Why bother with Language Inventory for Bilingual and Multilingual Individuals?

Why bother with Language Inventory for Bilingual and Multilingual Individuals?


The aim of this tutorial is to bring awareness to the importance of gathering language inventories from bilingual and multilingual individuals who are seeking services from speech-language pathologists.

It provides general information about language development with this population, outlines aspects of a language profile and why it’s important to add to one’s practice and provides tools that can be used to gather a language inventory. 

Bilingual and Multilingual Language Development

There have been concerns regarding the lack of clinical training provided by speech language pathology programs, as well as the challenges that speech language pathologists (SLPs) face when pursuing ethical means of assessments for multilingual individuals (MI) (Kraemer & Fabiano-Smith, 2017). For the sake of this article, MI will refer to individuals who have been exposed to or are learning two or more languages. Furthermore, the scarcity of training to address MI can result in the overdiagnosis of typically developing MI (Kraemer & Fabiano-Smith, 2017). With the growing number of MI representing the US population (Zeiglar & Camarota, 2018), it is even more pertinent for SLPs to understand bilingual language development for clinical implications. It is likely that MI will be present on the caseloads of SLPs, and under ASHA’s Code of Ethics, “Individuals (SLPs) shall not discriminate in their relationships with colleagues, assistants, students, support personnel, and members of other professions and disciplines on the basis of race, ethnicity, sex, gender identity/gender expression, sexual orientation, age, religion, national origin, disability, culture, language, dialect, or socioeconomic status” (ASHA). Thus, SLPs must take into consideration tools that can be used to better serve this population.

MIs are a heterogenous population due to the variance in experiences around language. There are several aspects of language development to take into consideration when working with MI: proficiency of language can fluctuate in MI depending on environmental factors related to language input, specific linguistic skills in one language may not translate directly over to the other language(s), each learned language may affect the other “cross-language associations,” as well as factors specific to bilingual individuals (Kohnert, 2010). These specific factors can include timing, quality, and amount of language exposure (McLeod et. al, 2017), as well as context and speaking partners (Valdes, 2005). When considering language proficiency of bilingual individuals (BI) it is helpful to refer to the continuum proposed by Valdes (2005). The takeaway is that BI and MI will have different variations of experience within their languages which will lead to different levels of proficiency in each.

Collecting and calculating language history is a tool that can help SLPs determine when it is appropriate to assess a language and can serve to continuously gauge language proficiency in MIs to help guide their treatment plans.

Measuring Language History and Use

Bohman et al. (2019) demonstrated that the amount of language input and output for the acquisition of a second language affects the child’s language proficiencies and abilities. Thus, it is important to take note of the quantity and quality of language that the child is being exposed to in order to make an educated decision on whether or not a child should be assessed in both languages. For example, if they are just learning the language and have low input they may not have been exposed to enough language to be able to communicate and understand effectively.


How often to collect language input and use (inventory)

As standardized tests are not the most effective way to assess multilingual children due to biases the use of authentic assessment is encouraged (Shipley & McAfee, 2009). In this approach, the SLP assesses the client periodically over the course of treatment to continuously gauge the communication abilities of the client (Shipley & McAffee, 2009). This writer suggests updating language input and use on yearly basis and potentially more frequently with younger children (preschool to early elementary).

Language Inventory Tools


Alberta Language and Environment Questionnaire

(Paradis, 2011)


The Alberta Language Environment Questionnaire can be administered in an interview format. It targets sequential bilinguals (where the second language was learned at or after the age of 3) that are preschool/kindergarten aged. It allows the SLP clinicians to gather more background information about the child’s overall language environment both inside and outside of the household prior to administering assessments. It asks questions about caregiver(s)/family member(s) language use with the child as well as demographic information to gain an understanding of household language use. It also asks questions about potential school/daycare environments, other means of receiving language input, and other potential speaking partners that the child may have.


