Handling the Speech Therapy Challenge of Working with Bilingual Children

Couple reading to their son.

Handling the Speech Therapy Challenge of Working with Bilingual Children

Studies show humans learn multiple languages easier as children than as adults. Encouraging children to become bilingual is a great way to encourage communication skills, but what happens when a child may also present challenges with speech?

For many years, a myth persisted that bilingual children naturally have language delays. Children learning two languages develop language skills sufficiently, according to recent research. Still, speech delays may develop in a bilingual child as often as they might in a child who is learning just one language.

Bilingual children in speech therapy may present a unique challenge, but you can prepare for these situations by developing an understanding of the needs of your client.

Allow Communication in Both Languages

In the past, many speech therapists believed parents should pick one language to communicate with a bilingual child. Simplification of language was the goal. Today, experts and researchers claim that sticking to one language may not reduce language delays. A child experiencing a delay in one language typically experiences a delay in another language too.

Simplify Your Language

Simplification is a key tool you might learn in speech therapist CE. Using short sentences rather than paragraphs is a great start for children and allows you to emphasize key words and phrases. Repetition of simple words and phrases may help the child develop stronger speech skills.

Utilize the Child’s Interests

You can encourage children to focus more on the subject if you use their interests to create content for speech therapy sessions. For instance, you may benefit from learning about the books, comics, television shows, and toys that your client enjoys. Singing familiar songs is beneficial for developing crucial communication skills as well.

Educate Parents about Bilingual Evaluations

Children with speech and language development issues often require bilingual evaluations for additional help rather than evaluations only for English. A child may know different vocabulary words in each language, so a bilingual evaluation will offer more insight into the child’s language skills.

Bilingual evaluations are best performed by individuals who understand and speak both languages the child speaks. If this is not possible, have somebody who speaks the language fluently in the room during the evaluation as a translator.

Document with the words apple.

Speech therapists armed with the right knowledge can help children develop the necessary communication skills in more than one language.

Understand Common Errors

Children who are bilingual may make specific errors in speech. For instance, some children may experience interference or transfer, in which they make an error in one language caused by the structure of their other language. While potentially confusing, these patterns rarely indicate a speech delay.

Some children also experience silent periods. They may be quiet, but they may listen actively to pick up more knowledge.

Finally, keep in mind that children should continue using both languages to avoid attrition or loss of language. You may need to consider the potential for language loss when you are assessing speech delays.

Stay Educated about Bilingualism and Speech Therapy

You can also update your knowledge about speech therapy and language. Speech therapist CE is beneficial for anybody who works with bilingual children with potential speech delays. Look at our Speech-Language Pathology Courses to learn more.

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