Neuropsychological, Cognitive, and Theoretical Considerations for Evaluation of Bilingual Individuals
As the number of bilinguals in the USA grows rapidly, it is increasingly important for neuropsychologists to be equipped and trained to address the unique challenges inherent in conducting ethical and competent neuropsychological evaluations with this population. Research on bilingualism has focused on two key cognitive mechanisms that introduce differences between bilinguals and monolinguals: (a) reduced frequency of language-specific use (weaker links), and (b) competition for selection within the language system in bilinguals (interference). Both mechanisms are needed to explain how bilingualism affects neuropsychological test performance, including the robust bilingual disadvantages found on verbal tasks, and more subtle bilingual advantages on some measures of cognitive control. These empirical results and theoretical claims can be used to derive a theoretically informed method for assessing cognitive status in bilinguals. We present specific considerations for measuring degree of bilingualism for both clients and examiners to aid in determinations of approaches to testing bilinguals, with practical guidelines for incorporating models of bilingualism and recent experimental data into neuropsychological evaluations. This integrated approach promises to provide improved clinical services for bilingual clients, and will also contribute to a program of research that will ultimately reveal the mechanisms underlying language processing and executive functioning in bilinguals and monolinguals alike.