Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Monolingual SLP in a Bilingual World

As some of you may know, I am expecting my first baby (It's a BOY!) and will be taking some time off from work and blogging before and after his arrival. During that time, there will be several guest bloggers/SLPs that will be featured on my blog. I am so excited to share all of the amazing, informative posts they have come up with. I can not thank them all enough for taking the time to write these posts! Just another one of the many reasons I love being part of the SLP world. I hope you all enjoy reading everything over the next several weeks. Please feel free to leave comments and post questions!

The next guest post is written by Rachel at Queen's Speech! Enjoy!

Monolingual SLP in a Bilingual World

Yep, that’s me! I would love to be bilingual. I have tried to become bilingual. Sadly, I am not bilingual. I took 5+ years of Spanish throughout high school and early in college; however, by the time I actually needed to use it 6 or 7 years later, I had forgotten most of it.

Next came graduate school; I attended San Jose State University and had the pleasure of being the student of Dr. Henriette Langdon, Ed. D, F-CCC-SLP, the guru (in my mind) of Speech-Language Pathology in culturally and linguistically diverse populations. There was a considerable amount I did not know about bilingual language development and cultural issues. She has authored two fantastic books that I still refer to all the time. They are both great reads!

Which brings me to my current job… I relocated to San Diego and I work at a school where 86% of students are Spanish dominant.  Now if that many students are Spanish dominant, imagine the percentage of Spanish dominant parents! I can count on my fingers the number of parents that speak English well enough to have an IEP meeting without an interpreter.  I have to work with a bilingual interpreter for the vast majority of my IEP meetings and assessments.
Now if you have never worked with an interpreter or need some guidance,  here are…

Plan Ahead: Goodness I cannot stress this enough! At the beginning of the year I sit down and try to plan out all of my meetings and assessment times. Yes, ALL. Usually when a district hires a bilingual interpreter they are busy people and their time fills up fast. This also makes it easy to reschedule meetings if needed. Also, the interpreter needs enough time to contact parents when need be. 
Even if you send something home in writing,  have the bilingual interpreter call home to explain. Sometimes, even if the paper is in their native language the parent may have questions or may speak/read a different dialect. It’s best to just call ahead, tell the parent what to expect and what you need from them. They can also ask questions ahead of time this way. The last thing you want is to send an evaluation plan home and not get it back because they have questions or don’t know what the paper is.
Collaborate before and after every meeting/assessment. Always. We see the students and parents more often than the bilingual interpreters do. We need to share our insight (especially before assessments) with them about behavior (including parents’ behavior), what to expect, what the meeting is about or what kind of assessments you need. You don’t want the interpreter to be surprised by something you already knew but didn’t tell them. Collaborating after the meeting is over gives you a great way to talk about what the two of you would like to do differently next time.
Be flexible. Every bilingual interpreter does things differently. Get used to it. I had one bilingual interpreter whom I became very used to.  She then retired, was replaced by three interpreters, and they all did things differently. It took some getting used to. I had one interpreter who interpreted simultaneously. It was very hard for my brain to process two languages at once! I found I kept losing track of where I was and couldn’t think straight. Just like all SLPs conduct therapy differently, the interpreter has to get used to us and the way we run meetings and conduct assessments.
Watch your language! Okay, not like that. SLPs love to use big fancy words and acronyms. Try to use layman’s terms as much as possible, avoid figurative language, and idioms; you will end up having to explain in detail what you meant.  In addition, remember that jokes and some emotions (sarcasm) do not translate well.  Never assume the bilingual interpreter or parent knows what you are talking about.
Keep it short. Remember that ,with interpreting,  your meetings will naturally be longer. Try not to read your entire evaluation report or go through every single subtest score. Go through the main points. My favorite way is to use a standard bell curve (find one here) with my scores plotted on it. Numbers are a language everyone speaks. Then  you can answer questions or go more in depth if the parent needs more information.
Remember to look at the parent when speaking. Every once in a while I catch myself looking at my bilingual interpreter and not the parent when explaining something. It’s okay if it’s for clarification for the interpreter, but remember to return your gaze to the parent.  Now, do not expect all parents to return that courtesy, it depends on their culture and what they are comfortable with. 
Listen. You have to be patient. I don’t have to tell you that SLPs can be a chatty bunch: however, when working with interpreters you need to learn to sit and listen. Yes, your IEPs will likely take a bit longer, but you need to say a sentence or two and stop. It’s hard for bilingual interpreters to remember any more than that. It will be difficult at first. After you have worked with someone for a while; you will be able to tell how much to say before stopping.
Learn. I have learned so much Spanish that I consider myself to be almost receptively bilingual. I have learned about how my students acquire language sequentially versus simultaneously. I now have the ability to distinguish language disorder or typical bilingual language development. I know more about Spanish culture now than I ever thought I would.
Have Fun! This takes time, but you will be surprised how fast you will get used to having a bilingual interpreter around. Now when I have an English-speaking parent I get nervous because I don’t have that language barrier to provide me with extra think time. I have found I enjoy working with interpreters, and I think you will too! Have fun!

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