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What every SLPs should do during an evaluation if he/she doesn't speak the student’s language

by Liliana Diaz August 04, 2019

What every SLPs should do during an evaluation if he/she doesn't speak the student’s language

It can be super challenging to evaluate a student that speaks a completely different language other than the one you speak. With so many languages that exist in our world, (over 6,500 languages to be exact) as a SLP, you are bound to encounter a student that speaks another language other than English. According to the American Speech Hearing Association (ASHA) only about 6.4% of SLPs speak another language other than English, this may also mean that finding a bilingual SLP that speaks the language you need to assess may not always be accessible. So what do you do? 

Use an interpreter. Meet with the interpreter prior to meeting with family in order to review the process, terminology, and what you want him or her to do. Ensure that you obtain a licensed interpreter and try to avoid using someone within the child’s family as a translator in order to reduce bias during the evaluation. Interpreters can provide lots of insightful information.

Conduct an in-depth family/caregiver interview.  Caregivers can provide accurate information about a child’s communication strength and weaknesses. Understanding the family’s point of  view about the child’s strengths or areas of need can provide a SLP with lots of insight about the child’s culture values, education status, language use and communication deficits.  

Consider using non-standardized speech-language assessments, pragmatic tests, language samples or criterion referenced assessments.  If formal/standardized assessments are not available in the child’s primary language, then consider utilizing non-standardized assessments like pragmatic check-lists or obtaining a language sample. These types of assessments will help determine the client’s understanding and use of conversational language, which is a building block to more complex language.  

It is important to remember that it is not appropriate to translate standardized assessments in the student’s language in order to reach a standard score. These scores become invalid once translated because norm criteria is not based on the student’s language. In addition, SLPs cannot report standard scores when using assessments that are not normed for a specific language. 

Utilize Dynamic Assessment. Research suggests that dynamic assessment when combined with other types of assessments can be the most useful when assessing bilingual children. Dynamic assessment is a method of assessment which uses a “test-teach-retest” model. It can help us determine difference versus disorder when working with children that speak another language other than English. Dynamic assessment focuses on the child’s ability to acquire the skills after being tested and after being exposed to instruction. Children who are able to make significant changes after short-term learning or intervention sessions are very likely to have language differences and not language disorders.

Use your Resources. ASHA always has great evidence-based articles that can assist you during your evaluation process.  ASHA also has information about phonemic inventories of various languages as well as current research articles about several topics. Remember to look up current research about your student’s culture, phonemic inventory or language differences. Dr. Elizabeth Peña who is a professor at the University of Texas is a very well-known researcher in our field that does lots of research on culturally and linguistically diverse populations and/or bilingualism. Furthermore, utilize evidence-based practice books as resources. Bilinguisitics has a great book called Difference or Disorder which includes language patterns of several languages. They also have some E-Books with developmental norms in Spanish. In addition, websites can also be very useful.  The Leaders Project (Law and Evidence-based Approaches for Disability Evaluation and Resources), founded and directed by Dr. Cate Crowley has great information about working with diverse populations and bilingual children. This website has information on the law, research, and current clinical practices related to assessment, treatment, and intervention both in the United States and internationally. 



Liliana Diaz
Liliana Diaz

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