Language Assessments for Bilingual and Multilingual Children

Parents of multilingual children worry the most if their children will be able to keep up with all the languages and have a sufficient knowledge, proficiency, academically speaking, once they go to school.

Schools do regular language and literacy assessments and even international schools tend to assess the school language only or at least also the dominant language – for example, for a German child living in the Netherlands and attending an English speaking school, the assessment would be focusing on Dutch and English.

As there isn't one test that can be applied to all languages and teachers who evaluate these tests should at least have a basic knowledge of the other languages involved, I always advise parents of multilingual children to make sure their children are not only tested on one or two – usually the most dominant languages – but also on their family languages. In fact, as stated in the article mentioned here below, "SLPs have acknowledged competence in the assessment of monolingual children's speech but must consider additional aspects when assessing the speech of children who speak non-dominant languages and dialects."

If you are a parent of multilingual children and you have the impression that your school is not updated on the latest findings about language and literacy assessments, you may find an assessment in this list to submit to your school.

You want to make sure that during the speech assessment they will identify the presence or absence of SSD* and include referral, case history, assessment of speech production, additional areas of assessment (intelligibility, acceptability, stimulability, speech perception, phonological processing, language, hearing, oral structure and function, nonverbal intelligence, and participation), analysis, diagnosis, and goal setting.

Here is a scientific article about Speech Assessment for Multilingual Children who don't speak the same language(s) as the Speech-Language Pathologist

If you need support on this matter, I offer mediation with schools to make sure your child gets the right assessment and support he / she deserves! – Contact me at

*SSD= Speech Sound Disorders (cfr. from the article mentioned above “Children with speech sound disorders can have any combination of difficulties with perception, articulation/motor production, and/or phonological representation of speech segments (consonants and vowels), phonotactics (syllable and word shapes), and prosody (lexical and grammatical tones, rhythm, stress, and intonation) that may impact speech intelligibility and acceptability” (International Expert Panel on Multilingual Children's Speech, 2012, p. 1).)



Bilingual children can be easily misdiagnosed as having a language disorder. Language tests for bilingual children that are based on English [or another language] assessments are flawed not only because bilingual children may acquire certain language structures differently from monolinguals but because the sequence and rate of acquisition of specific language components varies between different languages. (Helen Grech, Barbara Dodd, Assessment of Speech and Language Skills in Bilingual Children: A holistic approach, Stem-, Spraak- en Taalpathologie, vol15, 2007, No.2, p.87)




What I recommend to do:

Fact is that there are many different tests for assessments that are done with the children.
I would recommend to ask about the testing:

  • What kind of test is used?
  • What exactly is tested – the comprehension of single words, in word chains or without context etc. 
  • It is a very complex set of data that they evaluate and we parents often only are informed about the results.
  • We don't see them... unless we ask. And it is actually our right to see the tests in total. For example, if the teacher says that my child can't pronounce a sound "correctly" this can have many reasons. Either because my child is still acquiring the language and needs more time, or because my child can't hear the difference between a sound and another one he/she knows from another language. 


It can also be that my child mixes similar words in the languages.

For example, "Wie gaat naar school?" (wie= who) in Dutch vs. *Wie geht zur Schule?  in German, but correct German would be Wer geht zur Schule?

The child/person uses "wie" in the "wrong way", because wie also exists in German and means "how", i.e. producing an incorrect question : *How goes to school? (i.e. *Wie geht zur Schule?)

It always depends on what teachers/schools or health practitioners are testing and why.

Always ask questions about:

  • the type of test
  • the reason for the testing
  • the way the test was performed (i.e. did the child really understand what they asked him/her?, was the child given enough time to perform the task?)
  • did they take into account that the child also speaks or understands other languages and what these other languages are?,
  • what is the outcome of the test and the consequences of it,
  • will the test be repeated, and if so, when etc.
  • what will be the next steps the school or health practitioner will take if help is needed?
  • what can we, parents, do to help?
  • what are the consequences for my child?...

One important advice: please make sure that language or literacy tests are not done during transition time! They give false results as the children are still adapting. It is like if someone would test us adults during our first week taking classes in a new language and tell us "you can't work for the company because you're not at the right level"...


Thank you Alison T. for suggesting to add this practical advice!

Please read also my other post about Speech and Language Therapists and Multilinguals

Posted in Bilingualism, Blog, Heritage Language Maintenance, Language Change, Language Development, Language learning, Maintaining Multiple Languages, Multilingual, Multilingual Education, Multilingual Families, Professional Development for Educators of Multilinguals, Raising Multilinguals, Terminology and tagged , , , , , , .

One Comment

  1. Pingback: Speech and Language Therapists and Multilinguals - Ute's International Lounge & Academy

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *