#054: Tips and Tricks for Working with Bilingual Students

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In this week’s episode of the SLP Now podcast, I got to sit down with Liliana Diaz, a bilingual SLP who currently practices in Chicago, Illinois.

Liliana has extensive experience serving the bilingual population, specializing in pediatrics as well as working with bilingual Spanish-speaking students in general education programs, blended preschool programs and low-incidence programs. Liliana’s areas of expertise include augmentative/alternative communication (AAC), bilingual language development and bilingual language delays/disorders.

In addition to all her hard work with patients, Liliana runs her own SLP blog geared towards providing bilingual resources for SLPs and parents, and creates activities for teachers and SLPs on Teachers Pay Teachers!

Holy wow, what a career!

I learned so much from my conversation with Liliana — I swear each individual talking point and question that I had could have been its own podcast episode.

We didn’t have nearly enough time to cover everything, but Liliana definitely gave us a crash course and I’m so excited to share it with you.

So grab your beverage of choice (I’ll have a chai latte!), put your feet up, and listen in.

Key Takeaways + Topics Covered

– What led Liliana to specialize in working with bilingual families
– Common myths about bilingualism
– Why eliminating a child’s home language can have grave consequences
– Best practices when assessing bilingual children
– How to get started with goal writing when working with English language learners
– What to do if the SLP doesn’t speak the child’s native language
– How we can improve communication with parents who don’t speak English
– Best practices for speech intervention in bilingual therapy
– How to effectively work with interpreters

Links Mentioned in the Podcast

The Impact of Bilingual Environments on Language Development
Cognitive Developmental of Young Dual Language Learners
The Portland State University website
Cornell University: The Multilingual Language Use Questionnaire
Dr. Crowley’s Leaders Project website
How to Celebrate Multicultural Diversity in Your Classroom

Learn More About Liliana
Teachers Pay Teachers

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Thanks so much!


Marisha: Hey there. And welcome to the SLP Now Podcast. I am so incredibly excited to have Liliana with us here today. We are going to be talking about all things bilingual therapy. It is definitely going to be a crash course. We were just talking about this before we started recording. And all of the questions that I have for her, like each individual line, could be a massive course. Liliana has done a ton of work to kind of distill the most relevant details, and give us just a good starting point. But, this is definitely, like I said, crash course.
But, a little bit about Liliana before we dive in. She is a certified, licensed bilingual speech language pathologist currently practicing in Chicago, Illinois. She obtained her bachelor's degree in communication disorders in 2012 and her master's degree in speech language pathology at St. Xavier University in 2014. She has extensive experience serving with the bilingual population, which is why she's here today. She currently works full-time in a public school setting as a lead bilingual SLP for her district. She also works part-time in early intervention with bilingual families. She runs an amazing SLP blog geared towards providing bilingual resources for SLPs and parents. She also creates bilingual resources and activities on her Teachers Pay Teachers store. So without further ado, welcome, Liliana.

Liliana: Hi. Thank you so much for having me here. It's a pleasure chatting with you today.

Marisha: I am so grateful you are willing to share your time with us. I've been getting a lot of questions from the SLP Now Podcast listeners about bilingual therapy, so I am super excited that you get to share your wisdom with us here.

Liliana: Oh, thank you. I'm glad to be able to answer any question that you have today.

Marisha: Before we dive into all of the nitty-gritty details, I'm really curious about kind of what led you to specialize in bilingual therapy and how you got to where you are today.

