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Bilingual Speakers' Recovery of Language Varies After Trauma

Christopher Almonte

A research analysis by a recent a graduate of the Speech-Language Pathology program concluded that the recovery pattern of expressive and receptive language skills for bilingual speakers can vary after a traumatic brain injury.

“Recovery can occur in different ways depending on the site of the lesion, the severity of the impact, the age of the patient and the success of the treatment methods,” said Christopher Almonte, who graduated in May from the Katz School of Science and Health.

Receptive language skills have to do with the ability to understand words, sentences and the act of speaking, while expressive language skills are about producing speech.

Children with a receptive language disorder struggle to process speech while engaged in conversation and may rely too much on reading facial expressions. Those with an expressive language disorder may rely on simplified messaging strategies that prevent them from translating more complex thoughts into language.

The focus of Almonte’s analysis was on the likelihood of spontaneous language recovery for bilingual English-Spanish speakers compared to monolingual speakers, as well as which assessment techniques lead to an appropriate diagnosis of aphasia in bilingual speakers.

Almonte, who immigrated from the Dominican Republic at the age of fifteen, originally wanted to be a journalist but decided to become a speech-language pathologist after witnessing their work when he was a teacher assistant in the New York City Department of Education. He transferred from Bronx Community College, where he was working toward an associate’s degree, to Lehman College where he went on to obtain a bachelor’s degree in speech-language pathology.

“When I saw the work speech pathologists were doing with people with communication, language and feeding disorders, it was like my heart went right into it,” said Almonte. “I wanted to be that person who makes people’s lives better.”

During his time at the Katz School, he was a graduate clinical extern at Kingsbridge Center, Riverdale Senior Services and P.S. X811, all in the Bronx, where he facilitated pediatric language-enrichment sessions, provided geriatric patients with timely therapeutic services, and administered one-on-one and group treatment to students between the ages of 14 to 21 with a primary diagnosis of autism, emotional disturbance and language impairments.

At Ahava Medical in Brooklyn, the site of his last externship, he provided feeding and swallowing therapy to school-age children with Agenesis of corpus callosum—a rare birth defect—behavioral feeding difficulties and Down Syndrome.

After he graduated, he was hired as a speech-language pathologist by the Bronx-based Important Steps, an early childhood program that provides therapeutic and diagnostic services to children with developmental disabilities.

In the research analysis capping his Katz School career, Almonte cited a study conducted in 1997 by Michel Paradis that identified six different patterns of recovery for bilingual learners: parallel, selective, differential, antagonistic, successive, and blended (mix) recovery.

Parallel recovery takes place when both languages are impaired and recover simultaneously. Selective recovery occurs when both languages are capable of being recovered but only one actually does. Differential recovery happens when one language returns to normal. Antagonistic recovery takes place when one language starts to recover but then regresses once the second language begins recovering. Successive recovery occurs when a language starts to recover only after the other language is fully restored. And in a blended (mix) pattern, recovery follows no one pattern.

Almonte said there isn’t enough evidence on how to choose an appropriate assessment battery, however it’s important any assessment for bilingual individuals be sensitive to client experiences. He pointed to a study that found that a Spanish-speaking client who lived in Britain and had aphasia struggled to name a “hedge,” since they are unlikely to be found in Spain. The client’s inability to name the hedge decreased the client’s score in an aphasia battery.

The Katz School of Science and Health is an academic powerhouse in the heart of New York City. It offers master's programs in five sectors that are redefining the economy: Artificial Intelligence, Cybersecurity, Biotech and Health, Digital Media, and Fintech. In the lab, classroom and clinic, we lead with kindness, integrity, generosity and a commitment to making the world safer, smarter and healthier.