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Language of Intervention: Which language should speech therapy be in?

by Liliana Diaz August 31, 2022 1 Comment

Language of Intervention: Which language should speech therapy be in?

So you have a bilingual student on your speech caseload and you are unsure which language intervention should be in. Perhaps the student is exposed to (insert any language here) at home and is receiving English-only instruction at school. Questions you are probably wondering are: Should speech/language intervention be in the home language or the language of instruction? Should speech therapy be in the child's most dominant language? Should speech therapy be in both languages? But how do I target both languages in intervention? And will using both languages in intervention hinder the student's progress with therapy? These are all great questions and if you are wondering the answers then keep reading because the answers are below!

Should speech/language therapy be in the language of instruction?

Often times, school-based SLPs are faced with the pressure of being told that speech therapy should only be in the language of instruction. The reason behind this idea is the underlying belief that the student should be able to access the academic curriculum and the only way to do this is by focusing on the language of instruction (most often times English). Yes, the student should be able to access the curriculum, but ELL academic supports should already be in place for the student in the classroom.  Supporting the idea of focusing only on the language of instruction in speech therapy can have negative consequences on the bilingual student's language skills, family dynamic, cultural values, social-emotional learning and much more.  Speech therapy should always support both languages for bilingual students and here's why.

Providing therapy in the home language is crucial for the child's social-emotional development, family dynamic and family ties. Therefore, ignoring the home language is doing a disservice to your students. According to Dr. Brian A. Goldstein, author of Bilingual Language Development & Disorders in Spanish-English Speakers "for immigrant children with family members who do not speak the community language, preservation of the home language is paramount for maintaining the intergenerational family connections and cultural links required for adequate social-emotional development." 

Should speech therapy be in the child's most dominant language?

Of course there is also the argument that speech therapy should be in the child's most dominant language because that's the child's strongest language, therefore, easier to work on which will lead to faster gains. However, this underlying belief discounts the second language and reinforces the idea that one language is "better" than the other. With this approach, we are unknowingly creating a language preference for the child which also leads to negative consequences as mentioned above.

It is natural to believe that intervention in the dominant language will be more effective if it builds on the child's existing skills however, this belief discounts the interactions that happen between both languages. After all, a bilingual student is not two monolingual students in one. A bilingual student will naturally have a certain set of strengths and skills in both languages. In addition, this belief reinforces the idea that language is constant across time and this simply isn't true. Bilingualism is fluid and a bilingual student's language proficiency can change over time depending on several factors (environment, exposure, use, etc.) Therefore, sticking to one language permanently during intervention will not always work. 

Should speech therapy be in both languages? And if yes, how does this look like?

The simple answer is YES! But keep in mind that supporting both languages does not necessarily mean always using both languages in a single session. It really depends student to student and according to Dr. Brian A. Goldstein, we need to be able to utilize a holistic and interactive view of bilingual development when planning the student's intervention goals. 

There are two approaches that you can take when providing speech therapy to a bilingual student. The first is a bilingual approach which simultaneously directs attention to improving communication competency in both languages. This is done by ensuring that speech/language therapy goals include shared features between the both languages. For example, you might create an articulation goal for initial /k/ for your Spanish-English speaking student because initial /k/ exists in both languages. Another example is that you might create a language goal of plural -s for your Spanish-English speaking student because plural -s also exists in both languages. 

The second approach is a cross-linguistic approach which focuses on the linguistic features that are unique to each language. In therapy, you might focus on non-overlapping features which may be at the sound level, meaning, structural level and/or even pragmatic level. An example at the sound level would be such as targeting trilled R in Spanish and vocalic R in English on separate occasions throughout the school year. 

And lastly, will using both languages in intervention hinder the student's progress with therapy? 

Absolutely not. Using both languages in intervention will only improve your bilingual student's communication skills which will lead to greater carry-over of the taught skill. 

Questions? Comments? Let me know below :)



Liliana Diaz
Liliana Diaz

Author


1 Response

Carol Jacobs
Carol Jacobs

September 08, 2022

Languages are illogical and defy the rules, especially English. In my experience comparing and contrasting the different languages is essential. Social discourse is learned children to children faster than by teacher instruction but the understanding of differences in syntax, in sounds, etc need teacher clarification.

Are you teaching spoken English or are you teaching skills necessary to learn English by exposure?

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