I love my job working with children on improving their communication skills. But I also love languages and wish I could learn them all. So, I get to combine both of these loves when I work with children whose native language isn’t English.
Of course, it’s important to have an interpreter when a speech therapist isn’t fluent in a client’s native language. But one of the things I do when working with a child or a parent whose native language I don’t speak is to make sure I learn at least a few words, especially greetings. Knowing how to say hello, even if that’s the only thing you know how to say, is just a powerful way to connect. I once found out that a student at a school I was working at spoke Jamaican Creole or Patois and that was in fact her native language. She spoke English at school but when we were talking one day she asked if I knew another language. I told her I knew Spanish. She then proudly told me that she spoke Jamaican. So I asked her how to say hello in her native language. It took me a couple of times trying to use the phrase when I saw her before I got it right, with her laughing at my attempts. But I finally got it. After that every time I would see her I would say “wah gwan” as a greeting to her. That made us have a connection —just that one little phrase. As much as I enjoyed talking to that little girl she absolutely did not need my services. But something so simple allowed me to see something so important.
So, when working with a parent or a child that I don’t speak their native language, I’ve found the best way to make a connection and forge a relationship is to just try to speak a few words, even if it’s just a greeting, and even if it’s a little messy on my part. Of course, I would when needed have an interpreter present to aid in speech therapy sessions. Interpreters are an amazing resource. But many times, with that barrier the connection with the child and family is lost. The parent will many times speak and only pay attention to the interpreter. The relationship is then just solely with the interpreter. But I feel that the speech therapist having a relationship with parents is important as well. Speaking a new language is scary and I most definitely don’t say everything perfectly when trying the new words. But I have found that if I show just the slightest bit of effort to learn their language, I am better able to connect, relate, and then provide services for the child and the family. Plus, I get to learn a bit about a new language, which I love to do! I’ve compiled a list of how to say hello in 25 different languages. If you’re interested, you can download it here!