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Med Travelers - December 2019

Can Academic Struggles be Related to Bilingualism?

Dr. Mary Ann Nericcio, Ph.D

October 5, 2009



I have a nine year old daughter who has been showing academic struggles in the last year. Her father and I were separated for the last two years and during that period time her struggles began in school. Currently, per the request of her teachers, I had h


Please be reassured that exposure to three languages in your home is not causing the academic difficulties. As a bilingual speech-pathologist of more than thirty years, I have found that exposure to different languages has always been a plus not a negative for children. It is excellent that you are having assessments done to rule out learning or speech difficulties. Speech/language problems can include difficulty with articulation, language (both receptive and expressive), fluency, and voice. Unfortunately, second language learners in the United States have sometimes been misdiagnosed as language impaired due to a language difference not a language disorder. A true language disorder will be present in the child's native language. It is also critical that any assessment on your daughter be done in both English and Spanish to properly ascertain language function.

It is natural for a second language learner to use the native language as a foundation for the new language. Speech Pathology.com is a wonderful website to visit as well as ASHA.com (American Speech-Language Hearing Association) for information on second language acquisition in children.

I would continue to support my daughter by getting involved with her classroom, teachers, and school district, both by being her advocate and encouraging tutorials in the various academic areas. It is also a good idea to see how supportive the district is of the myriad of second language acquisition research that supports bilingual education in this great nation of ours. On a personal note, I was raised in a bilingual household where Spanish was the native language of the home. Due to the attitude in my state regarding Spanish, I was encouraged to speak only English. Thankfully, I remained bilingual to this day due to the positive support and influence of my family and my peers.

Dr. Nericcio is an experienced bilingual speech/ language pathologist, public school administrator and university professor in Austin, Texas, her adopted hometown. She has her own practice, and continues to teach at the University level. She is the proud Mom of Will, who unfortunately is not bilingual.

Dr. Mary Ann Nericcio, Ph.D

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