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Bilingualism and math standards

I am preparing for an upcoming presentation on instructional strategies for young children who are dual-language learners.  I am really fascinated by the language used in the Common Core Mathematics Standards.  You might wonder what bilingualism and mathematics standards could possibly have to do with each other.  Well, I think quite a lot.  These standards remind me of numerous advantages that many bilinguals have been found to experience, such as with problem-solving skills.

Take a look, for example, at the first two goals which you can find on page 6 of the Mathematics Standards (

  1. “Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them. Mathematically proficient students start by explaining to themselves the meaning of a problem and looking for entry points to its solution.”
  2. “Reason abstractly and quantitatively. Mathematically proficient students make sense of quantities and their relationships in problem situations.”

For brevity, I’ll highlight a few particular areas and phrases to illustrate why these standards make me think of bilinguals:

  • “They bring two complementary abilities to bear on problems… the ability to decontextualize—to abstract a given situation and represent it symbolically and manipulate the representing symbols as if they have a life of their own, without necessarily attending to their referents—and the ability to contextualize”
  • “…to pause as needed during the manipulation process in order to probe into the referents for the symbols involved”
  • “…attending to the meaning…not just how to compute”
  • “…knowing and flexibly using”

So, attention, abstraction, symbols, manipulation, meaning, flexibly using—do not these terms also all relate to the natural experience of being bilingual?  Bilinguals attend to the language being used; they may display early understanding that words are abstract and arbitrary symbols to convey meaning that vary by language; they demonstrate the ability to manipulate language use to communicate in one language with one person, the other language with another person, and even both languages simultaneously with certain people in some situations to enhance meaning.  Talk about flexibility!

The mathematics standards are much more than rote memorization and computation; they target underlying cognitive skills in attention, analysis, abstraction, flexibility, and creative thought processes in which bilinguals have been shown to have advantages.

In my mind, this is all the more justification for not only allowing children to maintain their first language, but strongly encouraging and supporting parents’ endeavors to raise their children with more than one language, and therefore, experience the benefits that bilingualism affords them.

Increasing client motivation

What do we do when our clients lack motivation?

Words of wisdom from our beloved Shel Silverstein.

A student clinician asked for advice on how to increase client motivation.  She is working with an adolescent client in her internship who has a very negative attitude about speech-language therapy.  He refuses to participate in language activities—he thinks they are “stupid.”  The clinician hopes, somehow, to motivate him so that he can benefit from therapy before the end of the school year.

I think we have all experienced similar scenarios with client motivation at one point or another.  Student clinicians are in a particularly unique situation because their time with their clients is limited.  This means they have less time to establish a therapeutic alliance, which can be a critical intervention component.  On top of having language impairment, adolescence is often a challenging time filled with academic pressures, social pressures, family pressures, and uncertainly about the future.

One of my all-time favorite authors, Shel Silverstein, shares wonderful words of wisdom that I even find relevant to developing therapeutic alliances in clinical practice.  In the poem “Tell Me” (Falling Up, 1996), he writes:

“Tell me I’m clever,

Tell me I’m kind,

Tell me I’m talented,

Tell me I’m cute,

Tell me I’m sensitive,

Graceful and wise,

Tell me I’m perfect—

But tell me the TRUTH.”

Teens want independence and autonomy, yet they also want relationships with adults who value them, adults they can trust, adults they like.  The latter two require that adults share some information about themselves too.  Like the poem states, they want positive feedback from adults who recognize their cleverness, their kindness, their talents, their strengths.  Caring clinicians can always benefit adolescent clients by being that trustworthy person who sees their strengths. This does not mean that clinicians sugar coat everything, since our clients also need and want the truth.  They want sincerity, so it is important that adults make sure their verbal and non-verbal cues are consistent.

Listening is critical to developing a therapeutic alliance.  When we listen, our clients feel valued, and when they feel valued, they are more motivated.  While there is no single solution for solving motivational problems, the more we know and listen to our clients, the more likely we will identify successfull strategies.  Teens want to have a voice, and they are at the age when they can, and should, have a voice in the intervention planning process.  If they initially do not want to share their thoughts about therapy verbally, there are other outlets.  For example, I have heard from some professionals who have their clients design dream boards, or collages, to illustrate their interests, desires, and goals.  Such boards can lead to engaging discussions and activities, such as role plays, that address the steps necessary to achieve that dream job, car, whatever it may be.

And speaking of listening, I find more wise words in Silverstein’s poem “Listen to the Mustn’ts” (Where the Sidewalk Ends, 1974).  These words can symbolize the many obstacles that many teens feel during this vulnerable time in their lives, particularly our clients who may perceive even greater obstacles related to language impairment.  These words acknowledge our clients’ challenges, which can sabotage motivation, and then speak about their dreams with hope.

Listen to Mustn’ts, child, listen to the Don’ts.
Listen to the Shouldn’ts, the Impossibles, the Won’ts.
Listen to the Never Haves, then listen close to me.
Anything can happen, child, Anything can be.

Communication is power, and teen clients may be more willing to engage if they sense that we are there to help empower them to achieve their goals and dreams, and that we believe in them, because Anything Can Be.

Shel Silverstein

The Current and Growing Need for Multicultural/Multilingual Preparation

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) has reported that the prevalence of communication disorders is approximately 10% of the population.  This means that more than 31 million people in the U.S. are affected by speech, language, and/or hearing disorders which negatively impact their social, academic, and occupational communication skills.  The U.S. Department of Labor Statistics (2013) estimates that the number of speech-language pathologists will grow by 23.4 percent over the next 10 years, with approximately 28,000 new jobs in speech-language pathology by 2020.

There is a significant need for more speech-language pathologists, and in particular, greater numbers of professionals with specialized training to serve culturally and linguistically diverse populations.  Approximately 1 in 5 people in the U.S. speak a language other than English.  Therefore, more than 6 million people would benefit from the services of a bilingual speech-language pathologist to help them meet the communication demands in the social, academic, and occupational contexts of their daily lives.  In the state of Illinois, 22.2% of individuals speak a language other than English at home (U.S. Census, 2010).  According the American Community Survey (ACS), the ten most commonly spoken languages after English in Illinois are Spanish (58.60%), Polish (7.54%), Tagalog (2.94), Chinese (2.25%), German (1.89%), Korean (1.89%), Arabic (1.75%), Urdu (1.61%), Russian (1.61%), and Italian (1.56%).

EcuadorsArt | Boston Massachusetts

To help meet the demand for professionals who can provide optimal services to diverse populations, the graduate program in Communication Sciences and Disorders at Elmhurst College will begin offering a Multicultural/Multilingual (M&M) Emphasis in the fall of 2015.  Such an emphasis is urgently needed in the greater Chicago area and many areas of Illinois where speech-language pathologists and audiologists serve individuals from numerous language backgrounds.  This emphasis is designed for students with oral proficiency in more than one language who wish to pursue specialized academic, research, and clinical experiences to meet the unique needs of culturally and linguistically diverse populations.

In accordance with ASHA’s practice policy (please see, the emphasis will foster students’ language proficiency, cultural competence, knowledge of typical and atypical speech and language development in diverse speakers, and their ability to provide appropriate assessment and intervention to diverse populations through a combination of coursework, clinical experience, and if students choose, an international travel experience.

We are excited about this effort to better serve our communities in the greater Chicago area and beyond.