Monday, July 22, 2013

Article for Amsterdam Mamas

Paula Vergunst authored the following article for the Amsterdam Mamas website. To view this article in its entirety, click here.

As an expat parent, you likely have done some thinking or research on the hot topic of bilingualism and how this can affect your child’s language development. Typically, expat children grow up to be fluent communicators in both their parent’s native language(s) and the language(s) of the land they currently live in. Bilingualism/multilingualism can be such a unique asset for expat kids, as they seem to effortlessly learn what it takes others years of education to achieve in our increasingly globalized world!

However, what does bilingualism mean for a child who has suspected or diagnosed developmental delays? Let’s first discuss how a general developmental delay might present itself in a child, and what (expat) parents can do about it here in the Netherlands. We will then proceed to discuss bilingualism and language delay more specifically.

Click here to finish reading this article on the Amsterdam Mamas website!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

What? I have an accent?

So what exactly is this thing we call an "accent"?

As I struggle to learn Dutch here in the Netherlands, and as I listen to my colleagues and friends speak English as a second or third language, I'm daily confronted with "accents" and their implications. Our speech accents are part of our identity as individuals, families, and cultures, and whether or not we are aware of it, our unique ways of pronouncing words impact our daily lives tremendously.

In fact, as purely native, first-language speakers of any language, every single one of us speaks with an accent. There is no such thing as "neutral" or "perfect" pronunciation, because speech is relative! We could argue for years whether people in Boston or New York speak the purest form of English...or wait, what about the British with whom it all began?

Personally, I find accents fascinating. Not only does a person's accented speech implicitly share a bit of a speaker's history and background, it also evokes many emotions and responses in a listener. A few that come to mind are positive feelings of curiosity, humor, connection, acceptance, and attraction.

With all these positive vibes, why should anyone work at all to get rid of an accent they have (particularly in a second/third language?) The truth is that accents are just as easily associated with negative feelings, such as misunderstanding, prejudice, superiority, and repulsion. Here's where accents start to be considered a problem. But I would argue that the negative feelings listed here are issues of the listener, rather than the speaker. This being said, why do I, as a speech therapist, promote "accent reduction" services? Should I change that to "listener bias reduction" services? I'm curious if any self-referrals would come my way! :)

To the point though, is there validity in promoting "accent reduction" services at all? I am convinced there is absolutely validity and also strong arguments in support of these services, not the least of which is the essential need to communicate without barriers. It is impossible and certainly unjustified to eliminate an accent (remember we all have one of some sort?). But if a particular accent is roadblocking an individual's effective communication with a group of listeners, who can argue against finding ways to adjust that accent in the interest of the unimpeded exchange of information and ideas? Now there's a lofty goal which just might be the professional ambition of every speech-language pathologist: unhindered, effective communication!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

New website!

Please take a moment to check out my new website for Green Light Speech!
This has been a fun journey, and it's only just begun :)

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Tribute to Trisomy 21

March 21: World Down Syndrome Day
Here's a tribute to all the wonderful individuals who are blessed with a third 21st chromosome!
Dear brother Johnny, you have inspired me in my career path and encourage me daily with your increasing communication skills :) Where did the time go since you were the little Leap Pad addict in this photo? Keep up your hard work, big guy! I love you!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Bilingual Child with Autism?

Struggling with the issue of bilingualism/multilingualism for your child with autism? 
There are multiple opinions in the general public, and even among professionals regarding how many or which language(s) should be taught to a child with autism who is growing up in a bilingual family. But what does the research tell us? Click here for an excellent resource to help guide you in your decisions.
The take home points:
  •   Do not change the home language to accommodate your child. To insist on English (or another language) monolingualism for your child with autism is to leave him/her out of family interactions, a situation which will only increase social difficulties that he/she already struggles with.
  •  There is no evidence that multilingualism further harms a child's existent language delays. Therefore, encourage language development in all languages he/she is exposed to! It is likely you may not have a speech therapist available to provide services in your family's native language. However, if a therapist works with your child in English, for example, you may imitate the therapist's activities in your native language as further practice in the home environment.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Stuttering and Bilingualism

Some excellent questions and answers about stuttering and bilingualism, adapted from Garth Foote in an ASHA Leader article (March 1, 2013). Click here to read the full article.

Q: If a client is bilingual, which language should stuttering be treated in?
A: Ask the client or his/her parents which language causes them to stutter most (often associated with particular social settings). Treat in whichever language the most difficulty is perceived.

Q: Learning a second language seems to have caused a client to begin stuttering, or has made a mild problem into a severe one. What can be done?
A: Learning a second language can increase existing stuttering problems, although it does not generally cause a persistent stutter to appear. The stutter may have previously been mild enough to be unnoticeable, however. Likely causes for increased stuttering when learning a second language are related to increased social demands of new language settings. As familiarity and usage of the second language increases, stuttering difficulties can diminish to previous levels, especially when treated. Note: noticing increased stuttering is never a reason to deny a child the benefits of bilingualism.

Q: In a bilingual or multilingual client, how is true stuttering distinguished from normal word finding difficulties when learning a new language?
A: It is always best to address the client directly about what is observed. Replay a recording or recall a point in a conversation where this occurred, tell the client what you observed, and ask him/her what happened there. Did they have trouble finding a word, did they stutter on a word, or were they avoiding a word/sound by prefacing with "How do you say?" or "What's the word?"?

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Bilingualism and Brain Development Research

Wow! This article is an inspiring read! Who knew that being bilingual has proven positive effects on brain activity? Check out this ABC News article that nicely summarizes a recent study. According to the study, bilingual people, who had learned a second language in childhood, responded faster to directions that were shifting. In other words, their brains transitioned faster when presented with new stimuli. My favorite quote: "Until very recently, learning a second language in childhood was thought of as dangerous...actually, it’s beneficial.”
So, what does this mean for bilingual kids with speech or language disorders? Actually, a child's communication abilities should make no difference. Yes, children with speech or language disorders will be behind their typically developing peers, and these delays will be apparent in all languages these children learn and speak. However, the benefits of bilingualism are equally as great for these kids! Implications? Encourage rather than discourage bilingualism as your child is learning language in the home, school, and community. There are no known negatives, and the benefits are being consistently proven in research studies like the one posted here.
Here is a link to an excellent YouTube video interview discussing the research recommendations for bilingualism in children with Down Syndrome, autism, and other special needs.