5 Pointers for Bilingual Students

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Melissa D. White, M.A., CCC-SLP
University of Texas-Austin, Austin, TX

Melissa is a bilingual speech-language pathologist who has worked with culturally and linguistically diverse school age children with various communication disorders in Texas and Illinois. Previously, Melissa served as a clinical faculty supervisor for the University of Texas- Austin Speech and Hearing Center (UTSHC). There, Melissa primarily supervised graduate students during their bilingual Spanish rotations and worked as a clinical mentor on the Implementing Treatment Practices (ITP) Project, which is a training grant through the Office of Special Education, U.S. Department of Education. Melissa currently works through Bilingual Therapies at the Northside ISD in San Antonio, TX and is a Team Leader for the Mountain West region.

I’ve supervised many graduate students over the years and know that the weeks before spring break can be very stressful.  Most of you started graduate school with the goal of finishing the program and being a bilingual SLP.  What you might not have known was the roller coaster ride it was going to be.  Here are some tips to help you stay on track.

1.  “Know who you will be”

If you are interested in becoming a bilingual SLP, you probably already know that it isn’t just about speaking a second language.  ASHA has defined skills that a bilingual speech and language pathologists should have (http://www.asha.org/docs/html/RP1989-00205.html).  Reviewing this document will help you understand what the expectations are for being a bilingual service provider.  You can also access other position statements on ASHA’s website that relate to multicultural issues (http://www.asha.org/practice/multicultural/readings/position.htm).

2.  “Know your Program”

While there are more university programs in communication disorders that offer a bilingual program for graduate students, the number is still limited.  Many graduate students who are interested in being a bilingual SLP end up having to “MacGyver” their monolingual program and supplement it. Find out what your academic and clinical faculty areas of specialty are.  While you may not be at a program with a bilingual emphasis, you may have individuals who are researching or have experience working with culturally and linguistically diverse populations.  It is important to discuss knowledge and skills needed in assessment and intervention of culturally and linguistically diverse populations and develop a plan for acquiring those skills.  If you feel that you don’t have this type of support, find a mentor.  ASHA has a mentoring program for graduate students that is excellent.  You can find information about signing up for a mentor at http://www.asha.org/students/gatheringplace/.

3. “Know your University”

Start researching other programs within your university.  The college of education may have bilingual education programs, as well as bilingual special education programs.  These types of programs may have courses on bilingualism and working with diverse populations.  Many colleges and universities have programs that focus on child development, family studies and multicultural studies.  You may also be able to find courses that focus on Spanish linguistics and phonetics.

4.  “Know your skills”

As a graduate student, doing therapy in English can be daunting.  Many graduate students are trying to figure out how to talk to kids for the first time.  Now imagine doing all the assessment and intervention tasks in your second language for all disorders and age groups.  If you aren’t sure about your bilingual language skills then you need to find out quickly.  Knowing conversational Spanish or academic Spanish can only get you half of the way.  If you want to get better at communicating in your second language, you have to use it.  Take courses in conversational Spanish, join Spanish speaking groups on campus, watch T.V. shows and movies in Spanish, take a Spanish medical terminology course etc.  The point is, you have to find ways to improve your second language skills.

You also need to know what your biases are.  We all have had a variety of experiences that have shaped our perceptions.  Recognizing that we have biases allows us to examine them and to determine whether they will positively or negatively impact our assessment and intervention.   ASHA has helpful self-assessments at http://www.asha.org/practice/multicultural/self.htm .

5. “Know you are not alone”

The number of bilingual SLP’s is growing every year. Don’t get discouraged and keep working at it.  Being a bilingual speech and language pathologist is a rewarding profession and in high demand.  If you are passionate about working with culturally and linguistically diverse students stay on the course, it’s worth the ride.

Posted in: Resources for Students

6 responses to “5 Pointers for Bilingual Students”

  1. Monique says:

    Hi Melissa,

    Thanks for the great advise! I’m a current teacher at a Spanish language immersion school, looking into bilingual SLP graduate programs. This upcoming year I’ll be completing an online prerequisite program and then applying to numerous schools. I’m seriously considering UT-Austin and the University of Puerto Rico which are both ASHA accredited programs. The benefit about studying in Puerto Rico would be that content and clinical work would be in Spanish, providing a unique experience. Do you have any suggestions about graduate schools or experience relating to hospital work in comparison to school based speech pathology?