Liliana: Well, it's definitely been a long journey. I would say it really just started early on when I was trying to choose or pick a career to study, which can be a difficult task for most 18-year-olds growing up. At the time, I just remember I wanted to major in forensic sciences, but I wasn't sure. I also thought about psychology. I think my mom played a really huge role in my just decision-making and just her influence. She always urged me to pursue a career either in the medical or healthcare industry where I can utilize my Spanish-speaking skills in hopes that I can make a difference in the Latinx community.
Then, I mean, for this reason, growing up in a household where Spanish is the language predominantly spoken, that meant trips to the doctor with my grandmother or making phone calls for my dad in order to interpret for them. So, my mother always stressed kind of the importance of being able to find someone who's proficient in Spanish when going to a hospital or any type of facility. But most importantly, she often stressed that the quality of parent communication improves greatly when you have someone that relates to you on a cultural level. Then, I feel like that statement stuck with me forever.
So since the beginning, I knew I wanted to work with the Latinx population, with the bilingual population. At the time, I was actually at the University of Illinois studying psychology. I just kind of realized that that wasn't the career for me. So once I got my mom kind of urged me, she's like, "Oh, you should look into speech therapy. It sounds like a really great career." Then, I did my research and switched majors, switched schools. And like I said, from the beginning, I had let my professors know that I really wanted to kind of have a bilingual emphasis with my clinical placement. So, that's kind of how I gained experience working with the bilingual population.
Then, I guess fast forward to once I graduated and once I did all my clinical work, I was super excited to finally be on my own and start my career. I was placed in two schools in the Back of the Yard neighborhood here in Chicago where 70% of the community are Latinx, and about 70% of the student population are English language learners. So, I was really trying to find resources. I was honestly a really complete nervous wreck my first year. I was trying to learn a ton, ask a ton of questions, make materials, and just overall try not to panic just because that's when I really realized that resources and activities were very limited in Spanish. So, I started really just creating my own stuff and using my activities in therapy. Then, it just kind of took on from there. I wanted to share my activities and share my resources with other bilingual SLPs that I know are in the same boat as I am trying to find resources and activities for their specific population.

Marisha: I love that story. I feel like I just was a little bit similar in that I started with psychology, too, and eventually switched over to speech therapy, but yeah.

Liliana: I think we made a really great choice.

Marisha: I agree. I think I chose an amazing field. I love how you were able to use your Spanish and just your experience growing up to kind of create a really specialized role for yourself and having an impact in a way that ... a very unique impact. So, that's super inspiring. Thank you for sharing that.

Liliana: Aw, thank you. Thanks.

Marisha: Now, let's get into the nitty-gritty content. I think it'd be helpful to start about just talking about some common myths about bilingualism because I think that's kind of a good starting point in just making sure we're on the same page.

