As a speech language pathologist, Dr. Mahchid Namazi, an assistant professor in Kean’s School of Communication Disorders and Deafness, has been using her voice to break down language barriers during several media and public appearances in recent months.
It all started last November when Namazi was a prominent participant on a panel about bilingualism in New York City, sponsored by Big City Moms and Little Pim, a multi-media language learning company for youngsters.
In May, Fox News Latino featured Namazi and Kean students Jannet Tineo and Kristin Checchi in a video clip story (which can accessed here, http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/lifestyle/2012/05/21/born-in-us-but-speaking-with-accent/ ) focused on helping students of Latino descent modify accents in their language.
In August, Namazi will be featured on Education Roundtable, a Princeton-based public television program, discussing limited English proficiency students from a bilingual perspective.
All of Namazi’s appearances, in tandem with her routine responsibilities as a communication disorders professor, are fueling Kean’s emergence as an authority on varied aspects of bilingualism.
“One thing we’ve found is that the majority of speech language pathologists in the U.S. are English speaking so children trying to learn English are either overdiagnosed or underdiagnosed,’’ said Namazi, a Canadian-born woman of Iranian descent who speaks Farsi, French and English fluently. “That leads to a great number of students being placed in special education classes at schools because of language issues when they shouldn’t be.’’
In Namazi’s view, bilingualism shouldn’t be viewed as a prospect that could do harm to a young child developing language skills.
“There isn’t any research that indicates it exacerbates a language disorder,’’ Namazi said.
Nonetheless, Namazi said she thinks young children with parents whose most proficient language is not English should be encouraged to speak that language in their households.
“Parents worry that two languages will confuse their children but studies have found that babies and toddlers who hear a lot of talk from their caregivers end up talking better, can reach language milestones better and start to read sooner,’’ Namazi said. “You should never dictate to a parent what language to speak at home.’’
Furthermore, Namazi said, bilingual children reap cognitive advantages “by being skilled at tending to two things at the same time and having a greater ability to hone in on relevant things and block out everything else.’’
As for Kean’s accent modification program, interested students go through one or more semesters of training and strategic lessons from student clinicians to adjust their speech patterns with the ultimate goal of enhancing communicative effectiveness.
“An accent isn’t something you can change overnight,’’ Namazi said. “But the goal in our clinic isn’t to get the students’ to lose their accents but to modify it to where they’re understood better and feel more confident in English.’’
Others efforts under way for Namazi include developing courses in bilingualism for graduate students in speech language pathology at Kean and with the help of her students researching treatment methods for bilingual children with language disorders and adult immigrants who suffer strokes. Stroke victims generally develop a condition called aphasia, which damages the parts of the brain that control language. Namazi said identifying the patterns of language deficits in bilinguals with aphasia is challenging and much research needs to be done in this area to determine the ideal course of treatment.