The Bilingual Graduate Experience

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Irmgard Payne, M.S. CCC-SLP, Bilingual Clinical Supervisor, Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, Texas

Irmgard R. Payne is a clinical supervisor at the Miller Speech and Hearing Clinic on the Texas Christian University campus. She supervises the clinical practicum of undergraduate and graduate students and supervises graduate students in the Emphasis for Bilingual Speech-Language Pathology program. Interests include Speech and Language Disorders in Bilingual Populations, Multicultural Issues and Accent Modification.

When Nate Cornish asked me write an entry for the Bilingual Therapies Blog regarding the clinical experience in a bilingual Speech-Language Pathology program, I took a peek at previous entries to the blog. I was pleased to see that Dr. Raquel Anderson had written the blog for January of this year. Dr. Anderson was my clinical supervisor when I did my clinical practicum at Texas Christian University (TCU). Her blog was titled Bilingual Graduate Programs: What Students Should Know and How They Can Prepare. My blog will basically follow along those recommendations and describe what TCU offers in our Emphasis in Bilingual Speech-Language Pathology within our Master of Science graduate program. All bilingual programs are different depending on their size and resources; however, some of the basic information on bilingual development, disorders, multicultural and linguistic considerations and clinical experiences are essential for effective training. The goal for my blog is to provide information about what we do in our program and for this to provide a model for a bilingual graduate experience.

1. About our program
The Texas Christian University bilingual track, as it was called initially, was the first program to have a federally funded training grant for bilingual Speech Language Pathologists (SLP) and has been in place for over 30 years. The grant was renewed for many years. This is how I was able to get my training as a bilingual SLP. Manuela Juarez and Joe Helmick were involved in making that first grant possible. Over the years, we’ve had notable faculty do research, teach and/or supervise in the areas of bilingualism, second language acquisition, fluency, adult neurogenic disorders, and phonology, including Hortencia Kayser, Belinda Reyes, Raquel Anderson, María L. Muñoz, Lynita Yarbrough, Jennifer Watson and Raúl Prezas. One of the strengths of our program is that those professors who teach and do research also supervise our students at the clinic. This effort emphasizes the application of classroom teaching into the therapy room. Christopher Watts, our department chair, fully supports our current Emphasis in Bilingual Speech-Language Pathology program.

2. Information about the program
Specialized Coursework
As our graduate program consists of 5 semesters over a two year span, I will divide the coursework and clinical experiences into those two years. Along with the regular curriculum in their first year, the bilingual students take Assessment and Treatment of Communication Disorders in Bilingual Children. Also in their first year, they take part in a one hour, once a week lab in which assessment and treatment issues specific to their caseloads are discussed. In their second year, they take Speech, Language and Cognition in Adult Bilinguals. In addition to the bilingual students, all of the graduate students take one of the bilingual classes. In fact, Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CLD) issues are touched upon in all classes, not only in those geared specifically for the bilingual students. Furthermore, the bilingual students have the opportunity to write a thesis with the research faculty, including María L. Muñoz (bilingual/Spanish aphasia), Raúl Prezas (Spanish phonology) and Jennifer Watson (stuttering in Spanish speakers).

Clinical Experience
Our program requires for the bilingual students to complete 125 clinical hours (out of 400 total) with Spanish and bilingual clients. In the first year, the bilingual students have in the past screened and assessed speech and language development, and treated Spanish-speaking and bilingual children at local Head Start Centers. Beginning this Fall 2010 semester, the first year bilinguals will be working in a new collaboration with the Fort Worth Independent School District (FWISD). They will be assessing pre-school aged children and treating them in a program that includes individual therapy and an early childhood classroom model. In addition to the FWISD clinical experience, the bilinguals treat young bilingual clients at the Miller Speech and Hearing Clinic (MSHC) on the TCU campus. Clients at FWISD and MSHC may have speech/language disorders, artic/phonology disorders, fluency and voice disorders as well. Supervision is carried out with bilingually trained supervisors, including myself and Raúl Prezas. In addition, TCU alumna Lynita Yarbrough, is the liaison between FWISD and our TCU program. Dr. Prezas also takes and supervises students to Grand Prairie ISD to assess and treat Spanish-speaking and bilingual school-aged children.