Liliana: Yeah, of course. I will discuss some of the most common myths that I have heard over the years while working with the bilingual population. Most of these myths I have heard from parents or professionals working in our field who may not be necessarily informed about the best current processes in regards to working with linguistically diverse and bilingual populations. And some of the myths that I will discuss have been debunked by a vast amount of research, which I will mention as well.
I would say the first biggest myth is that ... It's on the topic of language confusion. Language confusion is the idea that children are incapable of becoming bilingual without experiencing some sort of confusion. Therefore, it's often believed that exposing infants or toddlers to more than one language will cause delay. Currently, there's no research that shows that bilingualism causes language delays. We can expect children to meet the same developmental trajectory as those who are exposed to one language. This is a quote directly taken from Asch's statement on bilingualism.
Then, of course, there's research. There's a study done by Dr. Barbara T. Conboy, who's an SLP with specialty training in early language and bilingualism. She completed a research study in language differentiation in bilingual infants. Overall, her research indicated that children's cognitive systems as early as infancy can handle more than one language without confusion. So, that myth was debunked by all of the research.
Then, another myth that's often heard as well is it also goes along with the topic of language confusion. And it's that when children mix their languages, it means that they are confused. I have heard this concern from several parents of bilingual children over the years. Often, the parent will state that he or she heard his or her child say a word in one language and then started to combine words of features from the second language in the same sentence. Now the parent is concerned that their child is confused or not learning each language perfectly.
This is actually an amazing behavior that the parent is observing. It's called code mixing, which is the use of elements from two or more languages in the same utterance or conversation. Often, as children are learning both syntactical symptoms from both languages, the child may carry over features from one language while speaking. And if a child is still learning both languages, we might hear what may sound like to us as errors. However, when compared to the mainstream language, however, I like to tell parents and other professionals that these are not errors but instead interesting linguistic patterns which indicated that the child is really starting to understand and manipulate these grammatical rules from both languages.
Parents and educators should not reprimand children for code mixing because code mixing is actually pragmatically strategic and grammatically constrained, meaning that it doesn't occur randomly. We know that it's actually rule governed. And often, people code mix in a way that respects the grammatical rules of both languages, which is really, really cool. It also helps to fill lexical gaps in the child's proficiency in the target language and at times may also reflect the child's cultural and social identity. So, code mixing is perfectly normal.
Then, another big myth that I often hear, too, is speaking two languages to a child with a delay or disorder will make them worse. Therefore, during intervention and at home, the parent and clinician should expose the child to only one language. This is probably, I would think, the most commonly heard myth that I've heard in multiple settings from multiple professionals, including doctors or pediatricians who have recommended that the parent should only expose their child to one language. Often, parents of children who have autism are worried that speaking two languages might delay their child's language development or altogether just stop it.
It is intuitive to think that adding another language may impair their child language learning systems, but there's a growing body of research indicating that children with a wide range of communication disorders are capable of becoming bilingual. There have been several studies on children with Down syndrome, articulation impairments, and autism. And all of these studies have shown that bilingual children's language skills can be comparable to monolingual children with the same impairment. Overall, there's no evidence to support the idea that being bilingual will result in additional language delays for children who have language impairments. We can see this statement supported in research studies completed by Gutierrez-Clellen, Wagnus, Corkman, Pratus, Kreigo. There's several research studies that have also debunked this myth.
A very popular study that was done was done by Hambly and Fombonne in 2011 where they compared the social language abilities of three groups of children with ASD from Quebec and Ontario. In the research study, they had three groups. One was monolingual. One group was simultaneous bilingual, meaning that they acquired both languages at the same time. And another group was sequential bilinguals, meaning that the participants acquired one language first and then later the second language. The researchers examined several language aspects in the study, such as social responsiveness, initiation of and response to pointing, attention to voice, vocabulary size. And overall, they did not find differences between these bilingual groups and their monolingual peers with ASD. We can see similar results in other studies with children who speak English and Chinese.
But overall, these researchers found that children with ASD who were simultaneous bilinguals did not experience additional language development, developmental delay. The findings suggest that children who have autism or Down syndrome are definitely capable of becoming bilingual.
Then, lastly, another big myth is bilingual children will have academic difficulties and the language of intervention should be provided in the classroom language or the language of instruction, which most of the times, here in the US, is English because providing intervention in any other language would not support the student's progress in the classroom. This myth I frequently hear in the school setting, especially during IEP meetings or during any meeting where a special education team is deciding types of academic supports that the child will receive.
I have been in meetings where parents or parent advocates or other professionals will make a case for removing bilingual support or pushing for English-only instruction or intervention because English is the language of instruction. And once again, this idea that exposing the student to another language will cause the student more learning difficulties or lead to not mastering any languages is highly believed. Although this assumption may appear valid, there is no evidence to suggest that children with severe disabilities are unable to successfully become bilingual. This statement comes directly from a researcher by the name of Ohashi. In 2012, he did a research study.
But, overall, restricting language input to one language only may result in negative consequences which can impact the child who comes from a bilingual environment. We need to think that if bilingualism were too cognitively demanding for children with disabilities, it would mean that children with typically developing language skills will perform below their monolingual peers because of the increased cognitive load of bilingualism. But yet, the research, the literature does not suggest that. We have research that shows that bilingual children can have academic advantages of being bilingual, including superior problem-solving skills, multitasking skills, and increased cognitive flexibility.
A study by Barac et al. in 2014 called the Cognitive Developmental of Young Dual Language Learners found that, overall, in the area of nonverbal executive control skill such as memory, typically, bilingual children showed more advanced skills than their monolingual skills. Then, a more recent study that appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times called English Language Learners are Matching, Exceeding Other CPS Students revealed that bilingual ELL students met and sometimes surpassed monolingual students academically.
Overall, I believe that it is our ethical responsibility as professionals, as SLPs to educate others about the facts and the research currently out there. Because myths like these can have an impact on service delivery, an impact on decision-making in the special education process. We really must keep in mind that eliminating a child's home language comes with great consequence. It can result in poor language models at home, difficulty with family cohesion or communication, and prevent families from passing on their cultural values. So, we really must take this into consideration when working with diverse populations. And just ultimately, it's not our decision to make when it comes to which language the child should be exposed to.

Marisha: Oh my goodness. What an amazing overview. I was scrambling away taking notes. There's so much good information there.

Liliana: Thank you.

Marisha: Thank you so much.

Liliana: No, no. Thank you. I could definitely send you the research studies so that you can share with the listeners.

