Child language assessment and intervention in multilingual and multicultural South Africa: Findings of a national survey

Ondene van Dulm, Frenette Southwood


Research world-wide suggests that service delivery by speech-language therapists (SLTs) to bilingual children is problematic and largely unsatisfactory. In multicultural South Africa, the majority of SLTs speak either only English or only Afrikaans and English. The current state of service delivery to bilingual children, including those with first languages other than English or Afrikaans, is not known. This study was undertaken to ascertain how SLTs in South Africa adapt their assessment and intervention practices to cope with the multilingual and multicultural nature of the local child population. A questionnaire was completed by 243 practising SLTs who had children on their caseloads. 71% of respondents reported treating children with English as first language, 51% Afrikaans, and 53% an indigenous African language. Less than 2% reported not treating bilingual children. Almost all respondents could assess clients in English, three-quarters in Afrikaans, and 15% in an African language. A quarter could treat clients in one language only; 11% could do so in more than two languages. Only 7% reported that 90-100% of their bilingual clients receive intervention in their first language. 70% of respondents needed intervention material in English, 57% in Afrikaans, and 33% in an African language. 78% considered the underlying linguistic base when selecting a language assessment instrument; only 6% considered its linguistic and cultural appropriateness for use locally. The use of translations of English-medium instruments when assessing Afrikaans-speaking children was widely reported, as was dissatisfaction with standardised English- and Afrikaans-medium instruments. The findings supply essential information on the state of service delivery to bilingual children: After almost two decades of official multilingualism in South Africa, SLTs’ practices remain a poor reflection of the multilingual and multicultural realities of the population. Steps toward improving the situation would include training more multilingual SLTs, specifically speakers of African languages, and expanding research leading to linguistically and culturally appropriate assessment and intervention material.


child language assessment, child language intervention, survey, Afrikaans, African languages

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ISSN 2223-9936 (online); ISSN 1027-3417 (print)

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