Providing speech therapy in Spanish is a challenge for speech-language pathologists (SLP) who do not speak fluent Spanish. Working in early intervention for as long as I have, I have extensive experience with Spanish speaking families. But, I am one of those SLPs who are at a disadvantage not being fluent in Spanish. I always had an amazing Spanish interpreter with me for home visits, and this was truly a gift. Despite not being able to communicate in Spanish, I felt that parents sensed that I cared and gave it my all.
Suggestions for working with Spanish speaking families
With families who speak Spanish as their primary language, here are a few suggestions I have learned along the way.
1. Encourage parents to use their primary language.
Parents are often concerned that their child will have difficulty learning English, especially if they continue to use Spanish at home. To the contrary, encourage parents to speak to their children in the language that they speak best. When parents are more fluent in Spanish than English, they have a larger vocabulary in that language. To learn to talk and be successful in school, children need to hear and understand thousands of words. They need to hear rich vocabulary spoken. Because of that need, encourage parents to talk to their kids, engage with them in daily activities, read books to them in Spanish. Learning English can be explored also, but focus on Spanish.
2. Be aware of TV use
Parents may feel that kids can best learn English through the TV. Although there are certainly excellent children’s programs on TV, they will never take the place of human communication. Encourage all parents, regardless of what language they speak, to substitute daily activities done together for excessive TV use.
3. Use specific vocabulary of daily routines
Tell parents to use specific vocabulary of daily routines. This suggestion was described by a native Spanish speaker and educator in early intervention. She mentioned her tendency to use less descriptive words such as “this” or “here” instead of more specific words. For example, we may say, “Put this over there,” as opposed to “Put your hat in the basket.” As a result, encourage parents to limit words like “aqui, ese, or esa” and suggest they substitute with the actual name of the objects.
4. Using my WE CAN TALK techniques
When working with families in early intervention, I use my WE CAN TALK techniques, focusing on one technique per day. While coaching Spanish families, I use my techniques below called, HABLEMOS, which means, “Let’s Talk.” These techniques do not follow the exact order of WE CAN TALK, but they do contain the same techniques. With HABLEMOS, I would start by teaching the letters, O and S, which discuss waiting and commenting.
I’m happy to share Hablemos with you and hope it will be helpful to Spanish speaking families.
HABLEMOS © Rachel Arntson, 2009
Ideas para mejorar el habla y el lenguaje de su hijo
Ideas for enhancing your child’s speech and language
H Haga preguntas. Dé crédito y aplauda el esfuerzo que su hijo hace por contestar.
Ask questions. Acknowledge and applaud the effort your child does to answer.
A Agregue canciones a su día. Los niños adoran la música y aprenden de ella.
Add songs to your day. Children love music and they learn from it.
B Balancee la conversación, tomen turnos para hablar y dele tiempo para responder.
Balance the conversation, take turns talking and give him time to respond.
L Lea las señales de que su hijo ha iniciado la comunicación. Responda y añada más detalles.
Read the signals that your child has initiated communication. Respond and add details.
E Exagere sus gestos y su voz para atraer la atención de su hijo.
Exaggerate your gestures and your voice to get your child’s attention.
M Mantenga libros a la mano. Su hijo necesita una dosis diaria de lectura.
Keep books handy. Your child needs a daily dose of reading.
O Observe y espere. Descubra qué es lo que su hijo quiere comunicar.
Observe and wait. Discover what it is that your child wants to communicate.
S Siempre comente sobre lo que usted y su hijo hacen, ven y disfrutan.
Always comment about what you and your child do, see and enjoy.
Y recuerde… ¡Ríanse mucho! Los niños están motivados y vocalizan cuando se ríen.
And remember… laugh a lot! Kids are motivated and vocalize when they laugh.
Use our Talk It Rock It songs to encourage language development, imitation, articulation, and more in Spanish.
People have asked me what activities are available for speech therapy in Spanish. They have also asked me how to improve speech and language skills in Spanish speaking children. When working with Spanish speaking families, I always felt at a loss in having materials that I could share with them.
As a result, with the help of 2 Spanish speaking SLPs, I developed our Spanish song set, Digo y canto, which includes songs and printable visuals for speech and language practice. This set also includes a manual and translated words for SLPs who are not bilingual but want to provide Spanish activities. You can listen to song samples and see the speech and language goals of each song here.
After a bit of searching, I also found a blog article listing 20 websites that feature Spanish language activities. To assess that site, check here. I cannot say whether these sites are legitimate or not, but it is a place to start.
Contact your state speech and hearing association to ask for specific names of bilingual speech language pathologists in your area. You can also go to the American Speech and Hearing website to search for bilingual SLPs in your area.