Marisha: No, that's amazing. So helpful. Those are all things that I've heard in meetings and everything, too. So, I think this was a really great starting point in just kind of getting all of us on the same page on where things stand with bilingual therapy. So, let's just dive into some ... And I wish we could talk about this for much longer time. But like I said, we're doing crash course today. Let's start diving into assessment. So, what are some ... Let's say we have a bilingual student on our caseload. We're convinced that we're looking at both languages or maybe even more than two languages if they are speaking more than that. But, what are some of the best practices for the assessment pieces? Where do we want to start with that?

Liliana: I will kind of outline some really important just key features about bilingual assessment. As SLPs who work with culturally and linguistically diverse populations, I would so that foremost, it is extremely important to become familiar with the student's ethnic background, educational background, student's cultural and dialectal differences prior to your evaluation. You definitely want to use your resources and do a thorough review on pragmatic differences that exist within the student's culture. Portland State University has some really great resources. That's the Portland State University website.
Just the last thing you would want to do or to make is a miss- or over-identification of the language disorder because of a cultural difference. So, definitely inform yourself about the student's dialect. For example, there are so many dialects that exist within English and/or the Spanish language, for example. And it's not safe or best practice to assume that your students speak the same dialect as you. I speak Spanish. However, my dialect of Spanish is completely different from a student living in, let's say, the northern part of Mexico. And it is completely different when compared to a student who is from Puerto Rico.
Overall, a point that I really want to stress is that we also need to acknowledge the students' linguistic differences and not judge or hold these differences as less or as the substandard when compared to the mainstream language. Overall, the SLP that is evaluating or working with diverse populations needs to practice culture humility in order to best serve these populations. But overall, we really need to be able to obtain qualitative and quantitative information from our evaluation and ensure that we are using a variety of assessment tools to help guide our decisions when assessing diverse population.
We definitely need to use multiple measures, both informal and formal, in order to really obtain the complete picture. So, you definitely want to do an in-depth family interview. Caregivers can always provide accurate information about a child's communication strengths and weakness, and just being able to understand the family's view, which can give us a lot of insight about the child's cultural values, educational status, language use, and communication deficits.
We also need to complete thorough interviews about the child's language background use. This is completely different than the regular interview. This information, the language background use, is going to help us obtain language of the student's dialect history as well as measuring the amount of exposure and usage of the student's language and the communication partners that the student communicates with on a daily basis. It really gives us a lot of good insight to the student's language preference and information about the student's acquisition of both languages.
So, tools that are very helpful for the part of the evaluation are language history questionnaires. Some assessments such as the BESA already have great questionnaires embedded within the assessment. Or you can always download a questionnaire from ... There's a website from the Cornell University that also has a good questionnaire called The Multilingual Language Use Questionnaire, which is really great. Because once again, it really breaks down all of those questions about language history.
But aside from that, too, we need to use nonstandard speech language assessments, pragmatic tests, language samples, or even criterion reference assessments if formal standardized testing is not available in the child's primary language. These tests will help determine the client's understanding and use of conventional language. And just really keep in mind that most, if not all, assessments are not always normed on the diverse population that we work with. Therefore, using scores to justify our decisions is not enough. I can't stress that enough. The most widely standardized language assessments that SLPs use are biased against most linguistically diverse students.
So even according to Dr. Kate Crowley, who is a well known SLP researcher, most bilingual students perform poorly on a standardized test, not necessarily because they have a disorder but because they do not have the same prior experiences as the mainstream American middle class experiences that form the content of most of these standardized tests. So, definitely keep that in mind. And keep in mind that it is not appropriate to translate standardized assessments to reach a standard score when you are working with these diverse populations. You simply cannot report standard score as when using assessments that are not normed for that specific language.
You start to think, "Oh, well, if I can't use standardized assessments, well, what else can I use?" One of the best tools that you can use is in-depth language sample. Honestly, it's the best tool that you can use when evaluating bilingual students. Language samples prove to be not culturally or racially bias. It's considered the gold standard for assessing children's language skills because it, honestly, is the only assessment measure that captures a speaker's typical and functional language use. This is a quote directly from Heilmann et al., 2010. Clinicians can use tools like salt and sugar to assess the students' morphology and syntax in both languages or even obtain language samples with tools such as the SLAM cards from Dr. Crowley's Leaders Project website. You could download them there. They're free. Also, just check out the website because it contains great information about working with diverse population. But, she has several tools on there that you can use and download so that you can use for your assessment.
Then, lastly, I would say that dynamic assessment can also be very useful when assessing bilingual children. And for those who are unfamiliar with dynamic assessment, it's a method of assessment which uses the test, teach, retest model. It can help us determine difference versus disorder when working with children that speak another language. Dynamic assessment really focused 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 in that language disorders. Overall, that's kind of my outline of things. So, just keep in mind when you are doing these assessments, language samples, interviews, dynamic assessments, criteria, and reference test.

