COVID-19 and School Closures: ASHA Offers Tips for Parents of Bilingual Children and English Language Learners Receiving Speech-Language Therapy Services

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Timely Information for May is Better Hearing & Speech Month

Across the United States, COVID-19 has changed speech and language service delivery in schools and homes for children with speech and language disorders. This may present unique challenges for families and students who are bilingual and/or English language learners. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association offers this guidance to parents and caregivers:

1.    Talk to your child in your home language/s.
Speaking more than one language has many advantages (see The Superpower of Being Bilingual). Hearing more words and conversations, no matter the language, can help your child succeed in school. You will not confuse your child, set them back academically, or prevent growing English skills by speaking your home language with your child. In fact, home language practice is important to help your child produce sounds, learn new words, use full sentences, tell good stories, and interact socially.

2.    Communicate with your child’s teachers and speech-language pathologist (SLP)—and monitor school district resources.
School districts often share school materials, important news, and parent messages in additional languages. If your child needs assistance with online learning, contact your child’s school or case manager for help. They should also provide interpreting services or translation of information into your home language, if needed. Learn about what parents of students receiving speech and language treatment should know during school closures here. Also, see here for advice for parents of children ages 0–3 whose services are interrupted. English language learners have the same rights as other children.

3.    Be flexible and open with SLPs about your child’s needs and your family’s priorities.
COVID-19 has caused major changes to how—and how often—speech-language services are provided to your child. Some children may receive services virtually (called “telepractice”), depending on state and local laws, school district policies, and resources. If telepractice is offered by your child’s school district and SLP, you may need to help your child participate in these sessions. Communicate with the SLP about your interest, scheduling needs, and speech and language practice activities outside of sessions. You should also share which communication methods (phone, text, email, apps, etc.) are best for you.

4.    Advocate for language access if you need it.
If you need information in your home language, you will not have to provide your own interpreter or translator for treatment sessions, parent meetings, or other purposes. You can choose to involve additional people—such as a cultural/linguistic broker or family member/friend—for personal support, if it makes you more comfortable.

  • If your child is provided speech-language services in languages other than spoken English, they should still have access to interpreters to make progress toward their goals. Share any concerns or questions you have about the language of service with your child’s SLP or with your child’s team (Individualized Education Program [IEP] team or Individualized Family Service Plan [IFSP] team).
  • Interpreters are important to the evaluation process and may be needed to participate in service delivery. They can assist with virtual observations of your child at home, with parent interviews, and with the testing process between your child and the SLP (if that person is not fluent in your child’s home language).

5.    Explore online language learning resources to promote English language development.
If you are worried about your child’s English exposure and practice, you can contact your child’s English-as-a-second-language (ESL) teacher about resources for English practice. There are also many helpful online resources for English language learners and their families, including Colorín Colorado, Head Start Early Childhood Learning & Knowledge Center, and Multilingual Living online magazine. Here are some more ideas on how to promote bilingualism.

6.    Read with young children, or encourage independent reading for older children daily.
There are many benefits and options for daily reading for children young and old. Materials may include traditional books or e-books, wordless or multilingual books, and English books with fun illustrations. No matter the story, you can talk about who, what, when, where, why, and even your own personal experiences. The possibilities are endless, and the discussion can be multilingual.

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About the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA)
ASHA is the national professional, scientific, and credentialing association for 211,000 members and affiliates who are audiologists; speech-language pathologists; speech, language, and hearing scientists; audiology and speech-language pathology support personnel; and students. Audiologists specialize in preventing and assessing hearing and balance disorders as well as providing audiologic treatment, including hearing aids. Speech-language pathologists identify, assess, and treat speech and language problems, including swallowing disorders.


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Francine Pierson
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