Internationally coordinated research efforts—enhanced by fast, accessible, affordable electronic communication—are increasingly becoming part of mainstream science. Historically, international collaborations have been born of necessity—for example, to identify linguistic universals and linguistic diversity. Early studies of comparative linguistics epitomize global efforts. Systematic language comparisons have provided the framework for contemporary theories of the innate cognitive architecture underlying human language functions. Among the many challenges facing the discipline, the critical need to advance practice-based research stands out. The potential to advance clinical knowledge through international collaboration is extraordinary. Fortunately, we have a philosophically and empirically dense literature and abundant curiosity to support this expansion and enrichment of our clinical research base.
This is the first of a two-part series in The ASHA Leader examining international research in speech, language, and hearing, with particular emphasis on its anticipated benefits to clinical service delivery. In Part 1, Elena Plante explores the training benefits for student researchers and clinicians participating in international research, and Lawrence Leonard offers guidance on how to establish and maintain a collaboration with international colleagues.
In Part 2 (which will appear in the next issue), Kristen Zajdo addresses the challenges to developing a research agenda in an international community, and Ted Glattke explores a particularly difficult challenge—the protection of human subjects—an area in which moral absolutes need to withstand cultural, societal, governmental, and attitudinal variations.
We have much to share and learn as part of the international community. When clinicians work globally, the translation of research into practice is complicated by cultural and linguistic variation. For example, audiologists use phonetically balanced word lists to derive a word discrimination score. Word lists (such as NU6, CID W22, and PBK50) were created to include words with a high frequency of use and a phonetic balance based upon distributions within Standard American English. A simple translation to non-English languages—to Russian, Spanish, or Japanese, for example—would neglect to adjust for the phonetic balance and word frequency distributions of these non-English languages. Thus, since a simple translation would not create a suitable word list, care needs to be taken to create language-appropriate word discrimination stimuli for use with non-English-speaking people.
Similarly, speech-language pathologists are often asked to provide services to individuals from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds. Unfortunately, because very few assessment instruments have been developed for use with such individuals, it is often challenging to confidently distinguish the effects of language impairment from linguistic and cultural variation. These challenges highlight the need for research that accounts for cultural and linguistic variation in measures of normative behaviors, estimates of diagnostic accuracy, and investigations of therapeutic efficacy.
The new frontier for international research related to communication sciences and disorders will be in addressing prevention, assessment, and intervention practices across cultures and languages, as well as in understanding how societal attitudes and governmental policies affect the well-being of individuals living with communication impairments.