This question has been one that I have struggled with as a Spanish language learner. Actually, up until recently I was hesitant to consider myself a bilingual SLP because I strive for perfection in just about everything I do! I am sure many of you who are on your language learning journey are struggling or have struggled with this question as well. It was not until my presentation at the National Black Association for Speech, Language and Hearing (NBASLH) earlier this month, that I realized that I am pretty much a practicing Bilingual Spanish SLP. I guess my desire to be “perfect” has caused me to be cautious about representing myself as a Bilingual Spanish SLP. I preferred to consider myself a Spanish speaker who has extensive training in bilingual assessment and treatment of communication disorders. I thought that a language certificate was my ticket to declaring fluency in Spanish and therefore allow me the freedom to market myself as a Bilingual SLP.
While preparing for my NBASLH presentation, Venturing Into Bilingualism: A Guide for the Monolingual SLP, it was important to emphasize to the audience that being bilingual and being an SLP does not mean you are a bilingual SLP. ASHA’s definition of a bilingual SLP is, “speech-language pathologists who present themselves as bilingual for the purposes of providing clinical services must be able to speak the primary language of the client, family, or research subject and to speak (or sign) at least one other language with native or near-native proficiency in lexicon (vocabulary), semantics (meaning), phonology (pronunciation), morphology/syntax (grammar), and pragmatics (uses) during clinical management or conduct of research” (ASHA, 2013). The part that really gave me the confidence to consider myself a bilingual SLP are “during clinical management.” Do I conduct assessments in Spanish with competence? Yes. Do I conduct therapy in Spanish with competence? Absolutely. Am I fluent in conversation? Yes! It did not click for me until recently that this in fact means I am a bilingual SLP!
Although I am an advanced speaker, I have a strong desire to continue to improve improve improve. For a long time I told myself that I needed to know more than I already know, in order to be considered a bilingual Spanish SLP. What made me take a second look at what I perceive and what actually is, was when I noticed the positive and encouraging feedback when I spoke in Spanish with bilingual Spanish graduate students and other native Speakers at NBASLH. I had several colleagues challenge my perception by asking me why I did not consider myself a bilingual SLP.
My response was…well I didn’t know. I am currently improving my writing and reading skills, but am able to converse with comfort about topics related to speech-language pathology and communication disorders (thank you Ecuador Summer Study!). I currently take online Spanish classes 3 hours/week to continue to build vocabulary, practice my writing/translating skills, as well as reading comprehension.
As an advanced speaker, I believe that I am at a tipping point where I have to determine if all that I currently can do in Spanish is sufficient to say that I am bilingual. The truth is, I will never know every vocabulary word or be able to speak on every topic in my second language…so my focus must shift elsewhere. So now I try to focus on the satisfaction of knowing that I have motivation to continue building my oral and written language skills. This language learning journey has peaks and valleys, but it’s a very fun adventure!
So if you can take anything away from this post, just know that:
1) The language learning journey will never end.
2) Motivation will definitely continue to be the key factor in meeting your language learning goals.
3) For those who are still struggling with the opening question. Be mindful of the fact that knowing a second language does not mean that you are competent in conducting assessments and treatment in that second language. You must have knowledge and training in bilingual language acquisition as well as provide best practice in the assessment and treatment of individuals with communication disorders in that second language. If you can do this with competence as stated by ASHA, you may be a bilingual SLP. 🙂
I would love to hear what others have to say about this. Share your language learning journey below!
ASHA. (2013). Cultural and linguistic competence. Retrieved from www.asha.org/Practice/ethics/Cultural-and-Linguistic-Competence/