Original Research

The challenge of linguistic and cultural diversity: Does length of experience affect South African speech-language therapists’ management of children with language impairment?

Frenette Southwood, Ondene van Dulm
South African Journal of Communication Disorders | Vol 62, No 1 | a71 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajcd.v62i1.71 | © 2015 Frenette Southwood, Ondene van Dulm | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 27 February 2014 | Published: 10 February 2015

About the author(s)

Frenette Southwood, Department of General Linguistics, Stellenbosch University, South Africa
Ondene van Dulm, Department of General Linguistics, Stellenbosch University; South Africa; Department of Communication Disorders, Canterbury University, New Zealand


Background: South African speech-language therapists (SLTs) currently do not reflect the country’s linguistic and cultural diversity. The question arises as to who might be better equipped currently to provide services to multilingual populations: SLTs with more clinical experience in such contexts, or recently trained SLTs who are themselves linguistically and culturally diverse and whose training programmes deliberately focused on multilingualism and multiculturalism?

Aims: To investigate whether length of clinical experience influenced: number of bilingual children treated, languages spoken by these children, languages in which assessment and remediation can be offered, assessment instrument(s) favoured, and languages in which therapy material is required.

Method: From questionnaires completed by 243 Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA)-registered SLTs who treat children with language problems, two groups were drawn:71 more experienced (ME) respondents (20+ years of experience) and 79 less experienced (LE) respondents (maximum 5 years of experience).

Results: The groups did not differ significantly with regard to (1) number of children(monolingual or bilingual) with language difficulties seen, (2) number of respondents seeing child clients who have Afrikaans or an African language as home language, (3) number of respondents who can offer intervention in Afrikaans or English and (4) number of respondents who reported needing therapy material in Afrikaans or English. However, significantly more ME than LE respondents reported seeing first language child speakers of English, whereas significantly more LE than ME respondents could provide services, and required therapymaterial, in African languages.

Conclusion: More LE than ME SLTs could offer remediation in an African language, but there were few other significant differences between the two groups. There is still an absence of appropriate assessment and remediation material for Afrikaans and African languages, but the increased number of African language speakers entering the profession may contribute to better service delivery to the diverse South African population.


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