What It Takes to Call Yourself a Bilingual Practitioner As the United States grows more linguistically diverse, so does the appeal of identifying oneself to clients as a “bilingual practitioner.” It’s a good way to help those with communication needs in more than one language identify you as a resource, and to serve minority-language communities better. Certainly, that’s how ... Features
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Features  |   November 01, 2011
What It Takes to Call Yourself a Bilingual Practitioner
Author Notes
  • Nathan Cornish, MS, CCC-SLP, is director of clinical services at Bilingual Therapies in Skokie, Ill. He is speech-language pathology president of the Hispanic Caucus and a member of ASHA Special Interest Group 14, Communication Disorders and Sciences in Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Populations. Contact him at nathan.cornish@bilingualtherapies.com.
    Nathan Cornish, MS, CCC-SLP, is director of clinical services at Bilingual Therapies in Skokie, Ill. He is speech-language pathology president of the Hispanic Caucus and a member of ASHA Special Interest Group 14, Communication Disorders and Sciences in Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Populations. Contact him at nathan.cornish@bilingualtherapies.com.×
Article Information
Cultural & Linguistic Diversity / Policy Analysis
Features   |   November 01, 2011
What It Takes to Call Yourself a Bilingual Practitioner
The ASHA Leader, November 2011, Vol. 16, 16-18. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR2.16152011.16
The ASHA Leader, November 2011, Vol. 16, 16-18. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR2.16152011.16
As the United States grows more linguistically diverse, so does the appeal of identifying oneself to clients as a “bilingual practitioner.” It’s a good way to help those with communication needs in more than one language identify you as a resource, and to serve minority-language communities better.
Certainly, that’s how it’s been for me. Though Spanish is not my native language, I have lived abroad and wanted to work as a speech-language pathologist with Spanish-speaking individuals. I quickly learned, however, that speaking another language represented only a portion of the skills I needed.
To make the “bilingual” claim, I found, practitioners who work in all settings must have specific knowledge and skill sets that go beyond simply having a high level of language proficiency. How do you know if you meet those criteria?
A starting point is the definition and guidelines ASHA provides for those who wish to “present themselves as bilingual for the purposes of providing clinical services.” This definition, available on ASHA’s website, outlines five areas of competency that a bilingual practitioner should possess:
  • Native or near-native proficiency in another language in the areas of vocabulary, word-meaning, phonology, grammar, and pragmatics.

  • Knowledge of typical language development for both monolingual and bilingual speakers of the language.

  • The ability to administer and interpret diagnostics in the other language and distinguish between a difference and a disorder.

  • The ability to provide treatment in the other language.

  • The ability to recognize cultural factors that may impact services.

Fortunately, these skills can be attained by both native and non-native language users. For me, it took finding information in the literature, attending additional educational activities, and—most importantly—obtaining clinical experience under the guidance of competent bilingual mentors.
But there are many specific questions that arise as professionals look into becoming bilingual service providers. Here are some answers to some of the most common.
Q: What type of certification do I need?
It’s important to distinguish between ASHA certification and the credentials required by state or local agencies.
ASHA does not have a certification process for bilingual service providers. Individual clinicians and their employers have the ethical responsibility to monitor and ensure that a service provider is engaging “in only those aspects of the professions that are within the scope of their professional practice and competence...” (ASHA Code of Ethics, Principle II, Rule B).
Further, very few jurisdictions require a specific credential for bilingual service providers. Two that do are the state educational agencies of New York and Illinois. School-based clinicians in those states must take a language proficiency exam and pass coursework that focuses on increasing their skills in correctly identifying and serving linguistically diverse clients before they can identify themselves as bilingual practitioners. ASHA members should verify the credentialing requirements of the area in which they plan to work.
Q: How bilingual is bilingual enough?
“Native or near-native proficiency” is an appropriately high mark; however, it’s a complex concept to attempt to measure. ASHA has outlined language competencies to provide some guidance related to the necessary knowledge and skills.
Professionals should keep a few things in mind when assessing their language proficiency: Bilingualism is not equal knowledge of two languages, and language ability is tied to language use (Grosjean, 1989). Even native speakers sometimes struggle to communicate certain concepts and terminology if they don’t typically communicate about them in their first language. The ability to hold a flawless conversation about economics or politics in another language might not be the most helpful yardstick in determining whether you are ready to provide services in that language. Some useful questions you can ask yourself may include:
  • Can I identify grammatical, semantic, phonological, or pragmatic errors in the language of a number of different clients?

  • Can I model the appropriate use of those structures?

  • Am I familiar enough with the different dialects of the language that I can tell how they impact communication?

  • Can I effectively communicate diagnostic, treatment, and other professional information to the client, caregivers, and other professionals in the other language?

It is essential for bilingual service providers to be familiar with professional terminology in the other language. However, an equally useful (and potentially more difficult) skill to develop is effectively describing and discussing the concepts those terms represent to clients, families, and caregivers.
Q: How do I become bilingual?
Language ability is tied to language use. You can get a solid foundation in a language by attending formal courses. However, having a regular, systematic need to communicate is one of the best ways to develop competence in another language. If that need isn’t present in your typical, everyday activities, there are many opportunities to create that need.
Studying abroad or spending time in another country on a service trip can be a highly beneficial experience. Volunteering with a local charitable organization that serves the language community in which you’re interested is also very valuable. Websites such as Meetup are frequently good resources for identifying free or low-cost foreign language conversation groups in cities around the United States.
Q: How do I obtain the clinical knowledge I need to practice?
Various university programs offer coursework and clinical experience in working with bilingual clients. The Hispanic Caucus (a related professional organization of ASHA) maintains a list of graduate programs that offer formal bilingual specialization or that have a particular interest in bilingualism.
For those who are already practicing, the information in the literature and the availability of continuing education opportunities are always expanding. Specialists in bilingual education and modern languages are often good resources. A quick keyword or subject area search of ASHA’s CE Course Search webpage can identify ASHA-approved continuing education activities offered by providers around the country.
Look for educational programs that can help you develop your understanding of the following areas mentioned in the ASHA guidelines:
  • Typical speech and language development for speakers of the other language.

  • Typical speech and language development for individuals with bilingual needs.

  • Processes of second language acquisition.

  • The dynamics of bilingualism in communication disorders.

  • Tools and methods for assessing in the other language and across more than one language.

  • How to distinguish a difference from a disorder.

  • How to determine and employ appropriate intervention strategies according to the client’s needs in both languages.

  • Cultural factors that affect communication and service delivery.

The communities we serve benefit greatly from the many individuals who push their own linguistic boundaries and understanding to become bilingual service providers. The standards are high and there is a lot to know. However, the resources and opportunities to help develop those skills are always expanding, and the rewards are worth the effort.
Sources
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (2010). Code of Ethics [Ethics]. Available from www.asha.org/policy.
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (2010). Code of Ethics [Ethics]. Available from www.asha.org/policy.×
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (2004). Knowledge and Skills Needed by Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists to Provide Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services [Knowledge and Skills]. Available from www.asha.org/policy.
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (2004). Knowledge and Skills Needed by Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists to Provide Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services [Knowledge and Skills]. Available from www.asha.org/policy.×
Grosjean, F. (1989). Neurolinguists, beware! The bilingual is not two monolinguals in one person. Brain and Language, 36, 3–15. [Article] [PubMed]
Grosjean, F. (1989). Neurolinguists, beware! The bilingual is not two monolinguals in one person. Brain and Language, 36, 3–15. [Article] [PubMed]×
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November 2011
Volume 16, Issue 15