Marisha: That is another amazing overview. I love how you structured that. It gives us some really nice action items to kind of look at and compare and see what we're currently using in our assessments, and then giving us a jumping-off point to learn a little bit more. So, that is perfect.
I second Dr. Crowley's site is amazing. I love the SLAM cards and all of the resources she has on there. So, that's a really great place to look if SLPs are wondering about language samples.

Liliana: It's a really great resource to just also learn more about dynamic assessment. Because I feel like that's one of the biggest questions that I often receive is how do you do a dynamic assessment or what are the components. So, she has great, great resources, the Leaders Project website.

Marisha: Yes. Yeah, we will definitely link to that in the show notes. Let's say we finish our assessment. We did our interviews. We looked at the language background use. We did a variety of different assessments. And we're only using norms when appropriate, which it sounds like that would be pretty rare in these situations, and we did some dynamic assessment. So, how do you go about starting with goal writing with English language learners? Do you have any rough guidelines or suggestions for getting started there?

Liliana: Yeah. Figuring out where to start in speech language interventions can be tricky, especially when working with bilingual children. Every case is different. And I will keep kind of my recommendations a little general because of this. However, one point to always note according to best practices in bilingual intervention and research by Dr. Goldstein, who is the author of the book Bilingual Language Developmental and Disorders, is that it's always easier to start with therapy goals that consist of shared features of both languages in order to develop a strong foundation and lead to overall gains in the student's language ability in the first language and in the second language.
Basically, what that would look like would be imagine you have a student who speaks, let's just say, English and Spanish. Finding shared features between both languages would be in the example of, let's say, a language goal, would be plurals, for example, because plurals exist with the final S, adding the final S to nouns, exists in both languages. So, that would be a goal that you can address. Let's say for the example of articulation. For example, if you're writing a goal for articulation, you would want to pick target sounds that are also shared amongst both languages. So once again, going to that English, Spanish example. Some shared phonemes would be the S sound, the M sound. You might want to start there when you're writing your goals.
But in addition, targeting shared features in your speech language goals will really help you avoid writing goals that are dialectal differences, which is not best practice. And once again, it's just really important to become informed about what those dialectal differences are. Write goals that consist of shared features of both languages. Then, once the student has mastered those goals, intervention can then later address the non-shared features or language-specific features as deemed appropriate.

Marisha: Awesome. Then, for SLPs who aren't as familiar with the second language, you mentioned that Portland University site ... Here, I'm trying to look back at my notes.

Liliana: Yes, yes. Portland State University.

Marisha: Portland State University. That would be a good place to go for dialectal differences or no?

Liliana: Yeah. The Portland State University website has a variety of languages under ... I believe it's the multilinguistic tab that they have on the website. They list a variety of languages. You could just click on the language that you're looking for, and it gives you an overview of pragmatic differences, just information about the culture, the language. It's very, very informative.
I know ASHA as well has a lot of good information on the website on dialectal differences for some languages. Bilinguistics has a whole book on different languages and their dialectal differences. So, I would highly recommend checking out those resources if you are working with English language learners.

Marisha: Is there an easy ... Are there similar resources to identify the shared features in both languages?

Liliana: Yes. I think, once again, Bilinguistics has the shared features within their book. I can't think of the names right now, but they do list out kind of this diagram where they show what those shared features are and which features aren't shared as well within their resources.

Marisha: Awesome. That leads me to a follow-up question, too. Of these resources that we can use, if we're not familiar with the language ... Or, yeah. So, the follow-up question there is ... So, let's say an SLP is working with a student who speaks Portuguese and she doesn't speak Portuguese. She can do that research and figure out the shared features, the dialectal differences, all of that. But, do you have any other ... I mean, ideally, the student would have a speech therapist who speaks both. But, do you have any tips or suggestions in navigating that?

