Bilingual evaluations and therapy
What is bilingualism?
A child is considered bilingual or multi-lingual when he or she is exposed to more than one language. Frequently, a child is exposed to one language in the home (e.g. Spanish, Hmong, Somali) and another language at school or in the wider community (English). There are many advantages to being bilingual, including being able to learn new words easily, developing good listening skills and an ability to connect with a greater variety of people and communities.
Learning two languages
Your child can learn two languages! Just like learning any other skill, children need lots of practice and encouragement to learn to speak two languages. Learning two languages does not cause delays in speech or language development. Bilingual children should meet the same developmental milestones as monolingual children, such as speaking their first word by 1 year of age and using 2-word phrases by 2 years of age.
Bilingual children may sometimes ‘mix up’ the two languages, using grammatical rules or words from one language when speaking in the other. This is considered a normal part of bilingual development. Additionally, children who speak a home language different from their academic language will frequently undergo a ‘silent period’ when they start school. This silent period may last several months, but is normal and should go away after the first year of school.
Supporting all languages
Research has shown that children demonstrate higher academic achievement and show significant cognitive advantages when their home language is supported. For many children, knowing two languages is also necessary to connect with family members and their community.
At Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, one way we respect each person’s uniqueness is by providing services in any language your child speaks. Speech-language pathologists collaborate with trained interpreters to complete speech-language evaluations and speech therapy sessions. Spanish-English bilingual speech therapists are also available at multiple Children’s sites. In 2014, Children’s reported over 82,000 interpretive services encounters, representing 61 different languages!
When is a bilingual speech evaluation recommended?
If a family is concerned about their child’s communication development, a consultation with a speech-language pathologist is recommended. If your child has difficulties with speech and/or language, and is exposed to more than one language, a bilingual evaluation is recommended. If the child lives in a Spanish-English bilingual household, an evaluation may be scheduled with a Spanish-English bilingual speech therapist. Otherwise, a professional interpreter will be scheduled to assist the speech-language pathologist in completing a valid and accurate assessment of your child’s communication skills.
What to expect during a bilingual evaluation
During a 60-minute evaluation, the speech-language pathologist will collect information about your child’s medical history, developmental milestones and your current concerns. Depending on your concerns and your child’s age and communication skills, the speech-language pathologist may also:
- Listen to your child talk during play activities
- Engage your child in conversation to see how the produce sounds, create sentences and understand questions
- Ask your child to read short paragraphs or describe pictures and games
- Administer standardized testing for articulation, language, or fluency
To complete a valid assessment, it is important for the speech-language pathologist to evaluate your child’s skills in all languages they are exposed to. Therefore, some tasks may be repeated in two (or three!) languages to fully assess your child’s communication. Trained, professional interpreters may be present during the evaluation to collaborate with the speech-language pathologist and to ensure an accurate assessment of your child’s abilities.
Results and recommendations will be discussed at the end of the evaluation. If appropriate, speech therapy will be recommended and home activities will be discussed.
What to bring to a bilingual evaluation
- Speech-language intake packet, if completed
- Copies of previous evaluations, including your child’s IEP/IFSP
- Results from a recent hearing test (if available)
What to expect during bilingual therapy
Based on the results of your child’s evaluation, speech therapy may be recommended to address articulation, language or fluency goals. Your child’s speech therapist will work with you to determine how each of your child’s languages will be supported within his/her speech therapy sessions. For one child, a Spanish-English bilingual speech therapist may complete language learning activities entirely in Spanish. For another child, an English-speaking speech-language pathologist may work with a Hmong interpreter to target improved articulation of speech sounds. We know that each child’s language experience and development is unique and will work with you to develop a plan that is individualized for your child!
The speech therapists at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota like these sites for more information about growing up bilingual and bilingual services: