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Janice Greenberg, Program Director at The Hanen Centre (Toronto), presented a workshop on Hanen Programs, which are specialized therapeutic programs involving intensive education of groups of parents (whose children have language delays) or educators (who work with young children in educational settings). Hanen programs are based on the philosophy that children learn to communicate within the natural conversations of everyday life and that parents and educators are the child’s best language facilitators if they are taught to do this effectively.

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The Conference ”SLI – Specific Language Impairment – diagnosis, prognosis, intervention” was held  in Warsaw in Sofitel Victoria Hotel, Królewska 11 Street on 5-8 July 2012. 


The conference was an opportunity to:
- present the state of the art and the research on SLI,
- exchange information and specialist knowledge
- strengthen international cooperation

July 5th 2012 (day one)

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The morning session: opening of the Conference


The Polish Minister of National Education, Mrs Krystyna Szumilas, who was opening the Conference, stressed the impact of Specific Language Impairment (SLI) on educational opportunities. The fact that the problem has not been broadly known in Poland was also indicated. The Minister noted that early identification and the teacher’s support are the key factors for appropriate intervention that should be provided for the children. In order to make it possible, the Educational Research Institute (IBE) has launched a project that aims at developing diagnostic tools. In her speech, the Minister expressed her hope that the methods for working with the children that have SLI will be created and that programmes providing training and support for the teachers will be elaborated  The latter is of special importance because it addresses the need for the teachers to be aware of the existence of SLI and to be able to face the problem in their classrooms, providing children with individualized care. The Polish Ministry of Education will be following the Conference and the project, as it is an initiative that may lead to the improvement of the educational system. Finishing her speech, Mrs Krystyna Szumilas wished everybody a productive meeting.
The moderators read a letter in which the First Lady of the Republic of Poland expressed her willingness to take the honorary patronage over the Conference and over the initiative of the Educational Research Institute.
Professor Smoczyńska opened her speech thanking the participants (Speech and language pathologists, psychologists, parents…) and the plenary speakers, with special reference to professor Bruce Tomblin, professor Catherine Snow and professor Shula Chiat, whom she thanked for advice given to her by them when the idea of organizing the Conference had just appeared.  Professor Smoczyńska reminded the audience of the necessity to modernize the Polish nomenclature because of the risk of an erroneous diagnosis. In order to make it possible, it is crucial to create standardized tests for assessing the level of language development of the child. Otherwise the scale of child’s problem might be overlooked if a child does speak, but does it much worse than his/her peers. Effective help for children with SLI is incredibly important, as the child who has speech problems tends to be perceived as less intelligent than he/she actually is. This may lead to psychological, social and emotional problems and may cause deterioration of his/her educational and professional chances. Professor Smoczyńska finished her speech thanking professor Marta Bogdanowicz and Emilia Wojdyło from the Ministry of Education for referring her to IBE. She also mentioned the Team of Early Intervention led by professor Anna Brzezińska. The team will be working on the topic of SLI (this section will be led by professor Smoczyńska) and dyslexia (led by professor Krasowicz – Kupis).


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Lecture 1. Professor Tomblin
SLI: Why should we be concerned about it?


Professor Tomblin, beginning his lecture, expressed his admiration for the Minister of Education for her knowledge on SLI. He also thanked professor Smoczyńska for her engagement in promoting and disseminating the knowledge on SLl in Poland. Professor Tomblin stressed that such engagement would be needed in many countries, not only in Poland. In his lecture, Bruce Tomblin talked about language development in the context of individual differences. He stated that children differ not only in terms of linguistic development, but also in terms of  its rate. Moreover, it has been stated that various, independent domains of impairment occur. They may concern pragmatics, speech and linguistic factors that influence individual differences are: parental style, genetics and sensory stimulation. Tomblin defined SLI as a developmental impairment that occurs in spite of the possibility to acquire language (also indicating that this is a variable that is often not controlled well enough in research). It concerns children who do not have intellectual impairments, autism or hearing deficits. Children suffering from SLI have scores below norms for their age group in language tests.  The latest classification of DSM V drops the condtion concerning results in norm in nonverbal intelligence. SLI is diagnosed more often in boys than in girls, but this may be associated with the boys’ behavior style. Boys do not tend to hide their problems as often as girls do.  SLI is related to the risk of reading problems. It turns out that a large part of children diagnosed as children with SLI come from disadvantaged environments.
In an attempt to answer the question whether SLI is on quantitative or qualitative difference between children with the impairment and typically developing children, Tomblin decides for an intermediate option:  it is a developmental problem with continuous characteristics. Children with SLI  have results similar to those of younger, typically developing children, but some of the language domains are more vulnerable than others. The most vulnerable are: grammar and phonological memory. Vocabulary and sound production are not as problematic as the areas mentioned earlier. Some of the possible causes of SLI are: slower information processing and weaker inference making abilities (noticed in children with SLI also in case of nonverbal material). Nonverbal intelligence does not allow to predict the vulnerability for therapy. At school the difference between typically developing children and children with SLI remains the same – it indicates the equal rate of development of both groups, but also gives premises to think that intervention in preschool children may be efficient.  


