get an explosion of vocabulary, so, very rapid vocabulary growth. Uh, the child just seems to be learning new words so fast you can’t count them all. That before that time when you would say--you could ask the mom, ‘How many words does your child have?’ and she would so ‘Oh, seven,’ and she could name them all. And after that it would--the correct answer after that time would be, uh, ‘Oh, I don’t know. There’re just too many.’ Um, as you go along, uh, the actual time that the child starts is not as important as the rate, uh, within certain bounds. If you have a seven-year-old, of course, who isn’t talking, that’s a problem. But, um, whether the child starts at a year or 20 months, um, that doesn’t matter so much as that once the child starts, the child goes very rapidly. And if the child doesn’t go rapidly, that’s another danger sign that, uh, if, you know, the child has one word at 12 months and three words at 20 months and five words at 24 months, then that’s something to be a little concerned about. Um, it’d be much better to not have any words at 12 months, two words at 20--or at 12 months, two words at 20 months, and then, uh, 35 words at 24 months and a hundred words at 30 months, you know, that would be much more normal. Uh, when you get into the, uh, oh, ages of two, three, four, uh, you start seeing a lot of syntax develop and, uh, here again a lot of the things that kids do are going to be--uh, they’re going to make a lot of mistakes, but they’re the kind of things that parents look at and think are very cute. Um, you know the cute things that kids say, um, like, uh, ‘Boy running,’ instead of ‘The boy is running,’ or, um, ‘In the truck go,’ or you know, you--you get all these odd things and odd errors, but they’re really nothing to be concerned about in a normal child, because it just shows the child is learning and, uh, parents tend to ignore those things too. Those errors of form that if the child, um, says ‘There’s the giraffe’ and it’s really a lion, a parent’s going to correct that, the error of meaning, but if the child says, uh, um, something like, ‘There go donkey,’ or ‘There go horsy,’ uh, if it’s really a donkey or really a horse, the parent’s not going to fix that syntax. A--and that’s very normal. And, um, you see a lot of errors, but kids tend to correct errors and they learn from those errors and, uh, you see a lot of syntactic growth during that age of three, four, five. Um, when you hit the later years, like six, seven, eight, nine, uh, one of the big things that happens is the kind of a jump to literacy at about four, five, six, somewhere in there depending on how much exposure the child has had. And we don’t know if that’s triggered by some developmental mechanism or by the actual exposure to print, uh, probably some combination of both. But when kids--normal kids hit that, they just seem to take off in their language abilities. And frequently, uh, if you have someone who is having a problem then that’s going to separate them out at that point. Uh, development in those later years is more subtle. You don’t see these rapid changes, but a lot of things are still going on. Uh, kids are learning a lot about, um, communicating, a lot about the social aspects of communicating. Uh, they’re learning that you have to provide proper background information in order to be understood, that you can’t just run in and--and say what’s on your mind, you have to provide a proper context for it. Um, they’re learning to process much more sophisticated syntax. Um, if you had someone three years old and you said, ‘The boy, who is mean, chased the girl,’ that that would probably be very hard for the child to process. But then when you get to kids who are in elementary school, especially in the upper grades, those kind of things are very common. Um, another change that happens is kids have a better sense of what we call ‘mental linguistical awareness.’ In other words they can focus on language for language’ sake. Uh, before the--uh, about five or six, if you asked a child to correct an error, like you said, ‘What’s wrong with this sentence? The man is taking the bus.’ The child might say, uh, ‘Well, men don’t ride buses, they drive cars.’ You know, they would focus on meaning, whereas after five or six, with this ability to focus on the language itself, then they could fix the syntactic error, uh, and--and they could--you know, they are able to fix sentences like, if you said, ‘The--the boy are running,’ they could tell you what was wrong with it and--and how to fix it. And--and that really lays a foundation for , uh, understanding more, uh, difficult figurative forms, idioms and metaphors and similes and all these things we associate with uh, more sophisticated language.

