If you ask us, pretty important!!!
We are coming across increasing numbers of ELL students in our schools – those who are bilingual or monolingual, whose first language is one other than English. Are you noticing this where you work?
Many of us may not have access to a bilingual SLP for that student’s primary language. Some of us may have a test normed with a Spanish speaking population, but there aren’t that many options out there…and languages other than Spanish? Nope! Some of the students may be fluent in their native language but may tell you they prefer English. Others may not speak fluently in either language.
Language difference does not equal language disorder!
There are also a variety of normal processes related to second language learning. Some of the students brought to our attention are just in the process of learning English. As SLPs, we certainly want to identify if the student has a language impairment; however, we don’t want to place them in special education if their primary language is within normal limits and they are learning English typically.
So when is it necessary to collaborate with an interpreter? Sometimes it’s obvious and sometimes it’s not.
For the student who uses very little English, you would typically use an interpreter (if a bilingual SLP is not available) – kind of a no-brainer. For the student who speaks some or quite a bit of English, you have to determine in which language he is stronger; how well does he understand and speak English? One thing to look at is his CALP (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency) level. A student can receive a score of 1-6 (negligible-very advanced). In our experience, a CALP score of 4 (fluent) or lower, would necessitate working with an interpreter for some level of testing in the first language. If the CALP score is above 4, the individual should have enough English to take standardized tests; however, it is possible the student has some language skills in the first language that are not present in English – collaboration with interpreters can help you discern these skills. Also, the student may still be demonstrating some of those normal processes of second language acquisition we just talked about!
Gaining background information and a case history from the parent(s) is also vital to making accurate determinations with ELL students. You may need an interpreter when doing this – whether through questionnaires or interviews. The answers to some of the questions can help point you in certain directions during your assessment. For example, maybe there are other siblings in the household and parents indicate that this child did not develop language at the same rate as the other child(ren). That’s a big red flag. But it doesn’t automatically mean this student is disordered in their first language and lead you to believe that you don’t need an interpreter!
Think of the role of the interpreter and the purpose of your testing. You need to determine if the student has a language disorder. You have to tease out if what the student demonstrated difficulties with is due to second language acquisition or due to a language impairment. The interpreter will be invaluable in helping you through this process.
Certified interpreters are definitely the best for this process! They are specially trained to work with professionals in administering assessments. Stay tuned for our next blog post where we will discuss some tips on effective collaboration with interpreters.
How do you determine when to call in an interpreter? Comment below