January 2005 marks the middle of the first decade of a new millennium, and my appointment as your new ¿QUÉ TAL? Column Editor. I will attempt to follow the trails so carefully carved by Dr. Hart Kayser who has led all of us into thinking and reflecting on important issues affecting our daily work in delivering effective services to bilingual students and their families.
I am most grateful to John Consalvi CEO of Bilingual Therapies for this new opportunity in my career. Since this is my first column written for the first month of a new year, I want to share three beginnings with you. The first beginning includes is a brief summary of my professional and personal background, the second one summarizes how I became involved in this exciting field, and the third one provides you with an important idea that has assisted me in initiating an assessment.
I am currently a tenured Professor in the Communicative Disorders and Sciences Department at San José State University in San José, California located in the Silicon Valley. For the past 30 years I have worked in assessing and planning educational interventions for English Language Learners (ELL) with speech, language and communications disabilities and their families. (Specializing in the Hispanic population). My appointment as professor in a University setting began in 1997. Prior to this appointment, I was a Speech -Language Pathologist, Program Specialist as well as Consultant for various school districts in the California Bay Area. During that time, I wrote many papers as well as documents in addition to offering numerous workshops locally, nationally and internationally on the topic of bilingualism and language-learning disabilities. Most recently, I published a book on how to collaborate effectively with a language interpreter/ translator in our profession when the clinician does not share the client’s language, Collaborating with Interpreters and Translators: A Guide for Communication Disorders Professionals (with Lilly Cheng) and a companion book for the Interpreter, Interpreters and Translators in Communication Disorders: A Practitioner’s Handbook were published by Thinking Publications in 2002.
Despite a very busy schedule, I continue to conduct bilingual assessments throughout various local school districts. These experiences enable me to work directly with ELL students of various ages who have unique abilities and challenges, and bring their cases to enliven my classes in the university classroom.
Some personal background notes follow. I grew up in Mexico City being a simultaneous speaker of Spanish and Polish (my parents and grandparents settled in Mexico after surviving WWII in Poland). I completed my undergraduate degree in the oldest University of the Hispanic American hemisphere, the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, also called UNAM. I attended a French immersion school program from first grade through high school, and I began learning English when I was 12 years old, thus becoming a sequential learner of French and English. My graduate degrees are from Tufts University in Secondary Education and my doctorate from Boston University in Psycholinguistics and Special Education. The emphasis of my career began with my CFY experience as the Spanish-speaking SLP at Children’s Hospital in Boston and my dissertation entitled: “Determining a Language Disorder in a Bilingual Spanish-Speaking Population”
My interest in speech and language pathology began while I was a student teacher at the Massachusetts Hospital School in Canton, Mass (a school for physically handicapped students) where I was appointed teacher of foreign languages (French, Spanish and Latin). This appointment took place prior to the days of PL-94-142 (before 1975) when students who had any physical, learning or mental handicaps were isolated from their mainstreamed peers and attended special schools. The fact that many of my students could master a new language despite significant oral-motor as well as many other physical impediments such as cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy inspired me to continue my graduate education, something that I am most grateful for to this day.
After completing all requirements for a graduate degree in speech-language pathology, it was time to complete a Clinical Fellowship Year that took place at Children’s Hospital in Boston. My supervisor was very eager to hire someone who was fluent in Spanish to serve a growing group of Spanish-speaking children from Puerto Rico. This experience taught me something that I also wanted to share with you today. At the time of my appointment there were no tests in Spanish other than one or two adaptations of English tests (which were not of much help). Therefore, to formulate a diagnosis, I had to rely on parent and family input as well as observations and an analysis of a language sample. This experience has help me realize that a comprehensive parent history at the start of an assessment can guide the clinician into the right path. In asking the ” right questions” I was able to determine whether or not the client I was assessing had indeed a problem. To date, I find that a parent interview constitutes to at least 50% of an assessment. So, I would like to encourage you to begin or continue to include a parent interview as part of your assessment. Restrepo (1998) found that parental input and mean length of sentence and number of errors per sentence in L1 for Spanish speakers predicted a language disorder in 90% of cases. On the Thinking Publications Website you will find a Spanish version of a parent questionnaire that you may be helpful.
- Restrepo, A. (1998). Identifiers of predominantly Spanish-speaking children with language impairment. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 41, 1398-1411.
What is coming up? ¿Que habra de nuevo?
I hope you take the time to read the February’s column where my theme (inspired by Valentine’s Day) will focus on the importance of peer interaction and friendship in the development of a new language.