Multilingualism & Disorders: Do Speech-Language Therapists Receive Special Training for Multilingual Children?

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Multilingualism is neither odd nor worrying: what is odd, and very worrying, are the views that persist about it.

The topics in this Multilingualism & Disorders series aim at clarifying the misconceptions that associate multilingualism with disorders.

Each topic offers a brief introduction to common questions, and includes one token reference, which either marks watershed findings or otherwise addresses points which are perhaps less known within research on multilingualism.

This condensed format is deliberate, meant to invite discussion, thoughts, and more queries. Only with your help, as engaged readers, can we make this series the useful tool that we hope it will become.

— Madalena Cruz-Ferreira

What kind of training do speech-language therapists receive with respect to multilingual children?

Speech-language therapy training does not include knowledge of languages other than the language of intervention, or knowledge about multilingualism in general. This is true even where the therapists are themselves multilingual and/or intend to work in multilingual settings. Clinical assessment methods and instruments are also designed and normed for monolingual populations.

In a study which is unfortunately not available to the general public, Joyce Lew and Linda Hand note that involving the whole of a child’s linguistic repertoire in intervention may well be “new territory for speech pathology”. (The study is: Lew, J., & Hand, L. (2009). Speech pathology and bilingual children: Do we think in terms of “two monolingualisms”? Acquiring Knowledge in Speech, Language and Hearing, 11(1), 10-16. The quotation is from page 11.)

Multilingualism is not an addition of monolingualisms, because multilingualism involves the use of different languages for different purposes and with different people. Monolinguals use their single language for all purposes and with all people. This means that the monolingual norms of language use that are so far available to speech-language therapists do not and cannot apply to multilinguals.

Specific reference for the above topic:

General references relevant to core issues in the Multilingualism & Disorders series.

General public:

  • Cruz-Ferreira, M. (2010). Multilinguals are …? Battlebridge Publications. Book URL:
  • Grosjean, F. (2010). Bilingual. Life and reality. Harvard University Press. Book URL:


  • Cruz-Ferreira, M. (Ed.). (2010). Multilingual norms. Peter Lang.
    Book URL:
  • Genesee, F., Paradis, J., & Crago, M. (2004). Dual language development and disorders: A handbook on bilingualism and second language learning. Brookes Publishing.
    Book URL:
  • Grosjean, F. (2008). Studying bilinguals. Oxford University Press.
    Book URL:
Madalena Cruz-Ferreira, PhD, University of Manchester, UK, is a multilingual parent, educator and scholar, and the author of Multilinguals are...?, a book on myths and misconceptions about multilingualism. Her blog Being Multilingual deals with multilingualism at home, in school and in clinic. Her contact, and details on her work, are at:

Disclaimer: This post and the comments provided below have been provided for informational and entertainment purposes only and is not intended to replace or substitute for any professional financial, medical, legal, or other advice. This post has been published with the full consent of the author. The author has agreed to Madalena Cruz-Ferreira answering the Ask Madalena question publicly as well as readers leaving comments in the comment section below. Multilingual Living makes no representations or warranties and expressly disclaims any and all liability concerning any treatment or action by any person following the information offered or provided within or through this and any other information on this website. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional or medical advice, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist. Please read our Terms of Use for more detail or contact us with any questions.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Kitt Irwin August 17, 2013 at 2:53 pm

Language is so affected by context, it is truly challenging to view speech therapy for a bilingual person as a two-track (two separate track) system. You have one person in one context at a time – even if that is multidimensional because they are surrounded by a bunch of other relatively disabled people who only speak one language or some language other than the one spoken by the other person in the room with them. This reminds me of a great meeting with some “family of family” in Sweden. They spoke a dozen languages and could understand another nine or twelve languages. This was good – because…they were ship brokers. Their rule of thumb was…be sure to be able to tell a joke in every language…besides being capable of getting the business needed doing done. There are differences between being unable to roll your r’s …being unable to hear when you do or do not accomplish that beautiful sound…being unable to connect your thoughts…being unable to synchronize verbal, nonverbal and symbolic communications in a particular language…and being unable to discern contextual nuance. At some juncture, the point is…what is practical…and the question is…do you just want to talk about something…or do you actually just want to do something – and if you want “everything”, what is the achievable right balance?


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