Serving bilingual families

Connie Yu, M.S., CCC-SLP, says her upbringing and community inspired her vision for providing services to immigrant families.

Much of Connie Yu’s career as an ASHA-certified speech-language pathologist has been about identifying needs and providing solutions to them. A shining example is the variety of languages spoken by the staff of the clinic she started several years ago in Arcadia, California. Back then, there was a dire need for health professionals who spoke Mandarin, so Connie stepped in to meet that need — and then some. Today, the staff at her multidisciplinary clinic not only speak Mandarin, but also Cantonese, Vietnamese, Spanish and Taglog, a language array that is a tremendous resource for Arcadia’s diverse multilingustic community.  

“Initially, I didn’t have my career focused on second language intervention,” says Connie. “But over the years, I realized how much families really need SLPs who can communicate with them in the language that they use and culturally that is very important.”

Early in her career, Connie was an SLP in the Arcadia school district, where she found herself frequently called into meetings to serve as a translator between teachers and parents who speak Mandarin. When it became evident to her that language barriers could cause significant gaps in care provisions, she became determined to fill that gap. She felt equipped to do so because of her CCCs, which shaped her approach to work as an SLP.

Connie points to her ASHA certification’s continuing education components and rigorous standards for excellence for preparing her to succeed as a second language speech-language pathologist. Combining these credentials with her personal upbringing helped eventually inform what direction she would go. 

Connie knows from personal experience what it’s like to face and address challenges being understood. When she came to the United States from Taiwan at the age of three, her first primary language was Taiwanese, but her Mandarin-speaking parents wanted her to speak exclusively in English to ensure she didn’t fall behind the other students in school. 

“My mom would have us study the dictionary every day and I had to memorize five English vocabulary words, explain the meaning to her and use them in a sentence,” Connie recalls. 

After “forgetting” Mandarin around middle school, Connie found it again when she met her now-husband, who’s been conversing with her in Mandarin for 15 years. Today, Connie speaks Mandarin fluently. Much to her mother’s surprise, Connie even remembers a lot of her Taiwanese, which she hasn’t spoken since she left Taiwan at the age of 3. She is a prime example of someone who had to juggle different languages across different facets of her life.

As a result of both her personal and professional experiences, she can relate to the cultural component a native language can represent to newly arrived immigrant families. For these families, navigating a new country and culture while seeking out the best care for their children can be a difficult load to manage. However, Connie always welcomes them to lean on her, just as she leans on the professional expertise she has gained through her CCCs.

“I spend a lot time really counseling parents the best I can and supporting them,” Connie says. “When they feel you can relate to them on a human level, they feel like they can rely on you. I love working with the children and their families.”