Bilingual Speech Therapy

From my research review of bilingual speech therapy, I realized we know a lot and yet we don’t know much at all! But, that is how I feel about almost ALL areas of speech language pathology. There is always a need for MORE research!

What do we know about bilingual speech therapy?

We DO know that children who enter kindergarten who have delayed expressive language and emergent literacy skills are at risk for academic difficulties especially ELL students! 

So what do we do NOW as we wait for all those wonderful PhD's to guide us?

Let's see! Jump down to bilingual speech therapy techniques if you are ready.

Current Practice Recommendations

1. Therapy In Primary Language

The best practice for bilingual speech therapy is to provide therapy in both the child’s strongest language usually the first language (L1) as well as the second language (L2). 

That sounds great, let’s do it! Oh wait...I don’t speak Urdu, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Polish, Tagalog, or the many other languages of my bilingual students. 

I would love the time and ability to become fluent in all these languages but that is not quite feasible.

2. Therapy In English and Bridge To Primary Language

Another option is to provide therapy in the therapist's primary language (English for me) and support the child’s first language (L1) with a bilingual home program as well as using vocabulary bridging techniques during therapy if possible.  This is more feasible for me. I will continue with this bilingual speech therapy option. 

Check out our Spanish Bilingual Speech Therapy Materials for FREE home program materials.

Pick up some bilingual books for children to help with bridging.

Why support the primary language?

There are MANY reasons to support a child's primary language.

To start, there are negative social and emotional implications if the primary language is lost. The child needs to know his or her primary language in order to be part of their community/culture and build relationships with family members.

Also, a strong first language will help the development of the second language. 

Not to mention the MANY benefits to knowing 2 languages. Read more about this here: benefits of being bilingual. 

Bilingual Speech Therapy Techniques

Shared Reading

Shared reading is one of the best techniques for monolingual AND bilingual students. However, it is a must do for bilingual speech therapy. 

Advantages of Shared Reading:

  1. Books are meaningful, functional ,and REPEATABLE (multiple exposures)
  2. Books provide visuals
  3. Vocabulary is naturally thematic

How To Do Shared Reading:

  1. Introduce the story. Talk about the title and author and make predictions based on the cover.
  2. As you read the story, introduce and teach new vocabulary using multiple modalities & techniques: role-playing, provide synonyms and antonyms, use the word in a sentence, connect to prior knowledge. Basically, don't just define a word and move on.
  3. Ask questions about story grammar elements: characters, setting, problem, reactions, events, resolution.
  4. Make predictions as you read. "What do you think will happen next?"
  5. Talk about characters, their feelings, etc... 
  6. Relate events to the student's lives.
  7. Ask "wh" questions and check for comprehension.
  8. Repeat the SAME BOOK next session.

**Talk the students through your reasoning**

Vocabulary Bridging To Primary Language

This isn't really a separate technique but something to add to the shared reading activity.

Vocabulary bridging is providing rich expansions of a new vocabulary word in English and the child’s first language. Bilingual children need lots of exposures across varying contexts to associate all semantic features of words in one language to their other language.  

This is feasible for me to do with Spanish speaking students as I speak Spanish. More brainstorming needs to be done for my other bilingual students.

Another Caveat.....There is some research that says if a child has been speaking English for more than 2 years, vocabulary bridging isn't as necessary. It is not harmful by any means, just not as helpful!

Tips for Parents at Home

My son is a late talker and he is also bilingual. For a personal account for what has worked for us, please read more at Late Talker: Bilingual Tips

Material Suggestions

Books: Finding bilingual books helps me quite a bit during vocabulary bridging. Please refer to our bilingual books for kids for suggestions. 

Word Lists: We have Spanish word lists with directions for home articulation activities for parents. Please refer parents to this page for a basic review of articulation practices as well as Spanish word lists.

Spanish Flashcards: We have 104 pages of Spanish articulation materials with instructions for parents and a home program guide. You can work on speech during sessions or create a home program that actually has a chance of working. 

Spanish Speech Therapy Materials: More FREE Spanish homework sheets that target speech and language goals. 

Membership: Our membership program has lots and lots of speech therapy goodies including all the flashcards, parent handouts and more. Don't take my word for it. Read about it here. 

Bridget is an ASHA certified, practicing speech language pathologist. She is passionate about providing parents with information on child speech and language development as well as provide functional, easy activities to do at home! Parents have the power to make a real difference. Follow Bridget at Facebook and Pinterest for more fun!

Author of  child language development eBook series

› Bilingual Speech Thearpy


  1. Lugo-Neris, Mirza J. et alFacilitating Vocabulary Acquisition of Young English Language Learners.  Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools Vol.41, July 2010. Retrieved online on 8/1/2013.
  2. Kohnert et al.: Intervention With Linguistically Diverse Preschool Children LANGUAGE, SPEECH, AND HEARING SERVICES IN SCHOOLS, Vol. 36, July 2005. Retrieved online on 8/1/2013.