Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy


Health and Rehabilitation Sciences


Archibald, Lisa


Understanding the current level of language knowledge in English Language Learners (ELLs) can present a challenge. The standardized language tests that are commonly used to assess language tap prior knowledge and experience. ELLs may score poorly on such ‘knowledge-based’ measures because of the low levels of exposure to each of their languages. Considerable overlap has been found on several knowledge-based measures (Paradis, 2010) between ELLs and monolingual children with an unexpected delay in language development known as Developmental Language Disorder (DLD). Measures of cognitive processing, on the other hand, are less dependent on ELLs’ linguistic knowledge because they employ nonlinguistic or novel stimuli to tap skills considered to underlie language learning. It has been suggested that processing-dependent tasks such as measures of verbal short-term memory may differentiate ELLs from children with DLD (Kohnert, Windsor, & Yim, 2006; Paradis, Schneider, & Duncan, 2013). This thesis presents three studies that investigated the performance of Arabic-speaking ELLs and monolingual children with and without DLD on linguistic and cognitive measures. Study 1 provided a description of the performance of monolingual Arabic-speaking children on a battery of Arabic language tests. The results of study 1 revealed that the majority of language measures were sensitive to developmental change in younger children between the ages of 6 and 7. Study 2 demonstrated lower standardized scores by ELLs on the Arabic and English knowledge-based language tasks. However, ELLs scored above or at age-level expectations on the cognitive measures, with the exception of an Arabic-nonword repetition task. Study 3 found a significant overlap between ELLs and monolingual Arabic-speaking children with DLD on first language (L1) knowledge-based measures. With the exception of the Arabic nonword repetition task, verbal short-term and working memory tasks distinguished ELLs from children with underlying language impairment. The results indicated that there is a need to develop language assessment measures that evaluate a broad range of language abilities for Arabic-speaking children. The findings also suggested that unlike knowledge-based measures, cognitive measures may be valid assessment tools that minimize the role of linguistic knowledge and experiences and help distinguish between ELLs and children with DLD.