Liliana: Yes. It can be challenging at times working with or communicating with families who don't speak another language that you know you know. In that specific case, sometimes you might not always find a Portuguese-speaking SLP to help that student. I would highly recommend the use of an interpreter if possible. That is best practice is to provide the student with intervention in the child's language. So, I would reach out to your admin, your school if you do come across a situation like that where you don't speak the language. Because in that case, like I said, you would really need the use of an interpreter.

Marisha: Awesome. Then, that leads me to the next question. In that case, we'd also be working with the parents. Oftentimes, if that's the primary language for the student, then that is also the case ... Or that can be the case for the parent as well. So, do you have any suggestions in providing effective communication when the primary languages don't match up?

Liliana: Yeah. Once again, like I said, it sometimes could be difficult to find those resources or even the use of an interpreter if possible. I know sometimes that's not the case, especially when you want to just be able to send home activities or explain an assignment. Overall, here, I'm going to list some tips in order to help improve communication with parents. I always ask families about their language preference for activities, meetings, and overall communication. I highly suggest that. Don't assume that because English is their second language that they aren't comfortable speaking it. If they prefer to speak in their first language, definitely try to find an interpreter. But, that's definitely a question to always ask families right from the bat is what their language preference is.
Definitely get to know the family and their culture. Once again, this is practicing cultural humility and being able to be culturally competent in order to ensure that any activities or materials you provide are just appropriate culturally and accurate. Let all the students and families know that they are welcome. A welcoming environment that celebrates students' cultures and encourages family leadership creates a strong foundation for relationships in your practice.
Then, use your resources. If a translator is not available to help you translate your materials or instructions on an assignment, you can use Google Translate. It's not perfect. But from experience, parents will tend to appreciate the effort you put into your communication a ton in case you really, really need something translated.
Then, the biggest point, I guess my biggest point of advice, is don't cut corners. It may seem very easy to leave out information or feel frustrated that you cannot get your message across with ELL families, but ELL families are legally entitled to information about their child's schooling. This includes all information about enrollment, parent conference meetings, IEP meetings, and any services that the school provides, such as speech therapy. They have the right to understand this information and have this information in a language that they can understand. ELL parents must have access to the same information as non-ELL parents.
According to the US Department of Education, schools must communicate information to limited English proficient families in the language they can understand. They must provide translation or interpretation from appropriate and competent individuals and may not rely or ask students, siblings, or friends, or untrained school staff to translate. It's just not sufficient enough for the staff to be merely bilingual.
Then, another thing to keep in mind, the IDA 2004 mandates that an interpreter facilitates the communication between individuals who do not share the same language. This includes assessments as well. Really keep in mind that sending information home in English will not always ensure that it is read and understood. I want to say ask yourself, what is your school doing to meet the needs of the current student population within the school? Does the school staff reflect the student population? I know sometimes these factors may seem out of our control, but we need to initiate these conversations with our admin at our schools in case you find yourself in a case where you have some students that need that interpretation or need that ELL support.

Marisha: Wow. So many good tips. I did have a follow-up question, too. I mean, we could talk about all of these points for hours and hours. But, I'm curious if you have any specific suggestions on getting to know the family and their culture. Can you give a couple examples of questions you might ask or just how you might approach that?

Liliana: So if it's a student on your caseload, you would've had to do a background assessment or just a family interview as part of the interview. I do ask these questions. I ask the families where they're from, what language is spoken at home, what information about the dialect. I let them know that it's more so for my assessment so that I can really understand how the child is communicating. So, just kind of making that point really straightforward, just saying that it's for the assessment purposes. But, I'm a pretty straightforward person. I will ask families about their preferences. I will, like I said earlier, ask them what language they prefer communication be in. In the beginning of the school year, I do kind of an activity where we talk about where we're from and just to really get to know one another and get to know my clients and get to know my students so that I can effectively provide them with just the intervention of with the assessments that they need.

