American Speech-Language-Hearing Association

Technical Report

Students and Professionals Who Speak English with Accents and Nonstandard Dialects: Issues and Recommendations

ASHA Joint Subcommittee of the Executive Board on English Language Proficiency


About this Document

Technical Report

This technical report was prepared by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) Joint Subcommittee of the Executive Board on English Language Proficiency. Committee members responsible for this report include two members from the Multicultural Issues Board, Hortencia Kayser and Lynda Campbell; the monitoring officer for the Multicultural Issues Board, Vic Gladstone; two members from the Council on Professional Standards, Julie Atwood and Patricia Kricos; and was chaired by Nancy Swigert with Diane Scott as ex officio. Special advice was rendered by Charlena Seymour and Toya Wyatt. To stimulate discussion and generate other recommendations, this report was circulated for select peer review to the Multicultural Issues Board; the Academic Affairs Board; Special Interest Division 11-Administration and Supervision; Special Interest Division 14-Communication Sciences and Disorders in Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Populations; related professional organizations such as the Council of Supervisors in Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology (CSSPA), the National Black Association for Speech-Language and Hearing (NBASLH), L'GASP, the Hispanic Caucus, the Asian/Pacific Islander Caucus, the Native American Caucus, and the Council on Professional Standards in Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology.



Introduction

In accordance with ASHA's Code of Ethics, speech-language pathologists and audiologists must not discriminate in the delivery of professional services. Audiologists and speech-language pathologists should educate clients, parents, and other professionals about the acceptance of linguistic and cultural diversity. That same nondiscriminatory behavior is expected of speech-language pathologists and audiologists in their interactions with colleagues and student clinicians.

However, general practice in many communication sciences and disorders education programs and by some employers is typically reflective of a monocultural perspective regarding linguistic diversity. Many educational programs have discouraged speakers of certain nonstandard linguistic varieties from majoring in communication sciences and disorders. Other programs have not permitted or have restricted clinical practicum experiences for students who speak [certain] nonstandard linguistic varieties of English. Still others have required student enrollment as a client at the university clinic to eradicate accents or dialects, or reassigned such students based solely on negative attitudes and prejudices of clients and clinical supervisors. In many of these cases, the ability of students with accents or dialects to provide clinical services or write clinical reports have been called into question. Similar negative practices have been demonstrated by some employers. All of the aforementioned behaviors are contrary to fostering and celebrating the cultural diversity that enhances the professions.

Members of the professions of speech-language pathology and audiology and the consumers they serve all speak with accents and/or dialects that reflect when, where, how, and with whom and from whom they learned language. An accent refers to a phonetic trait from a person's original language (L1) that is carried over a second language (L2); whereas, a dialect refers to sets of differences, wherever they may occur, that make one English speaker's speech different from another's (Wolfram & Fasold, 1974). Each dialect has distinguishing linguistic characteristics (phonological, morphological, and grammatical), although the majority of linguistic features of the (American) English language are common to each of the varieties of (American) English. The presence of an accent and/or dialect may make a person vulnerable to stereotypical judgments, prejudices, and sometimes discrimination because some accents or dialects are deemed more acceptable than others. Members of ASHA, in the conduct of their professional activities, are urged not to discriminate against persons who speak with an accent or dialect.

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Background Information

In December 1994 a joint subcommittee of the Executive Board was formed and charged with addressing issues related to linguistic competence of speakers of English as a second language and individuals who speak with an accent or dialect. After several revisions, this technical paper addresses only those issues related to individuals who speak with accents and dialects, and not those who are in the process of acquiring English as a second language. Thus, allowing for a thorough and targeted approach to addressing specific concerns.

This technical paper will:

  • identify the differences between speakers of accents and dialects and those who are limited English proficient speakers.

  • identify considerations necessary for the provision of clinical services by individuals who speak with accents and dialects.

  • define the extent to which clinical report writing may be influenced by the use of accents and dialects.

  • provide recommendations for decreasing discriminatory behavior and providing resources for students and professionals who speak with accents and dialects.

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Distinguishing Among Accents, Dialects, and Limited English Proficiency

In the United States, speakers of English may be categorized into one of three basic groups on the basis of accent or dialect. The first group consists of persons who were born in another country and learned their first language (s) before they acquired English. Their English may be accented by their first language(s). This group could include persons born in other countries where students learn English while in school. The second group consists of persons born in the United States who learned their first language(s) before they acquired English. This group could include children born of parents who speak a language or languages other than English in the home and whose children then learn English in school, or children who are learning multiple languages, including English, simultaneously. The third group consists of persons born in the United States or other countries whose only language is English. Their development of English is affected by region, status, style, ethnicity, age, gender, life experiences, and communication models among other factors, resulting in their use of a nonstandard dialect of English. Examples of this third group would include, but are not limited to, individuals who speak Appalachian English, one of the New York dialects, African American English, standard English, British dialect, southern English, and English influenced by some other non-English languages such as Spanish. In reality, all speakers then have accents and dialects.

There is a fourth group of individuals whose use of English may differ from native English speakers. This group consists of persons who learned their first language(s) and are in the process of learning English as a second language, but who have not yet acquired proficiency in English. This group includes those persons who have moved to the United States permanently or temporarily, such as to attend college. This technical report addresses the three groups described above but does not address the concerns of limited English proficient speakers.

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Considerations Necessary for the Provision of Clinical Services by Accent or Dialect Speakers

There is no research to support the belief that audiologists and speech-language pathologists who speak a nonstandard dialect or who speak with an accent are unable to make appropriate diagnostic decisions or achieve appropriate treatment outcomes. When working with students who speak a nonstandard dialect or speak with an accent, clinical supervisors and faculty should be asking such questions as:

  • Does the individual have the expected level of knowledge in normal and disordered communication?