    Muchas gracias,


  2. Julia Mari says:

    Hi Monique,

    Where are you from? I’m from Puerto Rico. I’m a current SLP student in Puerto Rico. I love my two years in a SLP master program.
    Para hablarte un poco español. Estudio en la universidad Carlos Albizu y en agosto comenzaré mis 375 horas de práctica clínica para graduarme en mayo de 2012. Precisamente estoy buscando un centro con base educativa en los EU (South Carolina o North Carolina) para hacer mis horas clínicas. Se me ha hecho bien difícil conseguir algún centro en esa área que se trabaje con población bilingue. Muchas coorporaciones me han cerrado las puertas a pesar de que les indico que me responsabilizaría de costear todos los gastos de mudanza. Con eso te imaginarás las ganas que tengo de trabajar con población bilingue.
    En PR hay tres universidades que ofrecen el programa de SLP. Las tres son excelentes, pero te recomiendo dos: RCM y CAU. RCM es un programa a tiempo completo (lunes a viernes) y culminas en dos años. CAU, que es donde yo estudio, es un programa de estudio de viernes y sábado, con una duración de 3 años. Yo voy para mi tercer año.
    Soy de Texas y entre mis opciones para hacer mis horas clínicas estaba Tx, pero queda muy lejos de PR y no podría viajar con frecuencia. En cambio, tengo familia en SC (Greenville) y en NC (Charlotte) y estoy mucho más cerca de Fl. y de PR para poder viajar a ver a mi familia.
    Te recomiendo cualquiera de las dos universidades de las que le hablé anteriormente. PR le va a encantar. Hay muchos retos en cuanto a diversas poblaciones con necesidades especiales. Aprenderás mucho y será una experiencia única, como la que yo he tenido.
    No te rindas!!
    Good luck!!

    P.S.: Melissa, excelente información y muy aplicable para ésta etapa en la que estoy con stress buscando un centro para poder realizar mis horas clínicas. Sigue adelante y dejando frutos en éste campo tan hermoso!

  3. Claudia says:

    Hello Melissa,

    Thank you for your tips! I am currently enrolled in a “Pre-SLP” program at the Univ. of Western Kentucky which will allow me to take the pre-requisites in Communication Disorders. Upon completion of these courses, I will be able to apply for the graduate program. I currently reside in Puerto Rico and the great thing about this program is that is all online and fully accredited. Originally, I was considering the SLP program at the University of PR here in Rio Piedras, PR. Unfortunately, the school is constantly holding student strikes and there have been times where the school shuts down for weeks, and since my stay here is temporary (maybe 1-2 years), I cannot take that chance.

    My goal is to become a bilingual speech pathologist. I am fluent in Spanish (born in Colombia, raised in NJ, but always spoke Spanish at home). I wanted to know your opinion about online programs such as the one I will start shortly. They don’t have a “bilingual focus”, but I am hoping that when it comes time to do my clinical work, I can be placed in a multiculturally diverse setting such as in Miami, FL. I also plan to apply for the S.T.E.P 1:1 (ASHA) you recommended on your blog. I would appreciate your thoughts as I am new to this field.



  4. Monique says:

    Hola Julia,

    Gracias por responder a mi mensaje, (disculpe mis errores). Soy de Denver y ahora mismo estoy comenzando los cursos prerequisitos necesarios. Me alegre conocer más mujeres jovenes estudiando patología del habla y languaje, dispuestas a compartir sus experiencias y recursos. Aunque me encantaría vivir y estudiar en P.R. lleva mucho sentido lo que dijo Claudia sobre las huelgas. La idea de no poder asistir clases es la que más me preocupa. ¿Que ha sido tu experiencia segun este tema?
    Muchas gracias y suerte con todo,




    Soy padre de una niña melliza diagnosticada en Colombia con TGD, ella ha evolucionado mucho, pues aca en mi pais tiene terapia ocupacional y de lenguaje desde los dos años, ademas va a la escuela desde la misma edad. Por razones laborales,nos vamos a vivir a USA, mas especificamente a TX. Queria entrar en contacto con usted, para saber que debo hacer alla, con las terapias de mi hija, si debo hacerlas en español? o con una terapeuta del lenguaje bilingue? Que ella ingrese a la escuela alla? etc Tengo muchas preguntas ….Posiblemente vamos a vivir o en Amarillo o en Houston, lo mas importante es mi hija Isabella.

    Gracias por su respuesta


  6. Elizabeth Good says:

    Hi Melissa,

    I don’t have a website yet but you can email me to the email address above. I have a teaching credential and an MA in Education but I’m seriously thinking to switch career. I’m interested in a SLPA program here in California. My first language is Spanish so I have an accent when I speak English and I am wondering if I do decide to switch career and if I would have a problem finding work. I guess I am worry that my accent would be a barrier for employers to hire me. I would appreciate your thoughts on this matter.

    Elizabeth Good