February 4, 2003 Features

Assessing Speakers With Limited English Proficiency

Only 2% of ASHA-certified professionals are bilingual, but 13.8% of the U.S. population speaks a language other than English at home. According to the ASHA 2000 Omnibus Survey, approximately 35% of caseloads include racial and ethnic minorities. Given these realities, how can speech-language pathologists and audiologists assess the growing population of speakers who are limited-English proficient (LEP)? Here are the answers to some of the questions that may arise.

Q. Are monolingual speakers really qualified to assess LEP clients?

A. There is no differentiation made in the ASHA certification between a bilingual and a monolingual professional. ASHA defines a bilingual SLP or audiologist as one who is able to:

  • describe normal speech and language learning for both bilingual and monolingual individuals
  • interpret formal and informal assessment procedures to distinguish between communication differences and communication disorders
  • apply intervention strategies for treatment of communicative disorders in the client's language
  • recognize cultural factors that affect services to the client's language community.

Q. Is it against our Code of Ethics to provide services to a client whose native language is different from ours?

A. ASHA's Code of Ethics states that "individuals shall engage only in those aspects of the professions that are within the scope of their competence, considering their level of education, training, and experience."

Q. Is it within the scope of competence of monolingual professionals—based on education, training, and experience—to assess LEP clients?

A. Bilingual professionals are self-identified based on the above-mentioned criteria; however, ASHA does not provide a separate degree or certificate. There are some graduate schools that offer a program of study with a bilingual emphasis. There are some state departments that administer an assessment to determine language proficiency to become eligible to be considered a bilingual professional.

Q. So, if you are asked to do an assessment of a LEP child, is it against the Code of Ethics to do so?

A. It is important to consider what is the basis for not servicing this client if there is no distinction made in the certification of bilingual and monolingual professionals.

ASHA's Code of Ethics also prohibits discrimination of services based on race or ethnicity, gender, age, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, or disability. Private practices may provide a referral to a professional who may be more qualified to assess that particular client. However, public facilities have the responsibility to service every client regardless of their background.

Q. How do I assess a second language learner if I only speak English?

A. ASHA has a position statement on "Clinical Management of Communicatively Handicapped Minority Language Populations" in the ASHA Online Desk Reference (Vol. 4) that specifies how to assess diverse populations. The document also provides information about working with an interpreter.

To learn more about LEP populations, there are several resources available at the ASHA Marketplace, including:

  • Second Language Learners: ASHA Readings
  • Guide to Speech-Language Pathology Assessment for Multicultural and Bilingual Populations

For more information, visit the Office of Multicultural Affairs section of the ASHA website.


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