This questionnaire can be accessed at:



ALEQ Administration & Calculation Time

It will take about 15-20 minutes to administer the interview portion of this tool and approximately 15 minutes to calculate the resulting scores. You may consider sending the survey to the family to be filled out prior to meeting, as the questions in the interview portion pertain to all individuals in the household and not all family members may be present during the scheduled appointment time.


ALEQ Calculated Scores

There are 3 scores that you are looking to calculate for the Alberta Language Environment Questionnaire outlined below.


  1. Exposure to language in the household (aka Language use in the Home)

Sections A, B, and C are used to examine what languages the child is exposed to within their household. Individuals in the household are asked a series of questions about the languages they use in the household the majority of which are answered on a 0-5 scale (0 being speaks mother tongue only and 4 being mainly speaks English). Scores higher than 0.5 indicate that there is a shift towards the family using English in the household whereas scores below 0.5 indicate the maintenance of the family’s native language or “mother tongue”.


  1. Exposure to language outside of the household & English Exposure

The first part of Section D is used to gain an idea of what languages are used outside of the household and in what settings. Although the questions are framed to highlight English exposure, they also give us an idea of how much exposure the child is receiving in their other language. Additionally, we can calculate the Months of Exposure to English outlined on question 9 on page 8.


  1. Quality of Language Exposure (aka richness scale)

Section D also gathers information regarding quality of language input by asking about the types of activities that are completed in both languages and how often they occur. Use the table on page 10 to input the corresponding scores from each question and calculate the “Richness Scores” in each language.


  • Survey is free to download.
  • Yields qualitative (e.g., types of activities in which language exposure occurs) and quantitative (a quotient that indicates level of exposure to each language) information regarding language experience
  • Although it centers students at the preschool kindergarten age range, and highlights Canada this language can be adapted to fit your population and current place of residency.



  • Use caution or omit questions relating to length of time in the country (questions 1a, 1b, 8); it may be more beneficial to ask specific questions about the child’s language exposure experiences (E.g., Has your child ever attended school in Mexico?).
  • Consider omitting question 2 (“How much English do you speak?”) as it is not used to calculate scores.
  • This survey focused on bilingual individuals, however, it’s important to keep in mind that some individuals may speak more than one language at home, thus take this into consideration when analyzing the client’s language environment.
  • Only available in English.
  • Survey is geared towards bilingual populations and does not include adaptations for children who are learning more three or more languages.


BIOS (Bilingual Input Output Survey) (Peña et al., 2018)

The BIOS is part of the BESA (Bilingual English-Spanish Assessment) and is meant to “track language use over time” and functions to help determine in what language(s) the child should be assessed (Peña et al., 2018). The BIOS can be administered by the SLP clinician to parents, caregivers, and teachers in an interview format, and should be completed prior to the administration of an assessment. It is geared towards bilingual children ages 4-6 years old. The BIOS contains 2 parts, the “BIOS-Home” and the “BIOS-School”. They both look at language input/output hour by hour and include all participants. However, the “BIOS-Home” tracks weekdays and weekends in the home environment, whereas the “BIOS-School” looks at a typical school day. The SLP clinician can ask guiding questions to support caregiver(s) in outlining the child’s everyday language experiences.


Administration Time

The “BIOS-Home” and the “BIOS-School” take approximately 10-15 minutes each to administer as a survey and 8-10 minutes each for scoring.


Calculated Scores

The calculated percentage scores of the BIOS show how much the child is hearing and how much they are expressing in each of their languages, specifically referred to as Spanish Input (SI), English Input (EI), English Output (EO), Spanish Output (SO). These percentages are later used to determine the average Input/Output score of each language (E.g. We calculate this by adding the EO and EI and dividing it by 2 to get the average English Input/Output score), which tells us about how much time they spend using each language.



  • Available in both Spanish and English
  • Yields information regarding the child’s language history and current exposure/use with languages that they are learning.