Marisha: That's perfect. When you mentioned that, it reminded me of an article that one of the SLPs in my membership sent me. I think it was ... Yeah, it was this week. I just pulled it up real quick. The title is How to Celebrate Multicultural Diversity in Your Classroom. So it's geared at teachers, but it had a lot of similar things that you mentioned. They're activities to do with students, but some of ... I'll just share one or two of the quick ideas. But, they recommend having the students interview a parent or grandparent to learn more about their cultural heritage or just having ... Like you said, just talking about that in the speech room. That's an amazing language activity. So, it could kind of give us that information and also be therapeutic.
There's also sharing information about food. That's part of their cultural heritage. The blog post has ... Or like playing music from their culture. There's just so many different ideas on ... They're great therapy activities also, but they give us some really great information, and I think it's a cool way to celebrate all of the different cultures that we work with.

Liliana: Yeah. Once again, this just ties into how I mentioned earlier, just making sure that your practice, your intervention really celebrates and encourages, like you said, all cultures within the speech therapy room, and you're using materials or tools that are accurate and represent a variety of cultures or represent the student's culture. Because that's really important as well so that the student can also see themselves in the types of intervention that you're giving.

Marisha: Yeah, that's perfect. Then, I'm curious, too. This is backtracking a little bit, but I'm super curious. We talked about assessment, and we talked about selecting goals. Then, I'm curious, too. When it comes to the actual ... When it comes to treatment and diving into intervention, and with your current caseload, I guess might be the easiest way to start talking about it, how much of your intervention is in English versus Spanish? What does that look like? How do you structure that? Just some super ... I know that could be a three-hour course as well, but do you have any ... I'm just curious to get a quick snapshot of what that looks like for you with your caseload.

Liliana: Well, for me, for my specific caseload ... And this, it varies school to school, SLP to SLP based on their caseload's needs. At my school, there are two SLPs, myself and my colleague. The way we have divided our caseload is she takes all of the monolingual students, because she's monolingual, and I take all of the bilingual or predominantly Spanish-speaking students. Currently, on my caseload, I would say 90 or 85% of them, their therapy is in Spanish and Spanish only just simply because I work with a lot of preschoolers. The preschool students often come from environments where Spanish is the predominant language at home. And they come into school only speaking Spanish, and they're acquiring English in the school setting. So, intervention is in Spanish 100% with them.
It really varies. Once again, if you are trying to decide what language intervention should be in, once again, you really have to tie it back to your evaluation and all of the information that you obtain. Like I said, if there's cases where the student's intervention might be in both languages, cases where it might be in one language. So, it's hard to say exactly. But, just always keep in mind that you don't want to discount for the student's home environment. If the student is exposed to another language, then you definitely want to use both languages in intervention.

Marisha: Perfect. Thanks for humoring me with that backtrack there.

Liliana: No, crosstalk.

Marisha: I don't know. I thought that was super interesting to kind of address in terms of what that looks like, too. So now, circling back yet again, we were just talking about improving communication with parents who might not have English as their primary language or who prefer to communicate in another language. One of the things that you mentioned was working with interpreters. I know you have some really amazing tips to share in terms of how to effectively work with an interpreter. So for an SLP who maybe hasn't done that or isn't as comfortable just from the lack of experience, what should we definitely consider when we're working with those?

