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Let’s Discuss: Accents, Dialects & Speech Therapy (Part 1)

By February 1, 2016 3 Comments

One area of speech and language that has always interested me (even before entering the field of speech-language pathology) has been accents and dialects.  Maybe it’s because I grew up in San Diego, where there are a million different accents and just as many different dialects spoken.  It’s just so interesting to me, which is why I decided to start this series.  Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing information on accents and dialects and how they impact speech-language therapy.  I’ll be sharing some info I have gathered as well as a few guest posts from other SLPs.  It’s going to be good!

For a quick review on the difference between an accent and dialect, you can use the free handout from Super Duper that explains it pretty well.  You can get it by clicking HERE

For this post, I want to share my personal experience with dialects and what I do when I find a child has a language difference, rather than a language disorder.

Since moving from California to Texas 12 years ago, the topic of the “Texas Twang” has come up many times.  Native Texans don’t really think I have a twang, but my family in CA says I do! Being a school based SLP in Texas, I encounter many different accents/dialects among my students.  The most common dialect I encounter is the very familiar twang of the Texas dialect.  It’s interesting to me how folks can grow up in the same town, but some have very deep Texas twangs, while others have just a hint.  Sometimes, it can really affect how my evaluation and/or treatment will go.

When evaluating students for speech-language disorders, I always take into account their home language and the fact that many children in my area speak a form of southern dialect.  This can impact pronunciation of words, grammar, and even vocabulary. 

It’s important for us as SLPs to be familiar with common accents/dialects in our area so we are able to best serve our students.

One of the most important things we learn in grad school is how to determine whether a child has a speech-language difference or a speech-language disorder.  A child exhibiting speech and language characteristics consistent with their native accent or dialect does not have a speech-language disorder.  Every accent/dialect has different speech and language characteristics that can be evaluated to help determine if they are typical for that accent/dialect or not. This can get complicated because every accent/dialect has its own “rules.”  The best thing to do is keep a binder or file on your computer with resources that explain those differences.

Here are a few websites that I have found helpful in this area:

Bilinguistics – has many resources and materials available as FREE downloads relating to speech-language and working with bilingual students and much more.
ASHA Position Statement on Social Dialects  – answers common questions about working with different dialects
The Speech Accent Archive – provides phonemic inventories for MANY different languages

Another important thing for us as SLPs to do is educate the teachers we work with on what a language disorder may look like and how it is differs from a language difference.  I frequently get referrals from teachers who just aren’t sure if a student has a language disorder or if their student’s speech-language is typical for a particular dialect.  In these cases, I will review the rules of the particular accent/dialect with the teacher and discuss what a language disorder might look like before moving on with the referral. In some cases, just educating the teacher on a particular accent/dialect is enough to calm their concerns.  In other cases, we decide together that a screener or formal evaluation might be necessary.

In my area, I most encounter Spanish influenced English, southern Texas dialect, and African American English. Here are some resources I have found that have been very helpful.

Bilinguistics has a helpful handout on their website that outlines differences that may be seen in English language learning students whose first language is Spanish.  You can see it by clicking HERE.

For a brief list of common differences in AAE grammar, you can visit The Online Journal of African American English HERE.

I also refer to the tables in my CELF testing manual and my grad school textbooks when determining whether a response is considered acceptable based on a particular dialect.

I hope some of these resources are helpful for you.  There’s much to say on this topic, and I have barely scraped the surface.  Comment below if you have any particular things on this topic you would like to discuss or any tips/tidbits you’d like to share.

Click HERE for part 2 of the series, written Ashley from AGB Speech Therapy.
Click HERE for part 3 of the series, by Melanie from The Speech Place.
Click HERE for part 4 and a GIVEAWAY!
And be sure to follow Talkin’ with Twang on BlogLovin’ to stay notified of new posts.

Thanks for stopping by!  


Author Kristin

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