Compensation for Bilingual Skills?

The city of Houston is considering doing away with a $75.00 monthly stipend for bilingual employees in an effort to save money.  Apparently, not paying this stipend could save the city about one million dollars per year. So, should they get these additional skills at no additional cost?  I can see the point of saving a million dollars out of a budget that is already pretty tight. And the way that employees are made eligible for a bilingual stipend is likely problematic. But, if you have an additional skill that allows you to do additional work (because that’s what it is), shouldn’t you be compensated for it?

Let’s start out with eligibility. First of all, the way this is done right now is basically on the honor system. If you SAY you speak (read? write?) another language you’re eligible. There a $75.00/month raise. That’s probably not quite the way to do it. The other side of this is whether you need that language for the job you do. If you speak another language, but don’t need it for work is that enough? I’d say probably not. Ways of dealing with this would be to look at the job and the job demands. The other way would be for employees to take some kind of fluency test to demonstrate that they have the level of fluency to meet the job demands. It’s not that hard.

In the field of speech-language pathology, bilingual speech-language pathologists who work in various settings often can get a stipend for their bilingual skills. I have similar opinions about these stipends as well. There is no doubt that we need bilingual SLPs. In fact, my department has been a frontrunner in developement of programs to train bilingual speech-language pathologists at the MA level. There are however two kinds of bilinguals in the field: bilingual SLPs and SLPs who are bilingual. We need bilingual SLPs. SLPs who are bilingual are fine, but they shouldn’t get a stipend that a bilingual SLP would get, they don’t know enough. What do I mean by this? Well, Sam Ortiz talks about this in terms of bilingual school psychology and I’ve borrowed the idea for bilingual speech pathology.

So, a bilingual speech-language pathologist to me is one who is bilingual (speaks, reads, writes in two languages at a level at which they can communicate with clients, families, and other professionals) and who also knows stuff. What stuff does a bilingual SLP need to know? Well, Asha has some guidelines, but here’s my take:

  • knowledge of typical language acquisition in that language
  • knowledge of markers of impairment (speech, language, fluency, voice) in that language (yes, it’s different from English)
  • knowledge of what first and second language learning is like
  • understanding of how two languages interact and influence each other
  • understanding of similarities and differences in L1 and L2
  • strategies for assessment of L1 and L2
  • difference vs. disorder in bilinguals
  • appropriate intervention methods for bilinguals– what should be targeted in one language what should be targeted in both
  • knowledge of culture and how cultural values impact intervention

Just knowing another language doesn’t get you this information. At UT, students can get a certificate that documents their additional training and language competencies. I imagine other programs award similar certificates. Having the additional training that allows you do the job of a bilingual speech language pathologist should get you more pay as far as I’m concerned. Probably though, we need to develop some more systematic ways of documenting that we have this knowledge.  We’ll have to continue working on that.

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  1. #1 by Diana Angeles on June 21, 2010 - 2:23 am

    Hello,
    I just read you article and I was amazed with all the information that I learned just by reading this small article.
    Yes, you are right. There is a lot of SLPs and future SLPs who claim themselves that are bilingual . However, like you said, been bilingual is not enough, SLPs must know in depth the characteristics of the language they know, so they can use it for therapy and assessments in a productive way.
    If the SLP is able to use the foreign language in a way that will be beneficial for the client’s development, then the state should pay for it.

  2. #2 by Sarah Panjwani on June 23, 2010 - 7:24 pm

    Certified bilingual SLPs have received additional training and should receive additional pay if they provide these services. As a student, who will be starting graduate studies at UT in the fall, who will be participating in the bilingual program, and who will most likely be working in Houston in the future, I find this amendment disheartening. I hope that as more and more students become certified bilingual SLPs, we will be able to advocate and better educate the public about the great difference bilingual SLPs can make in accurately serving persons who are bilingual.

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