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Managing Populations that are Culturally Linguistically Diverse

Dr. Elena Zaretsky, Ph.D,CCC-SLP

September 4, 2006



I am in the process of evaluating a Spanish-speaking preschool student. No English is spoken in the home. I have used an interpreter to complete the testing and am now determining eligibility for services. Are there any guidelines? In other words, how do


Living in a pluralistic society, the question of how to determine language delay or language difference is a very timely one. Some terminology that is very useful to know: CLD-Culturally linguistically diverse and LEP-Limited English proficiency. According to ASHA position paper (1985), CLD is a continuum that include children with LEP, as well as children with bilingual English proficiency, and children with limited proficiency in L1 and L2 (English). Based on this statement, we can are assuming that LEP children should be proficient in their L1. Needless to say, children with limited proficiency in L1 and L2 are going to be handicapped in their ability to communicate. Very often, a child who starts to learn L2 in school while having L1 exclusively at home may look like a child with language delay or learning disability.

When assessing a bilingual child, certain rules should apply:

  • What influences the child's performance in the test situation?
  • Can we explain the problem from the cultural perspective?
  • Can the problem be explained by bias effect? After all, the majority of our SLPs are monolingual English speakers.
  • Can we find any consistency in the linguistic performance of a child that may point to the underlying rule?
  • And the most important question: Does the child have the same problem in L1?
Use of an interpreter is a good way of assessing a child in a language that the SLP does not speak. However, there are rules here too: The interpreter has to be aware of the exact nature of what you are looking for while accessing the child. I am assuming that the assessment was done in English and the interpreter was translating specific words and concepts that you were looking for. So based on that assessment you came to the conclusion that the child has a receptive language within the average range and expressive language within the borderline. Can this "borderline score" be a sign of a LEP child? Normal language development tells us that receptive language is always ahead of expressive ability. So we may assume that this child follows the typical developmental pattern within L2. That's why one cannot underestimate the power of assessment in L1.

The decision to treat or not to treat will depend on the program that your school/district has. If a bilingual child is allowed to spend part of the day speaking L1 and part of the day being immersed in L2 - you may not need to treat. If it is a total immersion - you may want to suggest a short-term plan that will help the child to learn L2 faster. These suggestions work only if the child doesn't show any signs of language deficits in L1, and you will address the question of treatment from the point of view of LEP. However, if the child has deficits in L1 - you definitely want to treat the child.

Dr. Elena Zaretsky, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication Disorders at UMass, Amherst. She is part of the team of professors in that department who received a four-year DOE grant to better educate and train graduate students to work with children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Her other interest include language learning disabilities and reading acquisition, as well as issues in bilingualism.

Dr. Elena Zaretsky, Ph.D,CCC-SLP

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