3 Things Monolingual SLPs Can Do To Support Bilingual Clients Today

por Liliana Diaz enero 12, 2023

3 Things Monolingual SLPs Can Do To Support Bilingual Clients Today

Perhaps you recently got assigned to a new school or site that consists of a large bilingual and/or multilingual caseload, and perhaps you're not bilingual. Not speaking the student's language can be quite overwhelming and stressful (trust me, I've been there!). I know the feeling of not quite knowing where to start in intervention, or not knowing how to support your students. Well luckily, bilingual SLP, Ingrid Owens-Gonzalez has some important tips to share with all SLPs.

Here are 3 things Monolingual SLPs can do to support bilingual populations today.

 Understand our Demographics. There are 15,728 Bilingual Speech-Language Pathologists.

In 2021 there were 213,115 ASHA members: only 17,373 (8.2%) self-identified as bilingual service providers; 15,728 SLPs and 911 audiologists. 

I begin this blogpost with numbers because it is the most concise way I have found to share my experiences as a bilingual SLP with my monolingual peers. In every single one of my placements I have been the only one. Being the only one is disheartening, at times, overwhelming for sure, but somewhere along the way I realized that the job of supporting bilingual clients, patients, and students is not mine alone. If we are to make a lasting impact it will have to be all 213,115 SLPs working towards more inclusive practices. All service providers have a role to play in supporting Culturally and Linguistically diverse (CLD) populations.

In 2020 there were a total of 14,958 bilingual SLPs. Unfortunately the number only went up by 0.2 % from 2021. Every year these numbers change but they are not changing fast enough to support the growing need for bilingual service providers.

The demographic breakdown of our profession does not match the reality of the communities we serve. As our communities have grown more culturally and linguistically diverse, our field unfortunately has not;  so the first thing you can do today to support bilingual clients is to step into your role of communication advocate - especially if you are not bilingual.

I urge you to find out what that means for you. Something that has helped me find my way through is remembering that SLPs may have a broad scope of practice but English proficiency is not within our scope. So here are some things you can do to learn more:

  1. Begin by learning about typical bilingual language development
  2. Get to know the common assessment tools that schools utilize to measure language proficiency
  3. Become familiar with your schools bilingual program(s)

Gather an Extensive Language History

The second thing you can do today to support your bilingual clients is spend more time learning about their language history, language usage, and language background. I have learned that when I gather extensive data prior to developing an evaluation plan my actual testing time is shorter, my report writing is a breeze, and my recommendations are more meaningful. This is a complete and opposite shift in how I used to structure my time for evaluations. There are many resources out there on how to gather and analyze language usage surveys (Bilingual Speechie has a great one you can find right here) but truly it all comes down to “asking the right questions in the right ways'' (Carol Westby et al. 2003).

Adding a language history review to your intake process is a quick and easy first-step to take. As a monolingual provider, spending the time to gather this information may lead to realizing there is a need for an interpreter, a consultation with the multicultural office, or the need for a different assessment tool than you had planned. As a profession we are ethically bound to perform our job in a way that does not cause harm to the individuals we serve. Misdiagnosis of bilingual individuals is the definition of harm. I don’t say this to add more to your plate. I say this because I have been where you are: overwhelmed, working past my contract hours, and wondering how one person can juggle so much. I say this because I have seen the other side of implementing these changes and it leads to support for my bilingual students from other departments, it leads to less and less unnecessary evaluations and placements, and more time for me to support the students who truly need it. 

Our greatest currency in every setting seems to be time. Often, when I bring up my concerns about bilingual language assessment, dynamic assessment, and treatment for bilingual individuals the number one barrier seems to be time: we don’t have enough time to learn these things that they didn’t teach us in grad school, we don’t have enough time to give more than one test, we don’t have enough time to gather a language sample, and we definitely don’t have time to do this in more than one language. Insert your preferred cliche about time here: “we all have the same 24 hours in a day” “time is money” “a stitch in time…” -  this post is not that, but I do believe we are all capable of learning new things as a collective field. We have all been through rigorous grad school courses, we’ve all passed the same Praxis exam, and we are all bound by the same ethical guidelines. 

Examine Your Own Linguistic Bias

The U.S. has a history of centering English-only. Our field has a history of pathologizing bilingual language experiences. By extension all of us growing up in this system carry some form of linguistic bias whether consciously or unconsciously. This shows up in our institutions where very few of us have training in typical language development in bilingual individuals. Even fewer of us have training in language loss in bilingual patients with dementia, aphasia presentation in bilingual patients, multiple language interactions in TBI, gestalt language processing in bilingual children, etc. This singular focus on English deeply impacts the way we deliver services to multilingual individuals. As Bilingual SLPs it often falls on us to lead the way. I’m here to tell you it’s not enough and we need you alongside us.  You don’t need to be bilingual or have specialized training to start. You don’t need to be bilingual to join us in improving the way we provide services to bilingual clients. I don’t know what that looks like in your setting but I will share three small changes that have made a world of difference in mine: 

  • I no longer use the term ELL (English Language Learner) instead I use Emerging Bilingual or Emerging Communicator. (Check out this book and this episode)
  • I no longer report articulation “errors” when I am referring to expected productions due to dialectal influences. (Check out this article)
  • I use the upside down / ɹ / to differentiate between English and Spanish / r / productions in all of my documentation. 

While these changes seem small they open the door to productive conversations, to inclusivity, and to actionable change. I welcome you to reflect on how you can make your own intervention and assessment processes more inclusive. I invite you to comment down below and mention some ways that you have changed your practice recently. 


Special Thank You to this Month's Guest Blogger/Author:
Ingrid Owens-Gonzalez is a First-Generation Mexican-American Bilingual SLP.  She has been an SLP since 2011. Ingrid has worked in Early Intervention and SNFs but ultimately fell in love with the school setting. Having grown-up both in Mexico and the Southwest, her passion for linguistic diversity and understanding of multilingual language development is at the forefront of her practice.
Ingrid is a sequential bilingual with Spanish being her first language. In the 2nd grade, she was placed in a monolingual classroom in Southern California and had to learn English quickly. Her bilingualism journey is full of twists and turns, and variations in her language usage. Today, she is much more comfortable speaking English, especially in academic/professional settings.
Ingrid owns a private practice, My Speech Place LLC, serving CLD populations and is available for professional consulting. She is co-founder of The Bold SLP Collective, co-host of The Bold SLP Podcast, and co-founder of BEAM (Bilingual Empowerment through Allied Mentorship) SLP Program. In the summer of 2023, she will be teaching a course with her Bold colleagues in collaboration with SLP Nerdcast focusing on evaluation of multilingual & multicultural populations. 


Get in contact with Ingrid here:

Website: The Bold SLP Collective

Email: theboldslpcollective@gmail.com

Instagram:  @theboldslpcollective

Tik Tok:  @theboldslp



Liliana Diaz
Liliana Diaz


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