It’s the Wrong Question (Initially): Part 2

In a recent post, I discussed the therapy goal driving the language of intervention and not vice versa.  In Part 2, I provide an example focusing on speech sound disorders and some more explanation.

Suppose you determine that a Spanish-English bilingual child has a speech sound disorder in which the trill-sound in Spanish (in a word such as “perro”–dog) and the r-sound (as in “read”) are misarticulated.  The goal drives the language of intervention.  If you want to remediate the r-sound, you are obligated to do so in English.  Only English has that sound-not Spanish.  The same is true, of course, for the trill sound in Spanish.  You must work on it in Spanish.  Clearly, these are somewhat easy cases and easy decisions.

What happens with a sound such as the s-sound, if it is misarticulated in both languages?  By the way, if a bilingual child has a disorder, it will occur in both languages, not just in one language (a topic for another post).  So, back to the misarticulation of the s-sound in both languages.  The goal (and my bias) is to increase the accuracy of that sound in both languages ultimately, but how should this be done?  At this point, language of intervention is relevant. 

Surprisingly, there are very few studies of treating speech sound disorders in bilingual children (we actually have very few treatment studies in speech-language pathology, but that’s a subject for the future).  Such studies include:

Holm, A., & Dodd, B. (2001). Comparison of cross-language generalisation following speech therapy. Folia Phoniatrica et Logopaedica, 53, 166-172.

Holm, A., Ozanne, A., & Dodd, B. (1997). Efficacy of intervention for a bilingual child making articulation and phonological errors. International Journal of Bilingualism, 1, 55-69.

Ray, J. (2002). Treating phonological disorders in a multilingual child: A case study. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 11, 305-315.

Although these studies provide some direction for us, they are all case studies, and thus, we can’t generalize them.  That being said, we do need to find some direction.  The numerous factors that the students raised (and that were also included in the previous post) come into play: home language, parental choice, use, proficiency, dominance, school language, language of the speech-language pathologist, and availability of interpreters/translators. 

You might choose the initial language of intervention based on those, or perhaps other, factors.  You might also deliver treatment in one of the following ways:

  • English first (or Spanish) to some criterion and then in Spanish (or English) to some criterion
  • 1 week in English and 1 in Spanish
  • English (or Spanish) for a set number of sessions and then Spanish (or English) for a set number of sessions

 At this point, we don’t have research evidence that privileges one approach over the other.  However, regardless of which language you start in, it is critical to monitor how that skill is generalized to the other language.  If it generalizes, then theoretically you would not have to work on it in the other language.  If it does not generalize, however, it would be appropriate to target it in the other language as well.  Again, the goal drives the language of intervention with the ultimate outcome of raising a bilingual child who is a competent speaker of both languages.

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  1. #1 by The Unapologetic Polyglot on April 2, 2009 - 10:16 pm

    These two intervention posts are really great!! I appreciate the links to the articles.

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