Well, i--in terms of, uh, looking at language impairment, um, and--and trying to decide what language impairment is, most of us learn language--uh, there are things that happen that make it possible and--and we have a lot of abilities that make it happen, but we don’t really work at it. Uh, for a child with language impairment, this would be a child who had to approach language in the same way that some of us approach math. OK. It would be something that we would have to work at. It would be hard. Um, that--it would not come easily or naturally. Um, and it tends to be reflected by--uh, across the spectrum it--it would be different in different children, but you usually have, uh, immature syntax, uh, smaller vocabulary, but in normal kids we have what’s called ‘fast mapping’ that normal children will hear a word once and they’ll--they’ll be able to use it, particularly if it’s a word that you don’t want them to say. But, uh, just for typical words, they will hear it once and be able to use that word. Um, kids with language impairment frequently have a very hard time learning words and--and, you know, they’ll have to have many exposures to learn them. Uh, so you have the--the grammatical part, you have the semantic part, and you also have, for many children, a--a more pragmatic part which focuses on how they actually use language to interact with other people. And they may, um, not understand that you have to provide proper background for someone to understand you so they just blurt out what they’re thinking and, of course, it--it looks bizarre to everybody else. Um, they may not be very responsive so when someone asks them a question, they don’t respond in the same way that normal kids do. That normal kids have a sense that if someone asks you a question, that it’s obligatory that you respond in some way and they may choose not to respond, but at least they know that socially it’s appropriate to respond. Uh, kids with language impairment frequently don’t have that understanding for whatever reason. And there’s an interesting study where, uh, some researchers looked at kids in a preschool and looked at the normal interactions and found that children with language impairment frequently ignored the conversational bids of other kids. So other kids would ask questions or make comments to them and these kids would ignore them. And it was interesting that in turn, the normal kids frequently ignored the children with language impairment. So you ha--really have a--a breakdown in the interaction between the--the normal kids and the kids with language problems. And, um, of course, you know, if you don’t interact well to begin with, and you have poor interactions, it probably discourages you from interacting further. Uh, one thing that is kind of interesting about language impairment, uh, and people have called this ‘the perverse nature of language impairment,’ in the sense that it changes with context so you may have a child who at five has a lot of difficulty with syntax and vocabulary and a lot of difficulty expressing, uh, thoughts and feelings and so, uh, you work with that child and you bring their expressive language up to, um, age level and you think, ‘Well, great, you know, I--I’ve solved this problem,’ and then that child goes along and gets to be seven, eight, maybe nine, it--usually third or fourth grade where they hit the context of the classroom where instruction is now all language-based. So, all the instructions are in language, there aren’t a lot of contextual con--cues anymore. It’s all language. You have to get what to do from the language. And now this child has problems again and i--in one sense you could say ‘Well, hi--this is a new problem.’ Well, no, it’s not a new problem, it’s this old language problem just resurfacing now in a different context ‘cause you’ve made the context more difficult that, um, all the sudden it becomes harder for that child. Um, it’s a little like the process of second language learning where you can achieve a certain level of, um, fluency, a conversational fluency much faster than you can achieve the--the sophistication of language necessary to go to school in that second language. And there’s a parallel there in the sense that a child with language impairment, uh, can achieve that conversational fluency a--about, uh, social topics, sometimes much easier than the kind of language necessary to really go to school, which is much more demanding.

Well, you know that--if we ask what causes language impairment, that’s a very good questions and one that we don’t have a firm answer for. Um, it’s my guess that there’s probably some subtle neurological difference that, uh, uh, underlies the language problem and, uh, that that is complicated by the fact that you’ve got a child who does not interact normally and does not respond when a parent, um, stimulates and talks to the child. You know parents do all this , uh, motherese or baby talk or child-directed speech and it all looks pretty silly if you do--you have a child who’s not responding and so the tendency is to not do it. You know the reason we do it is ‘cause we’re reinforced, you know, that the baby smiles or laughs at us when we do that. And if you have a child who has difficulty with language and doesn’t respond, then the tendency is not to give them that kind of interaction or not to participate in those kinds of interactions and uh, so that doesn’t cause the problem, but it complicates it. And, um, that--I think that over--you know in terms of what exactly causes the problem, we don’t know, but I think it’s probably some kind of subtle neurological thing. It’s probably not parents, you know, parents, unless you have very extreme cases, would not cause the language problem. You know there are situations where you have s--extreme abuse that you see, uh, parents being responsible for the problem, but in most cases that would not be the root of the language impairment. Now you can have--there are some studies that have shown that the amount of interaction can result in, uh, actual differences in IQ later down the road, but, uh, you still have people well within the range of normal, uh, that--that they don’t fall into all the way down to the range of impairment.

