Bilingual Speech-Language Pathologists Unite
How do we find bilingual speech language pathologists? Years ago, as a district lead, I sat in front of a group of bilingual SLPs. It was our first official meeting, and I was pumped. We had always had our monthly meetings with our group of 50 SLPs, and that afternoon was going to be different. There were seven of us gathered around a grouping of student desks. Collectively, we represented Vietnamese, Spanish, American Sign Language and Spanish. What transpired that afternoon has always resonated deeply with me as a speech-language pathologist. Obviously, we discussed systems and processes for supporting our responsibilities as a dual-language speaker. Surprisingly, the positive outcomes extended past our roles as speech-language pathologists. Being a person who exists in two worlds is challenging, and we were able to find comfort in our similar narratives.
Changing Demographics Demand More Need for Bilingual SLPs
Here’s the thing, SLPs. We all know the demographic of our nation is changing. In 2017, National Public Radio (NPR) wrote a piece on English Language Learners (ELLs) in the public school system. At the time, approximately 5 million of students nationally are considered ELLs. That is 10% of our entire student population! Of course, Spanish (3.8 million students) is the most common language spoken outside of English in the United States. According to the Migration Policy Institute, Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese), Vietnamese and Arabic follow.
So, for SLPs, this is important. We will be the first to say that understanding between difference and disorder for all speech-language pathologists, both monolingual and bilingual, is essential. This helps us get the right kids on our caseloads. Secondarily, we also support the need for more bilingual service providers. So, how do we find and keep bilingual speech-language pathologists?
Tips for Finding and Keeping Bilingual SLPs
- Understand the Roles and Responsibilities of a Bilingual Speech-Language Pathologists There are additional responsibilities of someone who is required to support students from diverse backgrounds. Assessments are conducted in both languages. This requires additional time. Reports require information in both languages. This requires additional time. Individual Education Plan (IEP) meetings are conducted in both languages. Again, more time is needed. Additionally, more time is needed to bill our students on Medicaid (I honor this is a complex topic). Knowing and valuing the day-to-day life of a bilingual SLP is important.
- Understand Need for Materials and Resources In recent years, assessments and materials for Spanish speaking SLPs have increased. In saying that, there continues to be a gap in resources for our bilingual SLPs. For example, a quick search on the internet for “speech therapy articulation cards” yields 885K hits on Google. Searching “speech therapy Spanish articulation cards” showed about half of the amount of options at 483K results on the internet. And, the options outside of English and Spanish are extremely limited. Providing materials in the language of assessment and therapy is important.
- Understand the Request for Extraneous Duties Bilingual service providers and educators are often asked to conduct various needed and important tasks: interpret a meeting, translate a document, call a parent, speak to a child who shares a common language. From personal experience, I will say that most SLPs want to help. In saying that, due to our responsibilities (please refer to #1) the tasks require much needed time and effort. Setting parameters for the role of your bilingual SLP is important.
- Conduct a Time Study As a former district lead, I asked my bilingual SLPs to do a one-week time study of their efforts. It was valuable information because it showed all of the tasks and times for specific tasks. Outcomes of the time study showed our special education director important outcome for staffing and compensation for our bilingual speech-language pathologists. It was data to show the efforts (again, refer to #1) of our providers supporting our diverse populations.
- Compensation Due to all aforementioned factors, bilingual SLPs carry higher workloads (amount of work) on their caseloads (number of students/clients). From experience, I have spoken to bilingual SLPs who had significantly high caseloads because she was the sole bilingual provider in the district. So, in saying all of this, I will loudly say that bilingual SLPs needed to be monetarily compensated for their efforts. Please know that I will be the first to say that ALL educators and service providers are worth more, more, more than their salary. As a former regional support staff for Central Texas school districts, I would say that stipends range from $0-$3500 annually. I’ve heard some districts providing up to $5K more a year, and I know of many, many, many districts that do not provide compensation for the added efforts to support their English Language Learners.
So, here’s to our bilingual speech-language pathologists. May your efforts be appreciated and valued.