Q&A: How can a monolingual professional offer Speech and Language Therapy for a bilingual child?

by | Oct 25, 2018 | Challenges, Coaches, Language development, Mary-Pat O'Malley-Keighran, School-aged children | 0 comments

How can a monolingual professional offer Speech and Language Therapy for a bilingual child?




I am a Speech Language Pathologist in a school setting. I evaluated a 2 year 10 month old child who is a dual language learner. Dad speaks native language and English. Mom speaks native language and is just now learning English. Dad is concerned about delays in the native language.

This is quite confusing to me since normally you would find the concern being the L2. The evaluation was conducted in English since English is understood by the child at daycare very well. I speak only English. The results indicated low average expressive language skills but average receptive skills. Some common vocabulary was difficult for the child as well as lower utterance length. The child uses a few 3-word utterances but consistently uses 2-word utterances.

Dad is concerned because he is not speaking well in native language and is difficult to understand at home. I can’t say this child has a speech and language disorder but would like to help this family with their concerns. I appreciate any resource you can point me to or advice you would be willing to give.

Thank you,

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Hi Michelle,

thanks for taking the time to reach out with your question about offering Speech and Language Therapy advice.

The scenario is a 2 years 10 months old boy who is acquiring two languages simultaneously: the native language of his parents and English. His father has concerns about his language development in the native language. The evaluation was conducted in English and scores indicated low average expressive language skills and average receptive skills.

I wonder if this test was standardised on bilingual children? Bilingual children tend to under-preform on standardised testing due to the linguistic and content bias inherent in the tests. Other contributing factors here are the natural distribution of skills in vocabulary in bilingual children because they use the languages for different purposes to communicate with different communication partners about different topics. Which language is stronger may also fluctuate according to age and learning opportunities. Uneven performance across tasks, settings, and languages is to be expected. An additional factor is the considerable individual variation in language ability at all developmental stages within and between any well-defined groups of bilingual children.

Here are some resources that may help:

The Intelligibility in Context Scale is a parent-report measure available in arrange of languages that may help clarify the issues with his speech. You can access it here.

Another resource to evaluate his total vocabulary across the languages is the McArthur Bates Communication Development Inventory which is not that expensive and is available in a range of languages. You can explore that here.

You could also have a look at the Language Use Inventory which goes one step further than the CDI as it looks at what the child is doing from a language use perspective. You can find out about that here.

I would also think about exploring the range of communicative intentions that the little boy is using for example requesting an action, requesting objects, requesting repetition, rejecting, greeting, commenting, labelling and so on.

And what about gestures? Amy Wetherby has some great resources on this which you can access here and here.

If the child needs more opportunities to communicate, communicative temptations can be useful. Here’s a link to some ideas for these.

The Hanen Centre also have great tips for helping parents develop their children’s language in natural, fun ways although you’d have to ensure that the suggestions are a good fit for this family’s culture.

I hope these suggestions help. It will also be important to encourage the parents to continue to speak their native language with their little boy and not to drop it. And for his mother not to feel under pressure to learn English to help him.

Kind regards,

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Mary-Pat O'Malley-Keighran

Mary-Pat O'Malley-Keighran

Mary-Pat O’Malley is a lecturer, author, researcher, speech and language therapist and lover of all things to do with speech, language and communication. She has over 25 years’ experience of working with families and 16 years’ experience of teaching in university. Mary-Pat has done extensive research in communication including story-telling and non-word repetition in bilingual children. She is passionate about making bilingualism research and speech and language therapy for bilingual children accessible to parents. Mary-Pat is currently a lecturer in speech and language therapy at NUI Galway on the west coast of Ireland and you can find her blog at Talk Nua. (CORU Reg. No. SL018147).


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