Language Disorder or Language Difference/Limited Proficiency?

Language Disorder versus Language Difference

A language disorder is a significant discrepancy in language skills relative to a child’s age or developmental level. A language difference is a rule-governed language style that deviates from standard usage of mainstream culture.

Children from different cultural backgrounds who are English language learners (ELLs) CAN have a language disorder; however, many ELL children who are referred for a speech-language assessment simply have limited English proficiency. These children have average proficiency in their native, primary language as compared to proficiency in English. As a result, many children are misdiagnosed with a language disorder. It is important for professionals to determine at what stage the child is in terms of being fully competent in English.

Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills versus Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency

Children at the Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS) Stage can use vocabulary that are frequent in the language (English, in this case), produce more or less appropriate grammatical sentences, and can engage in everyday conversations about familiar events and objects. According to Paul and Norbury (2012), it is estimated that it can take a child an average of 2 to 3 years of exposure to and experience with English to achieve BICS. It is important to remember that children at the BICS stage, while appearing to be fluent in English, will present with difficulties succeeding at the academic level and therefore, appear to have a language-learning disorder. Children at the BICS stage will present with difficulties reading higher level texts that require adequate comprehension, producing written discourse (i.e. argumentative and compare/contrast essays), using and understanding subject-specific (i.e. science) vocabulary, and engaging in cognitively demanding communication.

According to Paul and Norbury (2012), it is estimated that to achieve Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP), it can take at least 5 to 7 years.

Despite what stage your child is at, your child CAN present with a language disorder if it is also present in your child’s native, primary language. If there is a language disorder present in the native, primary language, your child may present with difficulty moving past the limited English proficiency/BICS stage. 

How can I determine if my child has a language difference or a disorder?

With careful assessment, a speech-language pathologist can reveal a language difference or disorder. It is important to reveal whether there is a language disorder present in the child’s native language; therefore, an initial evaluation in the child’s native language is pertinent to determining if it is a lack of proficiency in English or if there is a disorder present.

What are some examples of language differences?

The child (or adult’s) native language can have an influence on English. See below for some general examples:

  • Spanish-Influenced English
    • Verbs
      • May leave off the regular past -ed on verbs
      • Copula may be produced as “have” such as “I have 10 years versus “I am 10 years old”
      • Future tense go + to, such as “I go to have dinner” versus “I am going to have dinner”
    • Nouns/Pronouns
      • Possessive markers substituted by prepositional phrases: “the doll of my sister” versus “My sister’s doll”
      • Possessive markers substituted by articles: “I cut the arm” versus “I cut my arm”
      • Plural s (dogs, cats, hats) omitted
      • Articles (the, a, an) often omitted
      • Subject pronouns may be omitted: “John is sick. Got flu” versus “John is sick, he has the flu”
      • The word “more” is used as a comparative: “He is more tall” versus “He is taller”
    • Negatives
      • “No” replacing “don’t” such as “No go too fast” versus “Don’t go too fast”
      • “No” replacing “not” such as “She no go to work” versus “She is not going to work”
    • Questions
      • “Do” is optional: “You want some?” versus “Do you want some?


  •  Asian Languages and their Influence on English
    • Verbs
      • “to be” verb omitted or improperly used: “I is going” or “I going”
      • Auxiliary “do” may be omitted or improperly used: “He not going” or “He do not go”
      • Regular past tense -ed may be omitted or overgeneralized: “I have eat” or “I have eated”
      • Errors with noun-verb agreement: “You goes” versus “You went”
    • Nouns/Pronouns
      • Plural -s may be omitted or overgeneralized: “two dog” or “the sheeps”
      • Errors with possessive markers: “him book” versus “his book”
      • Errors with comparatives: “he is gooder” versus “he is better”
    • Negatives
      • Double marking: “I didn’t hear nothing” versus “I didn’t hear anything”
      • Simplified marker: “He no want” versus “He doesn’t want”
    • Questions
      • No reversal of auxiliary verb: “You are going?” versus “Are you going?”

(Paul, R. & Norbury, C., 2012)


If you believe your child has a language disorder and does not present with a language difference or simply limited English proficiency, it is important to schedule an evaluation with a speech-language pathologist. 



— Amanda Hammer, M.A. CF-SLP, TSSLD



  • Paul, R., & Norbury, C. (2012). Language disorders: From infancy through adolescence: listening, speaking, reading, writing, and communicating (Fourth ed.). St. Louis, MO: Elsevier.

Facilitating Pronoun Use

What is a Pronoun?

