Monthly Archive

Focus on Bilingualism: The Importance of Family

By: Alejandro Brice, Ph.D, CCC-SLP, Roanne Brice, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, and Ellen Kester, Ph.D., CCC-SLP
The Role of Families
It has been postulated that language and cognition are intertwined from early childhood (Bruner, 1960; 1996; Piaget, 1976; Vygotksy, 1929). The argument over how much of a role each plays in early development has and will continued to be debated. However, most researchers will agree that a balance exists between language and cognition. It has also been postulated that language and culture are interrelated (Sapir, 1929); in essence, that the two are inseparable at some point in development (Brice & Brice, 2009). In addition, researchers have studied and labeled behaviors that have tended to be culture specific (Brice & Campbell, 1999; Gudykunst 1991; Ting-Toomey, 1994; Triandis, 1995).
Culture has been identified to exist along a continuum of collectivistic (group oriented behaviors) and individualistic (individual, self behaviors) (Brice & Brice, 2009; Ting-Toomey, 1994; Triandis, 1995). U.S. American culture tends to be categorized along the individualistic side of the continuum; while, most world cultures (e.g., Latino, Asian, Arabic, Native American, etc.) can be categorized along the collectivistic and group oriented side of the continuum (Brice & Brice, 2009). It should be noted that the role families play in therapeutic situations will be largely influenced by their cultural perspective (i.e., individualistic vs. collectivistic). The role of families, being culture specific, needs to be further examined and considered.
Involving Families
A randomized control study with 417 patients by Dennis, O’Rourke, Slattery, Staniforth, and Warlow (1997) indicated that the communication abilities of stroke patients improved when stroke family care workers were involved. In addition, Duncan et al. (2005) stated that, “The patient and the patient’s family members and/or caregivers are essential members of the rehabilitation team” (p. 103). We believe that the involvement of family members from collectivistic cultures is crucial given their group and strong family orientations. Some families may involve interaction with just the mother; while, other families may involve both parents, siblings, aunts/uncles, and possibly grandparents. In the latter situation, all family members must be acknowledged and included in assessment and therapeutic decisions. Typically, one or two members of the family will act as the spoke persons for the one who is receiving speech and language services. As a speech-language pathologist (SLP), one cannot assume whom this person may be.
Brice and Campbell (1999) offered several suggestions for building trust and engaging families. We have modified these suggestions for working with families:

  1. Learn some greetings in the student/client/patient’s native language.
  2. Provide written communication and whenever possible provide this in the native
  3. Encourage family members to share their perspective. Our experiences have
    indicated the family’s pleasure when we have engaged the entire family.
  4. Accept the family. This includes any religious and/or spiritual beliefs. In times of difficulty, this is especially important.
  5. Listen carefully for the family’s hopes and aspirations.
  6. Keep your word. All future interactions are dependent upon this trust.

In Conclusion
Families in the U.S. are culturally diverse. Families may consist of a single parent and children, nuclear families of two parents and children, or extended families. Interaction styles may vary among families from individualistic cultures vs. collectivistic cultures. Research involving the healing powers that families may contribute has not been thoroughly investigated. However, speech-language pathologists should recognize that family support is vital to our student/client/patient’s outcomes.


Brice, A. & Brice, R. (2009). (Ed.s). Language development: Monolingual and bilingual acquisition. Old Tappan, NJ: Merrill/Prentice Hall.
Brice, A., & Campbell, L. (1999). Cross-cultural communication. In R. Leavitt (Ed.), Cross-cultural health care: An international perspective for rehabilitation professionals (pp. 83-94). London, England: W. B. Saunders.
Bruner, J. (1960). The process of education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Bruner, J. (1996). The culture of education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Dennis, M., O’Rourke, S., Slattery, J., Staniforth, T., & Warlow, C. (1997). Evaluation of a stroke family care worker: Results of a randomised controlled trial. BMJ, 314, 1071–1077.
Duncan, P., Zorowitz, R., Bates, B., Choi, J., Glasberg, J., Graham, G., Katz, R., Lamberty, K., & Reker, D. (2005). Management of adult stroke rehabilitation care: A clinical practice guideline Stroke, 36, 100-143 doi: 10.1161/01.STR.0000180861.54180.FF
Gudykunst, W .B. (1991). Attributing meaning to strangers’ behavior. In Bridging differences. Effective intergroup communication (pp. 83-100). Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.
Piaget, J. (1976). The child’s conception of the world (translated by Joan Tomlinson & Andrew Tomlinson). Totowa, NJ: Littlefield.
Sapir, E. (1929.) The status of linguistics as a science. Language, 5, 209.
Ting-Toomey, S. (1994). Managing intercultural conflicts effectively. In L. A. Samovar
& R. E. Porter (Eds.), Intercultural communication. A reader (7th ed.) (pp. 360-72). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing.
Triandis, H. (1995). Individualism and collectivism. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Vygotsky, L. S. (1962). Thought and language. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
This Month’s Featured Authors:
Alejandro Brice, Ph.D., CCC-SLP University of South Florida St. Petersburg
Roanne Brice, Ph.D., CCC-SLP University of Central Florida
Ellen Kester, Ph.D., CCC-SLP Bilinguistics, Inc.
Many thanks to Dr. Alejandro E. Brice for providing this article for this months newsletter
Dr. Alejandro E. Brice is an Associate Professor at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg in Secondary/ESOL Education. His research has focused on issues of transference or interference between two languages in the areas of phonetics, phonology, semantics, and pragmatics related to speech-language pathology. In addition, his clinical expertise relates to the appropriate assessment and treatment of Spanish-English speaking students and clients. Please visit his website at or reach him by email at [email protected]
Dr. Roanne G. Brice is the Assistant to the Chair for the Department of Child, Family and Community Sciences at the University of Central Florida. Her research interests have focused on language and beginning literacy skills in bilingual children and students with disorders/disabilities. In addition to teaching at the university level, Dr. Brice has been an itinerant and self-contained classroom speech-language pathologist as well as a general education classroom teacher. She may be reached at [email protected]
Dr. Ellen Kester is a Founder and President of Bilinquistics, Inc. She earned her Ph.D. in Communication Sciences and Disorders from The University of Texas at Austin. She earned her Master’s degree in Speech-Language Pathology and her Bachelor’s degree in Spanish at The University of Texas at Austin. She has provided bilingual Spanish/English speech-language services in schools, hospitals, and early intervention settings. Her research focus is on the acquisition of semantic language skills in bilingual children, with emphasis on assessment practices for the bilingual population. She has performed workshops and training seminars, and has presented at conferences both nationally and internationally. Dr. Kester teaches courses in language development, assessment and intervention of language disorders, early childhood intervention, and measurement at The University of Texas at Austin. She can be reached at [email protected]

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