Multilingualism & Disorders: How can I find a bilingual speech-language therapist where I live?

by Corey · 2 comments

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

How can I find a speech-language therapist who works with bilingual/multilingual children in my area?  And what questions should I ask?

Speech-language therapy training is currently geared to monolingual settings and so does not include training in multilingualism. In addition, speech-language assessment instruments and diagnoses are based on monolingual norms of language use, in that there are to date no multilingual norms that can help us distinguish speech-language impairment from multilingual normality.

Whether monolingual or multilingual, your speech therapist may thus have no knowledge of linguistic behaviours that are typical of multilingualism. Where therapist and child share at least one language, the therapist may follow the mainstream practice of assessing that one language of the child, on the (wrong) assumption that testing one language is the same as testing all languages of a multilingual.

There are nevertheless speech-language assessment methods devised for cases where the child and the therapist have no language in common, whose use with multilingual children is currently being discussed. These methods, sometimes labelled dynamic assessment in the literature, involve teaching the child, in clinic, items or structures (‘words’ or ‘grammar rules’) that are independent of any particular languages, and then testing whether the child has learned them.

One question that would be of relevance here is then to find out whether your therapist is familiar with dynamic assessment methods which test language ability, not ability in particular languages.

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.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Brooke March 9, 2011 at 8:24 am

Our oldest son has a mixed expressive/receptive language disorder that was diagnosed just before he turned age 4. It was apparent that his language wasn’t developing normally by age 2 1/2 to 3. We encountered a lot of skepticism about the fact that we were raising him bilingually (German-English) and misconceptions among some of our family and friends persist to this day that we caused our son’s language disorder by exposing him to two languages. What has always been helpful is that I have been well versed in the research that dispels the myths about children and bilingualism so as we have encountered professionals and paraprofessionals and others that are so limited in their thinking about bilingualism, I have been able to direct the focus on what is relevant and critical for helping our son along in his language development. We have not had luck in finding a speech/language path who is bilingual, but for our son’s diagnosis we found clinicians who were well informed about bilingualism and in fact encouraged us to continue raising our son bilingually. This has been overwhelmingly positive for our son and our family. Our younger two children are beautifully bilingual and have been in some ways the best speech therapists my son could ever have. The prognosis is excellent for our son as well to catch up to peer level by age 8 to 8 1/2. Any disadvantages that he has experienced in his early years due to his language disorder really pale in the face of all the benefits of being bilingual.


2 Madalena Cruz-Ferreira March 12, 2011 at 3:50 am

Dear Brooke,
Your insight about your younger children being the best therapists for your big boy is spot-on. I believe that children are our best role models as far as language matters are concerned, for the simple reason that they have no idea that languages are things that people should worry about. They just use them, to wonderful effect, as you describe. To me, this is exactly what languages are there for: to be used.
I also appreciate your awareness that keeping ourselves informed about multilingualism is the only way to dispel the myths, misconceptions and associated misguidance that go on clinging to it. I couldn’t agree more.
Many thanks for your feedback to this post!


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