A pronoun is a word that is used to replace a noun or noun phrase. There are many different types of pronouns:

  • Objective: Receives the action of the verb
    • My father bought me a car.
    • The doctor gave you a shot.
    • The clown gave her a balloon.
    • Take a picture of him.
    • He bought it.
    • My parents bought us a cake.
    • He went to the museum with them.
  • Subjective: Performs the action of the verb.
    • dropped my hat.
    • You jumped on the trampoline.
    • He ate an ice cream cone.
    • She danced in the rain.
    • It fell off the counter.
    • We went to the movies.
    • They went on a school trip.
  • Possessive: Assigns ownership
    • The flowers are mine.
    • The book is yours.
    • The phone is his.
    • The camera is hers.
    • Its petals are falling off.
    • The house is ours.
    • The baby is theirs.

It is important to not confuse possessive pronouns with possessive adjectives (i.e. my house is blue). Possessive pronouns are used to replace the noun, while possessive adjectives are used to describe the noun. 

  • Reflexive: Refers back to the subject
    • I bought myself a camera.
    • You should give yourself some medicine if you’re sick.
    • My brother dressed himself this morning.
    • She smiled to herself.
    • The door locks by itself.
    • We have the house to ourselves this weekend.
    • The children occupied themselves during recess.
  • Demonstrative: Points to something specific in a sentence
    • That is a good idea.
    • This is tasty!
    • Those belong to my father.
    • These are very comfortable.

Estimated Age of Acquisition For Pronouns

  • 12-26 months (1-year to 2-years, 2-months old): I, It, this, that 
  • 27-30 months (2-years, 3-months to 2-years, 6-months): my, me, mine, you
  • 31-34 months (2-years, 7-months to 2-years, 10-months): your, she, he, yours, we
  • 35-40 months (2-years, 11-months to 3-years, 4-months): they, us, hers, his, them, her
  • 41-46 months (3-years, 5-months to 3-years, 10-months): its, our, him, myself, yourself, ours, their, theirs 
  • 47+ months (3-years, 11-months+): herself, himself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, themselves 
  • 5 years old: those, these 

Mastery of pronouns should be achieved by 5-years of age

Activities To Facilitate Pronoun Use At Home

  • I-SPY: The caregiver should go first to model how the game will be played. Bombard the child with the pronouns you want to work on. You can also use a picture scene with various people in the scene if you want to work on the he/she pronouns. To work on the we pronoun, print pictures from various places you and your child go to together (i.e. the movie theater and the grocery store). Example: “We go to this place and buy food” and “We go to this place to see a movie”
    • I spy something black. I wear it on my face. It helps me see. What is it?
    • I spy something red. I like to eat it and it tastes sweet. It is round and it grows on a tree. What is it?”
    • To work on the pronoun “you/your/I”, play I-SPY in your child’s room: “I spy something pink that YOU wear on YOUR feet. I tie the laces for YOU. What is it?”


  • Dollhouse: Using a dollhouse is a great way to facilitate pronoun use, especially if you have multiple dolls. Modeling proper pronoun use through play is a great way to assist your child in carrying the skills learned over into conversation.
    • My doll is the daddy and your doll is the baby girl. Oh no! She is crying! He has a bottle for her. Here you go baby! She is full now and sleepy. Lets put her in the crib now!”
    • “Lets dress the girl doll! She wants to wear a dress and shoes. Oh look! You found a yellow dress, lets put it on her. She looks great! Lets put on her shoes. Now lets dress the boy doll. He wants to wear shorts and a t-shirt. Lets put a blue shirt on him. He really likes the blue shirt and the brown shorts. Wow! He looks great! Lets put on his shoes too! Good! Now, they are ready to go to the store now.”


  •  Tea Party: Play tea/birthday party with your child. Set up a girl and boy doll at the  table. First, model pronoun use by giving your child directions. (i.e. “Give him a slice of cake and give her some tea. I want a piece of cake too! Can you give me a piece of cake please?”) Then, have your child give you directions. Pretend you misheard and give it to the wrong doll so that your child can correct you!


Remember, gestures are important when you are modeling pronouns, especially if this is the first time you’re introducing the pronoun! For example, point to yourself when saying I/me/mine and to the child when saying you/your/yours.



–Amanda Hammer, M.A. CF-SLP, TSSLD


  • Owens, R. E. (2008). Language development: An Introduction (Seventh ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education.

Early Verb Acquisition and What to Expect Before Kindergarten

What is a Verb?

A verb is a word that shows:

  • Action: What the person, place, or thing (noun) is doing
    • Examples: jump, swim, dance, hike

action verbs

  • State of being 
    • Examples: is, are, am, appear, become

What Types of Verbs Should You Expect Your Preschooler to Have before Kindergarten?

