Dual Language Schools: Can Children with Speech Issues Attend?

by Madalena · 2 comments

Dear Madalena,

I am a Dual Language Teacher at a school in El Paso, TX. We follow the 90/10 program at our District, which means that the instruction of the second language (in this case Spanish) starts at 90% in kindergarten and 1st grade and only 10% of English. Then as the students progress to higher grades, the percentage of Spanish decreases by 10% every year and the amount of English increases by 10% until a 50/50 instruction in reached by 5th grade.

The setting of our classrooms are 30% monolingual speakers in Spanish, 30% monolingual speakers in English, and a 30% bilingual in both languages, more less.

A colleague of mine from first grade has a monolingual speaker in English who has a speech problem with his “r’s” and ask me if this would be an impediment for this student to continue in the program. I honestly couldn’t answer her question because I don’t know how severe the problem is, but in the overall I would like to know according to the experts how to go about it in this type of situations.

Is it more beneficial to this student to be switched to an English monolingual setting or to keep him in the Dual Language program? What would be more beneficial for English monolingual students with a speech problem. I Hope you can help me!!


Dear Socorro,

Speech issues, like the ‘r’ problem that you mention, are independent of language issues. Enrolling this child in a dual language programme will neither worsen nor improve his speech production. Conversely, having a speech problem will have no effect on his linguistic development in any number of languages.

I agree with you that we cannot judge the severity (or not) of a speech problem without observing the child. Independently of monolingualism or multilingualism, if a speech feature becomes an impediment to overall communication, because of intelligibility issues or because the speaker becomes self-conscious of it, appropriate help can be sought.

Having said this, the facts are that ‘r’ sounds are difficult sounds, in all languages. They are among the latest ones acquired by children, across languages, and many adults go on through life with “non-standard” pronunciations of these sounds – which nevertheless are fully functional and intelligible. This child’s problem may thus not be a problem and simply be a developmental issue that will go away as he grows up. One example is one of my children, who had a very conspicuous lisp, also a speech issue, in all of his three languages up to age 6+, when this feature disappeared from his speech virtually overnight.

Do feel free to contact me privately, if you wish to discuss these matters in greater detail.


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: beingmultilingual.com.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Paty October 12, 2011 at 6:16 am

My daughter was currently is the dual language program in her school i am a bilingual parent, i got very concerned because she was reading stories and explaining them in english i tried talking to principal but didnt help as a worried mom of a 3rd grader decided to changed her to a bilungual school were she is being taught 70%spanish and 30 english, that is not working for my daughter because she is a mixed of both i speak to her on both languages so that was not for her well decided to but her back to dual where she had been since kinder learning the program to my surprise and im saying this my daughter was only gone for a week when i realized she needed dual language well when we tried to put her back she needed to be tested on both languages and be profitiency in both languages to qualify for the program guess what she did not do good in some areas and the school didnt give her an opportunity stating that she was gonna struggle i wanna why not give her another chance she knew the program she was there since kinder a&b honor roll, i wanna know what can i do to put her back on dual because i dont think is fair for them to not take her back please help.


2 Corey January 3, 2012 at 7:35 pm

Thank you for your comment, Paty. What a difficult situation to be in! Finding the right school in general can be tough, let alone opportunities and limitations with dual language schools to consider and face.

Unfortunately, I don’t think that Madalena has any specific advice for your situation since she is not involved in the situation directly. I too am not sure what to advice. I highly recommend that you find someone familiar with your school district as well as bilingual children who can help you navigate this frustrating situation. I hope you will find some answers!


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