Bilingualism and Speech Therapy

Dec 02, 2022

What is bilingualsim/ multilingualism?

Bilingualism is the ability to communicate in more than one language and can be thought of as a continuum of language skills in which proficiency in any of the languages used may fluctuate over time and across social settings, conversational partners, and topics, among other variables (Grossjean, 1989; Bialystok, 2001).

I am very grateful my parents never steered away from teaching my siblings and I our native language of Spanish. My first language spoken and heard was Spanish, however as I began school English became my dominant language. Now fast forward to my adulthood, I am proficient in both English and Spanish. So how does this come into play with my career? During my experience I have had a patient on my caseload whose chart read “Spanish speaking only”. I became the treating therapist as he was passed on to me from a previous monolingual therapist. Since he was a new patient on my caseload, I made sure to inform myself of his medical history, goals, and progress. Based on his goals, it appeared this patient was non-verbal (no verbal communication), beginning to imitate sounds (cars, animals), and use gestures to communicate.

In our first session, I took out my go-to farm animal book along with finger puppets, in hopes of providing opportunities to target his goal of imitating sounds. As I was placing the finger puppets one by one, the patient began to label all the animals in Spanish. I instantly looked at the patient’s mom, and then back to the patient. I proceeded to ask mom further questions regarding the patient’s language skills. Come to find out the patient was proficient in their native language of Spanish. I was able to explain to the parent the importance of having a therapist who was proficient in the patient’s dominant language or translator present. In this case, the goals/sounds targeted were already mastered! This patient would have greatly benefitted from skilled speech therapy in their native language!

As stated from ASHA, “Identifying a communication disorder in a bilingual individual requires careful consideration of the multitude of factors that influence communication skills. True communication disorders will be evident in all languages used by an individual; however, a skilled clinician will appropriately account for the process of language development, language loss, the impact of language dominance fluctuation, and the influence of dual language acquisition and use when differentiating between a disorder and a difference. Language dominance may fluctuate across a patient’s/client’s lifespan based on use and input and language history (Kohnert, 2012).”

Nancy Alvarez, M.S., CCC-SLP