  • Does the individual have the expected level of diagnostic and clinical case management skills?

  • If modeling is necessary, is the individual able to model the target phoneme, grammatical feature, or other aspect of speech and language that characterizes the client's particular problem?

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Clinical Report Writing Skills

The subcommittee agreed that students' inadequate writing skills are not directly linked to their culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Although inadequate writing skills are pervasive and problematic among the student population, they exist irrespective of student background. In fact, to specifically relate difficulty with writing skills to the culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds of students may be prejudicial. It is recommended that all students have access to resources for improving writing skills. Although clinical report writing skills and competencies are critical to effective documentation, standards need not be altered for students who speak with dialects or with accents.

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Recommendations

Demographic changes anticipated in the near future indicate a need for increasing numbers of professionals with the linguistic diversity to provide services to those individuals with communication disorders from culturally and linguistically diverse populations. ASHA's position papers on Social Dialects (1983) and the Clinical Management of Communicatively Handicapped Minority Language Populations (1985) provide ASHA members with the necessary policy and guidelines for providing services to individuals who speak with accents/dialects and outlines the competencies necessary to provide such service. Many speakers with accents and dialects also have these competencies and it is critical that we allow their full participation in the professions. It is also of paramount concern to educate employers of audiologists and speech-language pathologists about the benefits/advantages of hiring personnel from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

The subcommittee offers the following recommendations as additional actions for minimizing the discriminatory behavior that may be evident in educational programs and employment settings, as well as to provide enhanced resources to professionals and students with accents and dialects.

  1. Develop separate position statements on Accents and Dialects, and English Language Proficiency that would address the inclusion of students who are from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds in communication sciences and disorders. ASHA's Social Dialects Position Paper (ASHA, 1983) states that dialects are not to be considered as disordered speech and language among our clients. The same inclusiveness and acceptance of diversity should be extended to practitioners and students from culturally and linguistically diverse populations who may not speak standard English.

  2. Provide information to students who speak with accents and dialects about strategies they might use to improve their use of standard English. Lists of contacts and addresses for the various Caucuses and allied and related professional organizations dealing with diversity also can be provided to students. The subcommittee wishes to emphasize that it should be the responsibility of educational programs to counsel exiting students regarding their strengths and weaknesses in standard English, and how these might affect employers' perceptions or impact their ability to perform in various work settings.

  3. Develop resource materials for clinical supervisors (university based and at externship sites) to assist them in assigning clients to students based on clinical skills, without inappropriate consideration of the students' use of an accent or dialect. A list of university supervisors who routinely supervise students from diverse backgrounds could be compiled to serve as resources and mentors for supervisors with less experience in working with students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Additionally, sensitivity and awareness training on cultural and linguistic differences and the advantages of diversity would be beneficial for faculty and supervisors.

  4. Develop and disseminate resources for graduate programs that describe different strategies for helping students succeed who are from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and who speak a nonstandard dialect or speak with accents. The curriculum guidelines outlined in Multicultural Professional Education in Communication Disorders: Curriculum Approaches (ASHA, 1987) focus on models for teaching multicultural information and provide some information concerning practicum for students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. These could be more widely distributed.

  5. Explore avenues for employer education concerning multicultural sensitivity. Encourage employers to establish policies and procedures that prohibit discrimination against professionals with accents and dialects by clients and caregivers.

  6. Encourage university education programs to obtain input from experienced clinicians with different areas of expertise to better prepare students to meet the real challenges of the work setting. Furthermore, mentor/protege relationships between these clinicians and students should be encouraged. These clinicians may include persons with the same linguistic backgrounds and similar experiences as the students. These relationships should provide opportunities to share strategies and resources that enhance the communication skills expected in the work setting.

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Final Note

It is suggested that the following groups might address some of the recommendations: Multicultural Issues Board, Academic Affairs Board, Special Interest Division 11 (Administration and Supervision), Special Interest Division 14 (Communication Sciences and Disorders in Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Populations), related professional organizations such as Council of Supervisors in Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology (CSSPA), National Black Association for Speech-Language and Hearing (NBASLH), Hispanic Caucus, Asian/Pacific Islander Caucus and Native American Caucus.

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References

ASHA Committee on the Status of Racial Minorities. (1983). Position Paper: Social Dialects and Implications of the Position on Social Dialects. Asha, 25(9), 23–24.

ASHA Committee on the Status of Racial Minorities. (1985). Clinical Management of Communicatively Handicapped Minority Language Populations. Asha, 27(6), 29–32.

ASHA Committee on the Status of Racial Minorities. (1987). Multicultural Professional Education in Communication Disorders: Curriculum Approaches. Rockville, MD: American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

Cheng, L. L. (1983). Faculty challenges in the education of foreign-born students. In L. W. Clark (Ed.), Faculty and student challenges in facing cultural and linguistic diversity (pp. 173–185). Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas.

Cole, L. (1983, September). Implications of the position on social dialects. Asha, 25, 25–27.

Wolfram, W. (1991). Dialects and American English. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Wolfram, W., & Fasold, R. W. (1974). The Study of Social Dialects in American English. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

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Index terms: dialects

Reference this material as: American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (1998). Students and professionals who speak english with accents and nonstandard dialects: issues and recommendations [Technical Report]. Available from www.asha.org/policy.

© Copyright 1998 American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. All rights reserved.

Disclaimer: The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association disclaims any liability to any party for the accuracy, completeness, or availability of these documents, or for any damages arising out of the use of the documents and any information they contain.

doi:10.1044/policy.TR1998-00154

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