There are many children who qualify in the school districts as language disordered or speech impediment and are served by speech language pathologists.


Many people assume that because a child’s home language is Spanish, they should be placed in a bilingual classroom.  What people don’t realize is that bilingual classrooms are difficult places to be for some children.  Not all children can be successful in these types of classrooms… Especially language disordered children.


Language disordered children are kiddos who have had trouble developing their language.  If a child has trouble developing one language, then they will have trouble developing another. 

If they are in a monolingual English speaking home then their primary language is English. 

If they are in a monolingual Spanish speaking home then their primary language is Spanish – MOST OF THE TIME but NOT ALWAYS… Which is where things get a little complicated…

If they are in a bilingual English/Spanish speaking home then their primary language is to be determined through language testing.


So here’s the deal… by the time a child reaches 3 years of age; 80% of their primary language should be developed…  This means that from the ages of 3+, children are really only fine-tuning their language skills and adding higher language vocabulary and higher level thinking skills.  


A typically developing 3 year old has the capacity to understand and respond to language almost in the same manner of an adult… almost because they are still developing 20% of their language skills.


So… Children who have language impairments and who are considered LEP (Limited English Proficient) should not be thrown into bilingual classrooms like their typically developing peers. 


They’re expected to learn and generalize academic concepts at the same rate as their peers in two different languages when they can barely communicate in casual home conversations in their dominant language. 


Meaning they can’t tell you about what they did yesterday in their dominant language (i.e. Spanish) but teachers and schools expect them to succeed in classrooms where two languages are used continuously throughout the days, week, year, etc to teach academic concepts.


See… Before one can successfully develop a second language (English), they must have developed a solid foundation in one language (Spanish)… Generally speaking, it doesn’t matter what language is used as a foundation for the second language… the case is that you need one language before you can successfully develop another.


Kiddos who are language impaired in their first language (i.e. Spanish) usually indicate that a foundation has not been built in that language at this time.   This would then mean that a second language should not be introduced until a foundation has been determined in one language. 


It’s like learning to drive a car.  First you learn to drive a car whether it be automatic or standard.   So let’s just say that you learn to drive in an automatic car.  It turns out that your next car is standard.  Now you need to learn how to drive standard.  You are not learning to drive a car at this point.  You already know how to drive a car.  What you are now learning is the mechanics of driving standard rather than the mechanics of driving a car.   


So what do you do with these kiddos?


Here are your options…  If a child is 5 and is language impaired… let’s assume the child attended headstart and preK programs (most likely in Spanish or mostly Spanish)


A)  Place the child in a bilingual Kindergarten program.

B) Place the child in a monoligual English Kindergarten program with ESL support


Bilingual programs should be reserved for children who are gifted and/or have typically developing language skills.  It is very difficult to switch from one language to another and/or translate on the spot.  Have you ever tried it? 


You are always are your toes in bilingual classrooms because you can’t anticipate what language will be used to give instructions, discipline, teach at any given moment.  Bilingual programs who have language days are difficult to follow as well.  Patterns and sequences are difficult for children with language impairments. 


Let’s think about this now.  On day 1 in language 1 the child is trying to process language 1.  On day 2, language 2 the child is trying to process language 2.  Where in this did you read that the child was learning concepts taught in either language?  The child must continually switch processing gears… they focus more on what language they are processing than the concept they are supposed to be learning.


If a child exhibits difficulty processing one language which is anticipated and heard 95% of the time in their homes and among their friends and family…  What makes you think they will be successful in a bilingual classroom? 


A child with language impairments has difficulty picking up sequences and patterns by default… Are they going to be able to determine what language uses which sequences and patterns?  


Most children with language impairments who are placed in bilingual classrooms typically show preference for one language over another… generally you see a preference for Spanish just because they’ve had more practice in Spanish than in English.  You do see some children whose preference is English, however.  

A child’s preference should be taken into account when placing the children in bilingual or monolingual classrooms.


The point is that bilingual classrooms in the US are transitional.  Their goal is to maintain language and culture while facilitating the learning of the English language… Eventually, bilingual classrooms become monolingual English classrooms and are no longer needed…


Again this works for some of our typically developing and gifted children… this does not work for our language impaired children…


This is why most if not all of the students with learning disabilities and language impairments (if they have a learning disability then they at one point had difficulty learning language) who are placed in bilingual classrooms have difficulty with district wide testing. 