 The evening session

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Lecture 3. Professor Catherine Snow


Prof. Catherine Snow presented a lecture on preventing language poverty and the ways of supporting language and literacy skills. School creates a very difficult environment for children with language problems, because to a large extent it relies on their linguistic abilities. Professor Snow identified the large problem spaces and small problem spaces connected to the language and literacy development. The small problem spaces include decoding of letters and learning the orthography rules. The large problem spaces – vocabulary and text comprehension. It is not possible to learn the vocabulary, to develop meaning comprehension, to acquire content knowledge, basing only on the small spaces (decoding etc). Vocabulary and language comprehension can be used to solve the small scale problems. The amount of input given to the child has a crucial impact for the child’s vocabulary size. The differences are not significant in the beginning, but they accumulate and increase in time. It is important how many words caregivers use to their children and how often they interact with them. Parents from higher social economic environment provide richer linguistic environment to their children. Rich language (including advanced discourse) in preschool environment makes it possible to predict children’s outcomes in word comprehension. Study results suggest that the course of development may be predicted on the base of preschool measures. Professor Snow cited the Kentucky study results: throughout a year, children were randomly assigned to kindergarten teachers. After many years it was shown that there was a relation between the teacher’s impast and the income of people who used to be his/her students. The key factor was the quality of language interaction, advanced discourse and joint book reading. Also EASE Project was mentioned, in which it was demonstrated that it is possible to change parents’ behaviors to enable their children to better acquire language. In the project, parents were taught how to use books to talk about them in a more interesting and engaging way that would support children in their vocabulary development. Professor Snow stressed that language is a tool for education. It matters mostly for complex tasks: reading comprehension. That is why acquisition of vocabulary and learning discourse/narrative rules makes it possible to predict later achievement in school and in life.  Without language children are not capable of learning other subjects. The quality of linguistic interaction for later academic development cannot be underestimated.
Important and effective educational programmes for children are the ones that promote discussion and philosophical thinking. They have positive influence on understanding of complex texts and critical thinking. Teachers should be trained in creating discussion/debate situations, philosophical reflections – even for young children. The aim is to create the opportunity for the child to acquire knowledge. Words are key for knowledge. Early preparation for later reading comprehension is crucial. During the discussion, the issues of types of books that should be read to children was raised. Professor Snow stressed that children should have the opportunity to ask questions (not only during the process of reading) and that they should have the right to expect an answer from the adults.


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Lecture 4. Professor Leonard
Videoconference – connection with Purdue University.


Professor Leonard shortly characterized SLI.  In his lecture, he focused on specific errors committed by children who acquire various languages. He stressed that in experimental studies the group selection for SLI group is important. In research that he conducts, groups are matched for age and younger children are matched for MLU. His results indicate that children with SLI differ from both of the groups on the types of committed errors. The errors may be on grammatical aspect, telicity and other features of verbs.  Children with SLI may extract incorrectly fragments of adult utterances and this may lead to typical ungrammaticality. Professor Leonard provided numerous examples from languages such as Cantonese, Hungarian, Swedish, English and Italian and showed how various types of grammatical structures may induce errors in the speech of children with SLI. Asking questions after the lecture was quite a challenge, as they were written and not spoken (because of the technical conditions of the videoconference) and professor Leonard could only read them at the screen of his computer, whereas the audience needed to infer what question was asked basing on the answer. Such a demanding cognitive task at the end of a difficult day encouraged everyone to have a glass of wine during the welcome reception which closed the first day of the Conference.



The prevalence of Specific Language Impairment in children is 7% and is characterized by difficulties in using language. Children with SLI learn to talk later than typically developing children and once they start talking, their linguistic abilities are limited: they have limited lexicon, problems with grammar, they do not understand complex sentences. Dyslexia is also common among them. Children with SLI, even though they have correct hearing, are intellectually capable, do not have neurological disorders nor features of autism, are prone to severe education failures, which has a negative impact on their lives. It is estimated that there are about 300 thousand children with SLI in Poland. Most of them are not diagnosed and have no chance of receiving the necessary treatment.






As we were preparing for the international Conference on SLI in Poland, a group of four prominent British academics: Dorothy Bishop, Professor at Oxford University; Gina Conti- Ramsden, Professor at the University of Manchester; Dr Courtenay Norbury from the University of London and Maggie Snowling, Professor at the University of York, had launched in May 2012 a joint initiative: Raising Awareness of Language Learning Impairments (RALLI). Within the campaign, short videos are published on youtube, in which specialists explain the characteristics of language impairments, including SLI, stressing their negative impact on the people affected. Children with SLI themselves also talk about their experiences. We would like to encourage you to watch the RALLI videos.

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