Academic journal article Bilingual Review

Aiding Preschool Children with Communication Disorders from Mexican Backgrounds

Academic journal article Bilingual Review

Aiding Preschool Children with Communication Disorders from Mexican Backgrounds

Article excerpt

CHALLENGES AND SOLUTIONS

Introduction

There is no question that the population of the United States is increasingly culturally and linguistically diverse. This presents a challenge to educators, other professionals, and families alike, especially when there is a language barrier between the client and the service provider. The problems are accentuated when the client, a child or student, has greater difficulty in acquiring English than others who have similar linguistic and experiential backgrounds. In those instances, it is necessary to determine if the delay is due to a language difference or reflects a language disorder.

In this study, I will describe the challenges in working with preschool children from Mexican backgrounds who are experiencing difficulties in acquiring English. Very often their parents or main caretakers report that these children have difficulties in communicating in Spanish as well. Although the issues discussed relate to a specific segment of the Hispanic population currently living in the United States, they are applicable to other Hispanic and language-minority groups. The various challenges will be illustrated with three case studies. The fact that I am bilingual and familiar with the culture facilitates my task because I can communicate with the children and their families directly. However, the challenges are greater when the teacher or the clinician does not share the language of the child. In that case, collaborating with an interpreter is necessary. In my daily work I encounter similar problems when my client speaks one of the numerous languages presently spoken in California. Following this dis cussion, I will comment on how parents and families of these young children need to be more proactive in providing assistance for their children's needs. Suggestions for teachers will be offered as well. Finally, I will outline some propositions on how the United States and Mexico can collaborate in facilitating this process.

Challenges

Three main sets of challenges in assessment and intervention for speech/language disorders as they relate to Spanish-speaking preschoolers can be identified. The first set includes the limited number of available formal assessment instruments in Spanish, the lack of methods for recognizing that a child truly has a speech/language problem, and limited access to trained bilingual clinicians or clinicians knowledgeable about second-language development and its disorders. The second set relates to a decision-making process regarding identification of a speech/language disorder, that is, determining the degree of influence of variables such as the structure of the children's families, their parents' and families' level of formal education and proficiency in English, their knowledge of community resources, and their acceptance that their child might have a speech/language disorder. The third set relates to intervention issues such as devising an optimal learning environment for these children in view of the limited number of bilingual programs and trained personnel to work with students who are acquiring English. A common belief is that second-language acquisition will proceed more rapidly if the child is exposed to more English. However, when this occurs it is often at the expense of the child's native language (Wong Fillmore 1991).

The challenges outlined above are not new and have been discussed extensively in the literature of the last decade and longer (Cummins 1984; Erickson and Omark 1981; Hamayan and Damico 1991; Figueroa, Fradd, and Correa 1989; Kayser 1989, 1995; Langdon and Cheng 1992a; Ortiz and Ramirez 1988). However, the issues are revisited in this paper with one of the youngest segments of the population who are the next generation of leaders, professionals, and workers of this country.

Who Are These Children?

According to the 1990 census, three- to five-year-olds represent 7.7% of the non-Hispanic population, compared to 10. …

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