  • The BIOS is only available for purchase. A package of 20 questionnaires costs $35.00.
  • The BIOS is written specifically towards Spanish-English bilinguals. It could be adapted to other home languages but does not account for children learning more than two languages.

Example statements that could be included in evaluation reports



Parents completed the Alberta Language Environment Questionnaire (ALEQ) on 9/15/2020. Results from the ALEQ indicate that the child’s family is maintaining their native language in the household given “the language use in home score” of 0.21 as it falls below the 0.5 indicator of “leaning towards English” as the preferred language in the household. The child has been exposed to English for 8 months in a consistent manner outside of the home in a childcare or educational setting that is either bilingual and or a half day program all in English. In terms of activities that promote language use and literacy, the ALEQ yields a quotient that references that frequency in which the child is exposed to language and literacy activities across both languages. A quotient greater than .5 indicates these activities occurring more frequently. Based on the questionnaire results, the child’s English Richness score was .5 and his Mother Tongue richness score was .4.



On 9/15/2020, mother completed the Bilingual English Spanish Assessment (BESA) Bilingual Input Output Survey (BIOS) Home Language Questionnaire. She provided an hour-by-hour record of the child’s exposure to and use of Spanish and English at home and at school. It was calculated that input was 88% Spanish and 12% English. Language output was calculated to be 88% Spanish and 12% English. Based on this information, this evaluation was completed primarily in Spanish.







  • (2016, March 1). Code of Ethics. ASHA. https://www.asha.org/code-of-ethics/
  • Bohman, T. M. , Bedore, L. M., Peña, E. D., Mendez-Perez, A., Gillam, R. B. (2010). What you hear and what you say: Language performance in Spanish-English bilinguals. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 13:3, 325-344. https://doi.org/10.1080/13670050903342019
  • Camarota, S.A., & Zeiglar, K. (2019, October). 3 Million in the United States spoke a foreign language at home in 2018. Center for Immigration Studies. www.cis.org
  • CHESL Centre. (n.d.). Questionnaires. University of Alberta. https://www.ualberta.ca/linguistics/cheslcentre/questionnaires.html.
  • Kohnert, K. (2010). Bilingual children with primary language impairment: Issues, evidence and implications for clinical actions. Journal of Communication Disorders, 43:6, 456-473. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcomdis.2010.02.002
  • Kraemer, R. & Fabiano-Smith, L. (2017). Language Assessment of Latino English Learning Children: A Records Abstraction Study. Journal of Latinos and Education, 16:4, 349-358. https://doi.org/10.1080/15348431.2016.1257429
  • McLeod, S., Verdon, S., Baker, E., Ball M. J., Ballard, E., David, A. B. (2017). Tutorial: Speech assessment for multilingual children who do not speak the same language(s) as the Speech-Language Pathologist. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 26:3, 691-708. https://doi-org.ezproxy4.library.arizona.edu/10.1044/2017_AJSLP-15-0161
  • Northern Speech Services. (n.d.). BESA Forms – BIOS. BESA – Bilingual English-Spanish Assessment – BIOS Forms. https://www.northernspeech.com/bilingual-culturally-diverse-cld/besa-forms-bios/.
  • Paradis, J. (2011). Individual differences in child English second language acquisition: Comparing child-internal and child-external factors. Linguistic approaches to bilingualism, 1(3), 213-237.
  • Peña, E. D., Gutiérrez-Clellen, V. F., Bedore, L. M., Goldstein, B. A., & Iglesias, A. (2018). Bilingual Input-Output Survey (BIOS). In Bilingual English-Spanish Assessment (BESA) (pp. 17–25). Brookes Publishing.
  • Shipley, K. G., & McAfee, J. G. (2019). Assessment in speech-language pathology : A resource manual, sixth edition. Plural Publishing. https://ebookcentral.proquest.com
  • Valdés, G. (2005). Bilingualism, heritage language learners, and SLA research: Opportunities lost or seized?. The Modern Language Journal. 89:3, 410-426