Raising Bilingual Kids & Little Global Citizens

Speech Therapy

Bilingual Speech and Language Therapy – What you need to know

Bilingual Speech and Language Therapy

What is Bilingual Speech Therapy? Here Marie Robert (bilingual pediatric speech and language therapist) answers everything you need to know about bilingual speech and language therapy.

What is speech therapy?

Broadly speaking, Speech and Language Therapy provides treatment, support and care for children and adults who have difficulties with communication (in all its forms) and/or swallowing.

Speech and language therapists (SLTs) are allied health professionals.

They often work closely with parents, careers, spouses and family members as well as other professionals, such as teachers, nurses, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, psychologists and doctors.

SLTs can help in the treatment of MANY difficulties e.g. language delay or disorder, articulation difficulties, phonological delay or disorder, stuttering, voice disorders, dyslexia, treatment post stroke, autism services, sensory or motor feeding disorders.

Treatment can be one-on-one or in a group, depending on the service structures and the needs of the patient.

SLTs commonly work in schools, hospitals, private clinics, special schools and nursing homes as well as seeing patients in their own homes sometimes.

What is bilingualism?

There are many ways to define bilingualism, from the very wide to the very prescriptive. My favourite has always been an inclusive definition.

Bilinguals are those who use two or more languages (or dialects) in their everyday lives (Grosjean, 2010).

This puts more emphasis on the ‘use’ of the language than on the proficiency or numbers of words known.

If you would like to know more about what bilingualism is, click here.

What is a bilingual speech and language therapist?

A bilingual SLT is ‘exactly what it says on the tin’. Someone who is qualified as an SLT and happens to speak more than one language.

If they offer treatment in more than one language, then they would usually speak those languages to a more or less ‘native’ level.

How does bilingual speech therapy work?

Bilingual speech and language therapy is similar to monolingual therapy on the outside.

It is quite flexible as every patient is different.

We sometimes work on one language at a time, or we work on both languages but for a single skill (e.g. understanding of prepositions in both English and Spanish).

We often start with the child’s ‘best’ language if they have one, though not all bilinguals do.

This is because if work is done in the most proficient language, we get better carry over into all the other languages spoken by the patient.

How can a bilingual SLT help families?

While all SLTs do fabulous work with anyone affected by speech and language difficulties, bilingual therapists will have a better idea of the effects of bilingualism on typical development which can help them guide and tailor treatment for bilingual patients.

They will know the ways in which languages affect each other and will have a better sense of what is a true delay/disorder, and what is merely the effect of someone being an unbalanced bilingual.

They know what ‘code mixing’ and ‘code switching’ are, they know that kids sometimes ‘mix languages‘, and they know that these are normal features of language development for bilingual people.

Given their knowledge base, a bilingual SLT can also offer more tailored advice for how to go about home practice in all the languages a family speaks, even if that particular therapist does not speak all the same languages as their patient.

How to find a Bilingual Speech and Language Therapist

Bilingual SLTs are sometimes difficult to find, depending on where you live, but if your children are bilingual and they are experiencing language delay, or you are worried about any part of their language development then a bilingual SLT could certainly be an important part of your care team.

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