Well, if--if we’re trying to decide what’s a delay and what’s a disorder, uh, part of it is we have to decide what we mean by delay. If we mean is this child just a little slow, but will be fine...

(Videographer interrupts and asks Mr. Fujiki to begin over)

When we talk about what’s the di--what’s a language delay and what’s a language disorder, we need to first of all decide what we mean by delay. And if we mean just a little slow, um, then that’s one thing. If we mean, uh, delayed, slow across the board, always will be slow, then that’s another thing. Uh, one of the--the real key differenti--one of the real key things that differentiates, uh, just a little slow, but will be fine, from disorder is rate of growth. And so if you have someone who starts late, uh, if once they start they progress fairly rapidly, fairly normally, that child will probably be fine. Uh, if you have someone who starts late and may be following the normal course of development, but is always slow and it’s always laborious that an indication that you really do have a child with an impairment. Um, one other thing is if you have a child who has difficulty both producing language and understanding language, that’s more serious than someone who just has difficulty producing language. And so that would be another cue if you have a child who, uh, seems to understand everything, but doesn’t talk very much, then that child probably has a better chance than a child who doesn’t seem to understand or talk very much. Um, in the realm--probably want to--here again, one of the big things that would separate out, uh, delay from disorder and--and even perhaps difference from disorder so someone who is maybe learning a second language from someone who is impaired and initially they may look very similar, uh, is how fast they learn. And so if you give them some learning task, um, can they learn those things you’re teaching them fairly quickly or is it just work? Is it laborious to learn them? And that again will differentiate out difference from disorder or--and to some extent, delay from disorder.

OK. When--when we look at language impairment and we look at the natural process of second language learning that initially they look very similar. That you--initially it’s--someone learning, um, a second language is probably going to go through a period of silence where they’re not producing a lot of speech, uh, they’re listening and taking the language in. Um, that may look very much like a child with language impairment. Uh, a child with language impairment’s going to make a lot of errors, uh, have, uh, you know a lot of odd sentences where the syntax is very immature and the vocabulary might be, um, very immature, very limited. Uh, initially, someone learning a second language is going to go through stages that look much like that. I think one of the big differences, though, is that for the second language learner, those errors are almost healthy in the sense that they’re signaling growth, that I’m using the language, I’m experimenting with it and I’m learning from it. Uh, for the child with language impairment those errors indicate disability in the sense that, uh, this is the best I can do. So, uh, on the surface, though, they may look very similar. And in terms of separating them out, I think the first thing you’d want to do is try to get a handle on where is this child in terms of learning a second language. Uh, is this someone who has had very limited exposure? Uh, has this child only been learning the second language for a few months? Uh, you’d want to look at cultural factors. Um, you know, is the child in very different cultural context now? Um, and as you went through factors like, uh, the normal second language learning process, the cultural factors that could be influential, uh, if you can eliminate those things--uh, another would be testing bias that often results from cultural factors, um, you know sometimes a child may look disordered simply because they don’t, uh, understand the cultural rules of the classroom. Um, there’s a--there’s a good example, uh, of a lady from India, this is in a textbook, I can’t remember who wrote it, but I’ll tell it to you anyway and you can decide if you want to use it. There’s a good example, uh, of a lady who is a special educator. She came--comes from India and one of--and gets a job. One of her first assignments is to take this young man with retardation and give him some experience in restaurants. So they go to McDonald’s and he--and she goes in and she doesn’t know where to stand and he pulls her over to the line where the customers are and she thought these were employees and then she doesn’t know what to order and he directs her attention up to the plastic, um, boards overhead with the menus and then the, uh, cashier says, ‘For here or to go?’ and she doesn’t know what that means. And so by the time all this is through, the cashier is looking at the young man with retardation to get her order and tr--and she is the one who’s impaired in that situation. Um, so, you know, cultural factors can come into this. If you look at the cultural factors, the second language learning factors and consider all those and you can elimit the--eliminate them as causes and the child is still having difficulty, then you probably have a disorder. But you’d want to go through all of those other factors first and consider them.