1.  Present Progressive:

  • Indicates an activity that is currently or was recently in progress. The present progressive adds an -ing to the end of verbs. Remember though, it can only be used with action verbs!
  • Age of Mastery: 19-28 months old
  • Examples: eating, jumping, dancing, skating
  • Activities to Promote Acquisition:
    • Charades: Act out an action (jumping, swimming, dancing, brushing teeth, sleeping), and ask, “What am I doing?” Have your child then act out an action and you guess! Make it fun by giving your child a token/star/block each time he/she guesses the right action!
    • Through Play:  While playing with your child, comment on what he/she is doing (i.e., while playing with a dollhouse, “Oh the mommy is cooking dinner and the baby is sleeping.)
    • Picture Cards with Scenes: Use a scene picture card (see below) and have your child describe what each character is doing.


  • Watching television: While your child is watching his/her favorite television show, comment on the actions of the characters (i.e. “Look! Dora is running!”)

2.   Irregular Past-Tense:

  • An action or state of being that happened in the past. Unlike regular past-tense verbs, irregular past-tense verbs do not use the -ed ending.
  • Age of Mastery:
    • 3-4 years old: hit, hurt, went
    • 4 -5 years old: saw, gave, ate
  • Activities to Promote Acquisition:
    • Always teach functional irregular verbs first (see above age of acquisition)
    • Model: At night, tell your child about your day. (i.e., “I went to the bagel store and ate an egg sandwich. What did you eat?”)
    • During Play: Comment on what happened while you and your child play (i.e., while your child is playing with a toy kitchen, “Oh! You made cookies? Can I have one?” or “Can I have a cookie now? I already ate my dinner and drank all my juice!”)
    • Games: If your child is school-age, you can take a ball (basketball, soccer ball, etc.) and a worksheet with irregular verbs. You can call out a verb, throw the ball to your child, and he/she can call out the irregular form of that verb. If he/she gets it correct, he/she can try to get the basketball into the hoop or kick the soccer ball. Make it fun!

3.  The Verb “to be”:

  • Can be used as the main verb (“I am sick”), or helping verb (“She is singing”). The different forms include: am, is, are, was, and were. Additionally, forms of the verb “to be” are contractible (“I’m going” or “Mommy’s tall”)
  • Age of Mastery:
    • Main verb 27-39 months old
    • Helping verb: 4 years of age
    • Contractible: 4 years of age or later
  • Activities to Promote Acquisition:
    • During Play and Conversation: modeling is important! (i.e., “I am so hungry! Are you hungry? I was not before but now I am! I am going to make dinner! What do you want to eat?”)
    • Picture Books: Using literature is a great way to promote vocabulary growth (including verbs!) While reading, point out what the characters in the story are doing and comment on what they did previously (“Oh look! The hungry caterpillar is eating an apple! He was eating an orange.”)
    • Games: You can also do charades for this verb type! Using picture cards of various animals, pick one out and act out the animal. The child will have to guess using the verb “to be” (i.e. “You are a dog!” “No! I am a cat!)

4.    Regular Past Tense -ed

  • Using a verb to describe something that already happened. It is important to note that this is overgeneralized to previously learned irregular past-tense verbs (i.e., “eated” and “falled”)
  • Examples: jumped, danced, hiked
  • Age of Mastery: 26-48 months old
  • Activities to Promote Acquisition:
    • Games: Simon Says (“Simon says touch your nose — “Great! You listened! You touched your nose! — “Simon says jump up and down” — “Great! You listened! You jumped up and down.” Let the child be Simon after you have modeled and have them comment on what you or did not do) and Red light Green light (“Oh! You moved!”)
    • Picture Books: Comment on what a character has done in the book, or find a book that can allow repetitive use of a verb/verbs, such as “The Mitten” by Jan Brett. You can model for the child, “Oh look! A rabbit climbed into the mitten, a skunk crawled into the mitten, and a bear climbed into the mitten!”
    • Modeling in Play/Conversation: comment on what the child did after playtime/an activity/the day is finished! (i.e., “Oh wow! We washed the car, played a game, and cooked dinner!”)


– Amanda Hammer, MA, CF-SLP, TSSLD


  • Owens, R. E. (2008). Language development: An Introduction (Seventh ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education.
  • Paul, R., & Norbury, C. (2012). Language disorders: From infancy through adolescence: listening, speaking, reading, writing, and communicating (Fourth ed.). St. Louis, MO: Elsevier.


The Role of Phonemic Awareness in Early Reading Development

What is Phonemic Awareness?

Phonemic Awareness is the ability to hear and manipulate the sounds in spoken words, and the understanding that spoken words and syllables are made up of sequences of speech sounds. Primarily, phonemic awareness involves understanding language at the phonemic level. A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound in a language that holds meaning. Phonemic awareness skills include blending, segmenting, deleting, and manipulating phonemes. Phonemic awareness is encompassed in a broader, umbrella term otherwise known as phonological awareness.

What is Phonological Awareness?