Liliana: Yeah. So, not necessarily in the school setting. I have worked with interpreters. Because like I said, most of my caseload has been Spanish, predominantly Spanish-speaking, which, I mean, I speak. However, in the early intervention setting, I have worked with interpreters. I have been able to kind of gather all of these tips just from my experience and also from just reading research articles. But, when I was in early intervention, I worked with several families who spoke Arabic. I had to work with interpreters with all of these families.
I'm just kind of going to go over the tips that I think are really, really important that I want to highlight. And the first one being that you really have to make sure you have access to a licensed and certified interpreter. It kind of goes along with the statement, again, that just because you're bilingual doesn't mean that you can translate or interpret. I'm sorry. Interpret everything adequately. So, you want to make sure that the interpreter is licensed, certified. Inadequate interpreting skills can definitely hinder the communication process. So, make sure that your interpreter is proficient in both languages, that they can convey meaning, and understand linguist variations of the particular language that you are working with. Make sure that they are familiar with your field's terminology. That one is super, super important. Also, ensure confidentiality and discuss it with the family as well.
Also, I would highly recommend that your interpreter is also very culturally aware. Once again, it's important. Just because someone speaks the language doesn't always guarantee that they understand the culture. When I was working with these families, there was a lot of things that at first that I didn't know about the family's specific culture, even though I had done my research. I had read several articles, but there was just so many things that I still had to learn, things from taking your shoes off when you enter the family's home. That was a big one for me as well. Just making sure that your interpreter can also help you with these questions and just kind of guide you with their own experiences is really important.
Then, one big point, too, is preparing before the session. That one is a huge one. Back when I was working with an interpreter, I would always meet at least an hour before the session. Or if you can't do it the same day, but definitely plan meetings prior to your session so that you can discuss, once again, the terminology, the process, everything that you're going to be doing that day, what you want him or her to say or how you them to say it is really, really important. So, just preparing before the session. Once you are in your session, I would highly recommend that you talk to the family and describe what the roles are. Describe how you're going to be the one working with the child, and the interpreter really just kind of serves as your voice to communicate with the family.
Always address the parent, that one's a big one, too, and not the interpreter. That one can seem ... I want to say you almost do it unconsciously when you want to communicate and you turn to look at the interpreter, but you really don't want to hinder your relationship with the family. So, looking at the family as you're talking and not the interpreter is a big one. So, making eye contact. And like I said, the interpreter just kind of serves as your voice, and that's it. You're still communicating with that family.
Remember to also take pauses. I also know this from experience just because, like I said earlier, I have interpreted for my family before. And if you're talking too fast, you can miss really important details. So, really take pauses as you are talking to the family, making sure that everything's getting interpreted. Check for questions. Always, I like to ask the families questions, backup questions to make sure that I understand that they understood what I was saying.
Remember to also take note of the nonverbal language. I like to make sure that I'm looking, once again, at the family directly. And if I notice any type of kind of nonverbal language like facial expressions, I kind of like to ask questions just once again to make sure that they understood what I am talking about.
Also, avoid oversimplification of diagnosis or recommendation. I think that's a big one, too. A lot of times you want everything to get interpreted correctly, and you try to word things in a way where you might want to make it more simple so that it gets communicated across more simple. But, don't oversimplify way too much. Be really straightforward as well with your recommendation.
Yeah, I would say those are kind of the big tips that I would recommend. Oh, and I almost forgot. One last one. Debriefing. That's a big one, too. After each of my sessions, I would debrief with the interpreter at the end just to make sure that their observations were the same as my observations and things were interpreted correctly, or if I missed anything, any concerns that the parent said, or a question that the parent might've had. Because when you're in the session, everything can move so fast. Time goes by so fast. So, always just kind of comparing observations at the end, debriefing at the end with the interpreter is key as well.

Marisha: Wow. Lots of great tips there. I so appreciate it. Thank you, Liliana.

Liliana: No problem.

Marisha: That brings us to the end of my content question list. I know we touched on a lot of different topics today. If SLPs want to learn more and kind of hear more about what you do, where can they find you?

Liliana: Well, definitely on social media. They can find me on Instagram, on Facebook. Always feel free to reach out, send me a message. I am currently working on my website. It is up right now, but it's under construction. But, I do have a website called bilingualspeechie.com where I do post several of these resources that I have mentioned, tips on bilingualism. So, definitely there as well. But, yeah, just feel free to reach out to me on social media if anyone has questions.

Marisha: Awesome. Then, any parting words of wisdom or advice or just the one ... If SLPs walk away with one thing today, what would you emphasize?

Liliana: If SLPs could walk out with ... Bilingualism does not cause language delays. And use multiple measures when assessing ELL students. Multiple measures, not just standardized assessments.

Marisha: Yeah, perfect. I definitely have a list of probably a hundred different takeaways, so hopefully people walk away with more than that. But, it's always interesting to hear what stands out to the presenter. That was so incredibly helpful. Thank you. Then, if SLPs are wanting to access any of the links that we mentioned, including Liliana's social media handles, and some of the research articles, and the blog posts, and all of that, you can go to slpnow.com/54. And that's a wrap, so thank you.

Liliana: Thank you.




Hi there! I'm Marisha. I am a school-based SLP who is all about working smarter, not harder. I created the SLP Now Membership and love sharing tips and tricks to help you save time so you can focus on what matters most--your students AND yourself.

Reader Interactions


  1. Erin says

    I tried listening to the bilingual podcast, but it sounds like it is the podcast about voice therapy…I can see the bilingual podcast transcript just fine, just wanted to hear it too. Is it just me?

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