These children haven’t developed either language enough to be successful on those tests.  They were not given the chance to develop a solid foundation in one language before adding another.   Therefore, neither language has developed sufficiently. 

Some children whose preference is Spanish, never really develop enough English in order to be successful in school.  By the time bilingual education is terminated (5th grade or so), teachers are expecting their students to read in English in order to learn…

But if you never learned to read in English because you could barely read in Spanish how are you going to be successful in school?   It might just be easier to drop out… at least you won’t feel bad everyday for 8 hours while your at school, right? 


Most of these tests at some point are only given in English.  Well, if the child who has language impairment is still learning Spanish while English is used in the classroom they are focusing on Spanish and not picking up the English.  So they have limited English even after 4-6 years of schooling depending on when they started school.


Bilingual education is not the ideal place for children who have language impairments. 

Ideally, the children would be allowed to develop their first language enough to build a solid foundation before another language is added.


Option B… Placing the child in a monolingual classroom with ESL support.


This makes more sense for a language impaired child.   Granted, we are still adding another language before the first has had enough time to become a solid foundation… keep in mind there is ESL support.    Also remember… it doesn’t matter which language becomes a solid foundation for the other language to be developed upon.


In essence, what I am saying is that children who are language impaired and speak Spanish may have better success in monolingual classrooms with ESL support.   The reason being is that the majority of their day will be spent hearing English thereby increasing opportunities for English language development and practice with the English language.


They will not have to focus as hard on which language is being used because they can anticipate which language is being used and focus on the concepts.


English will become dominant quicker because they are focusing on only one language.  The child can anticipate what language will be spoken in the home (i.e. Spanish) and what language will be spoken at school (i.e. English). 


This gives the child time to transition between the languages.  Also, communication in the home is different than communication in school.  Communication in the home involves daily routines, casual conversation, and basic language skills.   Communiation in school involves academics and higher language skills.


If the children are living in the US, then the ulitmate goal is to make them successful in their environment.  Speaking two languages is a plus, but speaking the language of the country they will be expected to be functional in is a must. 


The language of the USA is English.  All children should be expected to learn English in the best possible scenario.  This is what is going to make them be successful. 


Home languages and cultures should be expected to be preserved in the homes.  The school does not have the responsibility to preserve each and every home language and culture of their students. 


Did you know that even though all Latin American countries speak Spanish they all have different dialects and cultures?  You cannot lump them all into one classroom and preserve each and every student’s culture just because they speak Spanish.  However, schools can provide multicultural weeks and days to educate the other students in the school. 


It is the parents’ and the families’ responsibility to preserve their home language and culture.  It is the schools responsibility to provide opportunities for their students which will enhance their students’ learning and open doors for further educational and, ultimately, working experiences. 


The school must prepare their students to be functional to society, to be able to hold a job, and/or to be able to jump at the chance for more educational opportunities for the greater good of society.  This will decrease high school dropouts, drug/alcohol addiction, crimes, teenage moms, and above all… the desperation of those children and teenagers who were set up to be failures.



By placing language impaired children in bilingual classrooms, the school is setting these children up to fail academically, socially, and decreasing the chances for further educational opportunities. 


Many people tell me to teach them Spanish or to teach their children how to speak Spanish.  My response is… I can’t teach to you speak Spanish… because you know I speak English and when you get tired or frustrated you are going to want the easy way out and you’re going to tell me to start speaking English.


I recommend anyone who wants to learn Spanish to go to a Spanish-speaking country and live there for 3-4 months and you’ll come back speaking Spanish (you’ll need more time if you want to be fluent).  Make sure you spend time with the locals… that’s where you’ll learn the language and most importantly the culture.


Please keep in mind… speaking the language is not enough… you must learn and understand the culture to be fluent.


The best time to learn language is between the ages of 0-7 years… It is the easiest time in our lives to become bilingual, trilingual, multilingual or whatever…


So why not take advantage of immersion classrooms rather than bilingual classrooms… By placing a language impaired child or typically developing child in a monolingual English classroom, you are depending on immersion to develop the English language.


Most people would agree that immersion is the best way to learn a language.


I do believe language impaired children can be bilingual or multilingual.  I believe it’s a difficult task.   But is must be done correctly in order to set them up for success.


Remember one language is a must – two languages is a plus.