In the summer and fall semesters, the bilingual students begin their externships with Early Childhood Intervention (ECI), school districts, and/or medical facilities. One of the benefits of TCU residing in Fort Worth, Texas, is the large Spanish-speaking and bilingual population. These externships offer great opportunities to interact with this population at these sites. Again, bilingually trained SLPs are selected to supervise the bilingual students at the externships. Some students have gone to externships in other parts of the state and other states. These externships were selected because of the need and/or interest of the student. Funding for these out of state externships are the responsibility of the student. During the second year at the MSHC, the bilinguals work with CLD adult clients with disorders such as Aphasia and Traumatic Brain Injury supervised by María Muñoz. Other bilingual adult clients seen are Aural Rehab (Theresa Gonzalez, Habilitation for the Deaf supervisor) and Voice patients (Raúl Prezas, supervisor).

Pre-requisites for Admission to the Program
An undergraduate degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders (Speech-Language Pathology) (or equivalent for leveling students) is required for the bilingual program. A Grade Point Average (GPA) of at least 3.0 on 4.0 scale with GRE scores in the 1000 range is preferred. In addition, we ask that our bilingual students have a near native proficiency in verbal and written Spanish. This is required because as soon as the clinical practice begins, the students are expected to interact with Spanish-speaking families and clients, write letters and reports in Spanish, and easily switch from Spanish to English during assessment, treatment and conferences. Our TCU program is small, so we admit only 12 new graduate students each year and four of those are bilingual. Our bilingual students have come from varied backgrounds including Latino, Asian Caucasian and African-American.

Funding opportunities
Qualified applicants may receive one of several forms of financial assistance. These awards offer tuition remission and require up to eight hours per week of service to the program. Some awards include a small monthly stipend.

3. Apply to the programs
It has been noted that in recent years the interest in bilingual programs has increased tremendously with over 30 applicants on average for our program. During the application process, all requirements are assessed including GPA, GRE scores, Spanish proficiency, essay, and letters of recommendation. Our candidates for the bilingual program are also interviewed over the phone or face-to-face to assess their language proficiency.

It is important to note that even though the clinical experience at TCU is in Spanish because of the large Hispanic population in our area of Fort Worth and North Texas, information and skills acquired in the courses and clinical work are applicable to working with individuals whose primary language is other than English and Spanish. Evaluations and treatment at the clinic have included clients who speak Vietnamese, Mandarin and Cantonese at home, while utilizing resources outlined by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) and interpreters from the community.

In addition to the above coursework and clinical experience, all students in our program complete the PRAXIS, written and oral comprehensive exams in their last semester. Most of our students have job interviews and have been hired even before their graduation. Our program has changed over the years and we are now pleased with the bilingual experience the students are able to get. We are able to offer a clinical experience across the life span which we weren’t able to offer previously. Our research capabilities in the CLD area have also increased and expanded including some research done in Chile and Puerto Rico.

I’ve presented our model for our bilingual program at TCU. As mentioned before, other programs will vary depending on their size, location, faculty and resources. Students can take this information and use it as an example for what to look for in other programs. As a bilingual student, you have so much potential and so many opportunities and, therefore, you are well sought after. It is important that you choose a program that gives you the preparation necessary to be able to effectively and appropriately serve the bilingual population.

Posted in: Resources for Students

2 responses to “The Bilingual Graduate Experience”

  1. Zaida Saldivar says:

    I am inquiring to see if the described current coursework is the same for someone holding a Master’s Degree in Education? Any information would greatly be appreciated.

  2. Nathan Cornish says:

    I’ll defer to Irmgard to respond about the program at TCU, but having worked with a number of graduate programs across the country, I wanted to mention what I often see happen with people who have a background like yours.

    The educational courses you’ve had will stand you in very good stead if you’re looking at pursuing a Master’s in our field. However, there are a number of prerequisites that you will need that you may not have had the chance to acquire while getting your Master’s in Education (e.g., Anatomy and Physiology, Audiology, Professional Issues and Clinical Methods). Many SLP graduate students have had these courses during their undergrad and will follow a grad school program that frequently lasts around two years.

    What I’ve seen many grad schools do for people with non-SLP backgrounds is they may have some type of “qualifying year.” Students are conditionally admitted to the program and obtain the prerequisites that they need to continue on in the regular program. Most frequently I’ve seen this add an additional year to the typical two-year course of study (for a total of three). However, every school is going to be a little different and you will certainly have different skills and needs than other applicants. The best thing I think you can do is identify which schools you may like to attend, see what courses you may need and speak with them about how they might manage your situation.

    I hope that’s helpful!