5 Pointers for Bilingual Students

  • March 1, 2011
  • Melissa D. White

Melissa D. White, M.A., CCC-SLP
University of Texas-Austin, Austin, TX

Melissa is a bilingual speech-language pathologist who has worked with culturally and linguistically diverse school age children with various communication disorders in Texas and Illinois. Previously, Melissa served as a clinical faculty supervisor for the University of Texas- Austin Speech and Hearing Center (UTSHC). There, Melissa primarily supervised graduate students during their bilingual Spanish rotations and worked as a clinical mentor on the Implementing Treatment Practices (ITP) Project, which is a training grant through the Office of Special Education, U.S. Department of Education. Melissa currently works through Bilingual Therapies at the Northside ISD in San Antonio, TX and is a Team Leader for the Mountain West region.

I’ve supervised many graduate students over the years and know that the weeks before spring break can be very stressful.  Most of you started graduate school with the goal of finishing the program and being a bilingual SLP.  What you might not have known was the roller coaster ride it was going to be.  Here are some tips to help you stay on track.

1.  “Know who you will be”

If you are interested in becoming a bilingual SLP, you probably already know that it isn’t just about speaking a second language.  ASHA has defined skills that a bilingual speech and language pathologists should have (http://www.asha.org/docs/html/RP1989-00205.html).  Reviewing this document will help you understand what the expectations are for being a bilingual service provider.  You can also access other position statements on ASHA’s website that relate to multicultural issues (http://www.asha.org/practice/multicultural/readings/position.htm).

2.  “Know your Program”

While there are more university programs in communication disorders that offer a bilingual program for graduate students, the number is still limited.  Many graduate students who are interested in being a bilingual SLP end up having to “MacGyver” their monolingual program and supplement it. Find out what your academic and clinical faculty areas of specialty are.  While you may not be at a program with a bilingual emphasis, you may have individuals who are researching or have experience working with culturally and linguistically diverse populations.  It is important to discuss knowledge and skills needed in assessment and intervention of culturally and linguistically diverse populations and develop a plan for acquiring those skills.  If you feel that you don’t have this type of support, find a mentor.  ASHA has a mentoring program for graduate students that is excellent.  You can find information about signing up for a mentor at http://www.asha.org/students/gatheringplace/.

3. “Know your University”

Start researching other programs within your university.  The college of education may have bilingual education programs, as well as bilingual special education programs.  These types of programs may have courses on bilingualism and working with diverse populations.  Many colleges and universities have programs that focus on child development, family studies and multicultural studies.  You may also be able to find courses that focus on Spanish linguistics and phonetics.

4.  “Know your skills”

As a graduate student, doing therapy in English can be daunting.  Many graduate students are trying to figure out how to talk to kids for the first time.  Now imagine doing all the assessment and intervention tasks in your second language for all disorders and age groups.  If you aren’t sure about your bilingual language skills then you need to find out quickly.  Knowing conversational Spanish or academic Spanish can only get you half of the way.  If you want to get better at communicating in your second language, you have to use it.  Take courses in conversational Spanish, join Spanish speaking groups on campus, watch T.V. shows and movies in Spanish, take a Spanish medical terminology course etc.  The point is, you have to find ways to improve your second language skills.

You also need to know what your biases are.  We all have had a variety of experiences that have shaped our perceptions.  Recognizing that we have biases allows us to examine them and to determine whether they will positively or negatively impact our assessment and intervention.   ASHA has helpful self-assessments at http://www.asha.org/practice/multicultural/self.htm .

5. “Know you are not alone”

The number of bilingual SLP’s is growing every year. Don’t get discouraged and keep working at it.  Being a bilingual speech and language pathologist is a rewarding profession and in high demand.  If you are passionate about working with culturally and linguistically diverse students stay on the course, it’s worth the ride.

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