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Meet Marissa Young: Applied Language and Speech Sciences PhD Student

UL Grad School -- 07/27/2017

Marissa Young, a student in the Applied Language and Speech Sciences program, is well underway with her dissertation research. The focus of her research is on bilingual children who have a language disorder or disability. Grad Student Reflections in Applied Language doctoral program

A native Spanish speaker who learned English as her second language, Marissa’s interest in the subject was sparked by her own experiences with bilingualism. Her research focuses primarily on four first-graders at a local elementary school who speak both Spanish and English.

“In the school systems, a lot of people still don’t understand how two languages come together to interact in a child’s mind,” she says. “If you don’t know that, how can you provide the best services or teach the child correctly? There are a lot of gaps in the research on how to provide the best bilingual education in general.”

Her aim is to understand how a child with a language disorder negotiates between two languages in the school setting, which is where these children spend most of their time. Marissa determined that the University of Louisiana at Lafayette offered a unique setting for her research because of the availability of three foreign language immersion programs in our community.

Marissa is spending one semester interviewing the teachers and speech language pathologists who see these children with language disorders on a regular basis. She hopes to learn more about their techniques and plans for providing the best methods for working with these children in the classroom. She’ll then spend an additional semester observing the children in their classroom environment.

To prepare for her year in the elementary school, Marissa received the appropriate approvals from the Institutional Review Board and her dissertation committee. She is in the middle of the approval process from the elementary school, which would allow her to find four bilingual children with a language disorder to observe. As she collects her data, she will begin writing the first three chapters of her dissertation.

“I want to see how the students negotiate between the two languages—and what strategies they use to compensate between the two languages—when they have a language disorder or disability. So if the instruction is given in one language, seeing if they code switch between the two languages—or the two language inputs they’re receiving—to help with the communication at the age they are,” Marissa explains. “Research has been done on children and how they negotiate it, but I want to see how these children deal with the disorder.”

Some children, Marissa says, are inappropriately diagnosed with a language disorder if their English skills are not as developed as their native language skills. In practice, it should only be  considered a language disorder if the child demonstrates they have the disorder in all languages that they speak.

While earning her master’s degree at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, Texas, Marissa earned her bilingual certification, so she is equipped to diagnose and treat language disorders in bilingual speakers.

There currently isn’t a wealth of information available about students who speak one language at home and English at school, so Marissa hopes that her research will “help other speech language therapists to provide better services to children, learn more about treating the disorder, and improve their own intervention techniques with bilingual children.”

Learn more about the PhD in Applied Language and Speech Sciences program >