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Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students,
Communication Disorders, and Learning

The assessment and intervention of communication disorders is generally a challenge when students from bilingual language backgrounds are referred for testing (Mattes & Garcia-Easterly, 2007; Roseberry-McKibbin, 2008). Children from culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) populations vary considerably in the extent to which they have been exposed to their home language and English. Students who are stronger in English than Spanish, for example, have often had less exposure to English than the typical monolingual English speaker. For this reason, it is difficult to use norm-referenced tests to identify bilingual students with disabilities.

Many bilingual speakers of English and Spanish are exposed to English more often in some contexts and to Spanish more often in other contexts. They may know some words in English, some words in Spanish, and some words in both languages. Moreover, the difficulty of specific concepts may vary in the two languages.
When students are referred for testing because of possible communication disorders, it is important to examine how they function within an instructional context. A student who acquires new language skills quickly, for example, may not have a "problem" of significant magnitude to warrant direct intervention services. Often the needs of these students can be met within the general education curriculum. By examining how the student responds to various instructional strategies, specialists can determine whether or not there truly is a need of special education services (Mattes & Garcia-Easterly, 2007).

Providing intervention for these students can be difficult because of the limited availability of published materials in languages other than English. It is unlikely that this problem will be resolved any time soon. Software rograms that allow users to modify speech content will make it possible to create materials for speakers of virtually any language. Because of the limited availability of professionals who speak languages other than English, software of this type will facilitate service delivery to speakers of a variety of languages.

An awareness of cultural differences is critical in planning intervention programs for CLD students. In our schools, students are often taught through activities in which they are expected to listen to information presented by the teacher. In some other cultures, students are encouraged to learn by observing how specific activities are performed by others. Therefore, the importance of early language development may be viewed as less important by members of these cultural groups. Moreover, some behaviors that teachers in American classroom expect of students may be viewed as culturally inappropriate by individuals from other countries who are unfamiliar with our educational system and school expectations. American schools, for example, emphasize the importance of asking questions. In many Asian cultures, students are expected to listen and to refrain from asking questions (see Roseberry-McKibbin, 2008).

The provision of effective assessment and intervention services for the growing number of CLD students will require major changes in current practices. The development of norm-referenced tests in a variety of language will do little to solve many of the problems that speech-language pathologists and other school professionals are experiencing in their efforts to meet the needs of CLD students. Information about assessing students from bilingual/multicultural backgrounds is available from Academic Communication Associates.

Mattes, L.J. and GarcĂ­a-Easterly, I. (2007). Bilingual speech and language intervention resource. Oceanside, CA: Academic Communication Associates.

This book includes information about communication disorders in bilingual populations. It also includes vocabulary lists and a variety of other instructional resources in English and Spanish
Roseberry-McKibbin, C. (2008) Multicultural students with special language needs: Practical strategies for assessment and intervention. Oceanside, CA: Academic Communication Associates.

This textbook includes descriptive information about a variety of cultural groups, along with practical strategies for assessing communication skills and planning intervention programs for special learners.

Citation for this Article:

Mattes, L. (2008). Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students, Communication Disorders, and Learning. ACA Special Education News, Article 8-1

Copyright 2008 by Academic Communication Associates

Permission is granted by the publisher to reproduce and distribute this article for non-profit educational use.

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