Well, I think both overidentification and underidentification of kids with, uh, language impairment as opposed to second language learners, uh, both of those things are concerning. Um, what has traditionally happened is that children who are culturally different or linguistically different tend to get shoved in into the category of language impairment and when that happens, uh, then a number of bad things happen. That you get put in the special education system and if you’re a normal language learner, that has some real handicaps, some real penalties because in special ed everything is slower, everything is reduced and as--and--and once you get into special education you tend not to get out of special education. I have a--a good friend named Jack Dimico that says ‘Special education is like the Hotel California. You can check in anytime, but you can never leave.’ But, um, so you get into this system and if you’re normal, if you’re a normal language learner, but you get presented with less material, the expectations are less, that you go along from grade to grade to grade and you--you don’t learn what you need to learn. You don’t get the material that you need to learn to really be competitive later on. So, that’s typically what has happened in the past to kids with special edu--with, uh, cultural differences and language differences, linguistic differences. Uh, they’re treated like they are language impaired because superficially they may look like kids with language impairment. Now, with more awareness, sometimes we see the opposite happing--happening that, uh, now we don’t put anybody who is culturally or linguistically different into special education and some of those kids are disordered, are impaired and some of them really do need special education and special help. And so, um, because we’re being so careful not to put these kids into special education then those kids who actually need it don’t get put in either.

Well, I think--I think it’s very important to realize that when a child has a language impairment that this is going to affect their, um, productive language and their understanding, but it will also have strong implications for their academic development that will have strong implications for their social development. Um, in a--and we’ve known for some time that kids who have language problems also have difficulty with reading, spelling and all of those things are just extensions of spoken language and, uh, they’re just more difficult. And so they’re most likely going to be impacted by a language impairment. Uh, some--something we found out fairly recently is those same kids have problems socially and they’re the kids who don’t have friends, they’re the kids who tend to be rejected by peers, uh, so you have a lot of things working against you and a lot of things to be aware of as a teacher or a special educator that we can’t just say, ‘Well, OK. We have a child with language impairment, we’re going to treat the language and then that child will be fine.’ Uh, you know, the metaphor that we sometimes use is, uh, we sometimes treat these kids like, uh, our cars. You know, something’s wrong with our car, we take it to the mechanic, he replaces--or she replaces a part and the car’s fine and you drive off. Well, if you treat kids with language impairment like that and you work just on the language, you find that there are a lot of other areas that don’t get addressed that--that tend to be problematic.

Well, you know there was a story I wanted to share with you. Um, uh, we were doing a research project where we had two, uh, students, two research assistants with camcorders videotaping different children on the playground ‘cause we wanted to see if, um, some of the social problems we had seen in classrooms and that teachers had rated kid--uh, the teachers had told us about, uh, actually carried over to the playground. And you might think playgrounds, uh, are, you know, not very language oriented, necessarily, maybe someone with just a language impairment might do fine out there. But, uh, what we found was that kids are--with language impairment are just as withdrawn on the playground as they are in the classroom. But we--we videotaped one little incident that was really telling. That we had two camcorders going and in one camcorder we happened to catch this little group of normal girls and they were plotting to go up to this child with language impairment and tease her. And then on the other camcorder, just by chance, we catch these girls coming up to this girl, one at a time, and they’re saying these very nasty things to this child, um, and they’re all--but they’re all very, um, sarcastic in the sense of ‘Oh, we love your clothes. We wish we had dresses like that.’ And then they would run away. And this child sat there and didn’t really understand what they were saying, that they were being so nasty because, um, you know, she really didn’t react. And then another little girl comes in and says ‘You know, they’re being nasty to you. They’re being mean to you and--uh, but I like you.’ So trying to, you know, to balance this out and this child didn’t react to that either. She didn’t, for whatever reason, didn’t process the bad or the good very well. So, uh, she doesn’t know when she’s being taunted, but at the same time, she doesn’t really realize when someone is trying to befriend her. And so you can see how the language problems and then these various social problems all kind of interact with each other.