There are 4 things that we need to know about treating and diagnosing phonological processes in children who are bilingual.

  1. Phonological processes are quite possibly more important than articulation (Ohhh! the controversy!!).

  2. The types of phonological processes are almost identical in both Spanish and English.

  3. They are not suppressed at the same ages in English and Spanish.

  4. There is one process that causes us the most problems with diagnostics (wicked, wicked FCD!)

This topic is best absorbed visually so let’s take a look.  We released a beautiful and inexpensive e-book which is extremely helpful if you work with the little guys. Click on the book image to check it out.

Número 1: Phonological Processes are REALLY Important

Check out this data from Broomfield & Dodd, 2004.  A survey of students with low intelligibility showed that only 13% of the students presented with articulation errors.  Added to this is anecdotal information from bilingual SLPs that we tend to spend a lot of time on the phonology side of the house.  This could be related to the CV nature of Spanish or increased word length in Spanish.

Phonological processes

Número 2:  Phonological Processes are largely shared

Easy one here.  Most phonological processes are shared across many languages. For example, notice that Spanish and English have nearly all the same processes.  English does not trill the /r/ so no reason to deviate it.  Vocalization is when /l/ or the English final /r/ is replaced by a neutral vowel.  Spanish doesn’t use the same /r/and does not have the neutral vowels leading into final /l/s that result in vocalization.  Thus, it is not a phonological process seen in Spanish.

phonological processes

Número 3:  Phonological Processes come in at different ages

So we are dealing with the same phonological processes but at what age are they suppressed?  We put Shriberg’s findings (E) next to Goldstein+’s (S) to get a clearer picture.


Phonological Processes – Syllabic Patterns

Suppressed by age: 
English (Shriberg)Spanish (Goldstein+)PatternEnglish






33 (uncommon)Initial Consonant Deletion“at” for “cat”“ato” for “gato”
33Final Consonant Deletion“ca” for “cat”“sa” for “sal”
43Weak Syllable Deletion“telphone” for “telephone”“fermo” for “enfermo”
43Medial Consonant Deletion“ta_o” for “taco”“ta_o” for “taco”
45Cluster Reduction“fat” for “flat”“faco” for “flaco”
75Gliding“bwack” for “black”“peyo” for “pelo”


Phonological Processes – Substitution Patterns

Suppressed by age: 
English (Shriberg)Spanish (Goldstein+)PatternEnglish






33Assimilation“tato” for “taco”“tato” for “taco”
33Backing“kat” for “bat”“kate” for “bate”
35Stopping“bat” for “fat”“capé” for “café”
43Fronting“bat” for “kat”“bota” for “boca”
75Liquid Simplification“wake” for “lake”“peyo” for “pelo”
7NAVocalization“powah” for “power” 
NA5Flap/Trill Deviation “datón” for “ratón”

Número 4: Don’t get SNaRLeD up in Final Consonant Deletion

phonological process snarl

One of the most common misdiagnoses we see for children coming from Spanish-speaking backgrounds is a diagnosis of speech impairment for final consonant deletion (FCD). Here’s the deal.  English has a ton of final consonants and Spanish does not.  When a Spanish speaker tries to produce a final consonant in English that cannot occur in final position in Spanish, errors are common.  Worse yet, unvoiced final consonants and clusters can’t be heard by a Spanish speaker until they develop an ear for it (Don’t = Don).


Two things to know:

1. Spanish only uses 5 final consonants:  S, N, R, L, & D.  The word snarled is a great way to remember this.

2. When Spanish uses a final consonant it usually carries heavy linguistic weight. It can denote an infinitive verb (/r/ comer/to eat), plurality like English (tacos), or a verb tense (estás, están).  This means that when these sounds are knocked out it can drastically reduce intelligibility for language and speech reasons.

Make sure you are selecting the right goals or you will be spinning your therapeutic wheels.

Research abounds on communication development.  We just need a way to see how it applies to diverse young children and children in the classroom.  Then we can confidently make decisions, respond to teacher concerns, and alleviate parent worries.   Speaking from experience, the diversity that once made my job difficult is now the most exciting part of what I do.    The world is delivered to me each day in the form of languages, songs, culture, and diversity.

We created a graphically illustrated e-book based on the research that we have gathered for our job, references for the books we have written, and materials we have developed for presentations.  If you work with children, check it out!

Additional Resources for Phonological Processes:

ASHA Leader Article: Spanish Phonemic Inventory

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