In a recent class on assessment and treatment of diverse populations, we were discussing treating communication disorders in bilingual children by speech-language pathologists. In preparation for this discussion, the students had read papers such as:
Kohnert, K., Yim, D., Nett, K., Kan P.F., Duran, L. (2005). Intervention with linguistically diverse preschool children: A focus on developing home language(s). Language, Speech and Hearing Services in Schools, 36, 251-263.
Gutiérrez-Clellen, V. (1999). Language choice in intervention with bilingual children. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 8, 291-302.
Goldstein, B. (2006). Clinical implications of research on language development and disorders in bilingual children. Topics in Language Disorders, 26, 318-334.
I opened the discussion with an open-ended question, “what is the first question you need to ask yourself in planning treatment for bilingual children with communication disorders?” Each and every student said something like, “What language should I treat in?” We then discussed how to make that decision. They raised a number of factors that would be important to know in making that decision such as: home language, parental choice, use, proficiency, dominance, school language, language of the speech-language pathologist, and availability of interpreters/translators. In discussing this topic for almost an hour, we could not agree on exactly how to answer this question. I then told them the truth. There was a reason they couldn’t truly answer the question.
It’s the wrong question (initially). Said another way, it’s the right question but at the wrong time.
I then asked them if the child were monolingual, what would be their first question. They all said, “What’s the goal?” Then why, I asked, is that not the same question for bilinguals? Silence.
Language of intervention is, of course, an important and critical question to answer in working with bilingual children, but I don’t think it’s the first one. Determining the goal drives the language. Language of intervention does not signal the goal.
In a future post, I will provide more detail on this notion and give you an example.