Phonological awareness is the explicit understanding of a word’s sound structure (Gillon, G., 2002). As a child develops phonological awareness, the child will not only come to understand that words are made up of phonemes, but also she/he will learn that phonemes can be “put together” to form syllables. Additionally, the child will begin to learn that words have an “onset” (sounds before the vowel in a word) and “rime” (the vowel-consonant combination of a word). Phonological awareness skills include the following: rhyming, alliteration, sentence segmentation, syllables, and onset-rimes.

Phonological Awareness Skills and How to Promote Them With Your Child:

  1. Rhyming:
    1. Discrimination: recognizing when two words rhyme (“Do bat and hat rhyme?” or “Do man and foot rhyme?”)
    2. Production: ability produce a rhyming word (“What word rhymes with log?”)
    3. How to promote this skill with your child: reading rhyming stories (i.e. Dr Seuss books, “Brown Bear”, “Frog on a Log”, “Moose on the Loose”) and sing nursery rhymes (i.e. “Hickory Dickory Dock”, “Its Raining, Its Pouring”, “Jack and Jill”)


  1. Alliteration:
    1. Discrimination: recognizing when two words begin with the same sound (“Do pop and pat start with the same sound?”)
    2. Production: ability to produce a word that starts with the same initial sound as a given word.
    3. How to promote this skill with your child: reading children’s books with alliteration (“Silly Sally” or “Pigs in Pajamas”) and tongue twisters (“Sally sells seashells by the seashore”)


  1. Segmentation of Words in Sentences:
    1. Identifying the words in a sentence
    2. How to promote this skill with your child: The parent can model clapping/tapping each word out as saying a sentence/song aloud. Next, the parent and the child can clap/tap out each word together for a new sentence/song. Lastly, have the child attempt it alone. Blocks can be used as well (i.e. each word represents a block and the child can build a “word tower”) or tokens.

segmenting sentences

  1. Syllables:
    1. Blending Syllables: “I am going to say parts of a word. Tell me what the word is: bas-ket-ball”).
    2. Segmenting Syllables: Counting the number of syllables in a word (i.e. “clap for each syllable you hear in the word basketball“)
    3. Deletion of Syllables: “Say basketball. Now say it without ball”
    4. How to promote this skill with your child: clapping out the syllables in bisyllabic/multisyllabic words, sliding beads on a string for each syllable, or using blocks (each representing a syllable) to build a “word” tower.


  1. Onset-Rime:
    1. The onset is the initial sound of a word and the rime is the vowel+ending of word.
    2. Examples: S-un, S-unshine, p-ig, b-ear
    3. How to promote this skill with your child: use visuals! Fold an image in half, and write the onset on the left side and the rime on the other. Tap the left side while saying the onset, and tap the right side while saying the rime.


Phonemic Awareness Skills and How to Promote Them With Your Child

  1. Blending Sounds: “What word is made up of the sounds b-a-t?”
  2. Segmenting Sounds: “What sounds make up the word bat?”
  3. Deleting Sounds: “What is bat without the /b/ sound?” or “What is bat without the /t/ sound?”
  4. Adding Sounds: “What word do you have if you add a /b/ to the word at?”
  5. Manipulation of Sounds: “What word would you have if you changed the /b/ in bat to a /s/?”
  • How to promote these skills with your child: Games, toys, crafts and songs!

make learning fun with this playdough phonemic awareness kids activityphonemicshark phoneme.jpg

The Importance of Phonemic/Phonological Awareness for Early Reading Development


  • Phonemic Awareness prepares children to learn the alphabetic principle.
  • Fundamental to mapping speech to print
  • Helps children read (decode) new/unfamiliar words
  • Promotes spelling skills


If your child struggles with reading fluency and comprehension, he/she may not have a solid basic understanding of phonemic/phonological awareness, and may need the assistance of a speech-language pathologist to address these deficits.


– Amanda Hammer MA CF-SLP TSSLD


  • Gillon, G. (2002). Phonological Awareness Intervention for Children: From the Research Laboratory to the Clinic. The ASHA Leader, 7(22), 4-17. doi: 10.1044/leader.FTR2.07222002.4.
  • “Bringing Letter Sounds to Life: Merging Phonemic Awareness and Phonics” by Marianne Nice (M.S. CCC-SLP) and Amy Leone (M.S.T. CCC-SLP)
  • Adams, M. J., Foorman, B. R., Lundberg, I., & Beeler, T. (1998). The elusive phoneme: Why phonemic awareness is so important and how to help children develop it. American Educator, 22(1-2), 18-29.
  • Smith S. B., Simmons, D. C., & Kame’enui, E. J. (1998). Phonological awareness: Instructional and curricular basics and implications. In D. C. Simmons & E. J. Kame’enui (eds.), What reading research tells us about children with diverse learning needs: Bases and basics. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.