Interview With Dr. Roha Kaipa of Oklahoma State University

Dr. Roha Kaipa is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Oklahoma State University (OSU). She completed her Bachelor’s and Masters in Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology in India. Subsequently, she completed a second Master’s degree (2015) and eventually Ph.D. (2018), both in Experimental Psychology at Oklahoma State University. Dr. Kaipa’s primary research focuses on examining the effects of multilingualism on linguistic and cognitive processing in multilinguals using behavioral as well as electrophysiological outcome measures.

She intends to continue investigating the effects of multilingualism on language learning as well as cognitive processing at OSU where she directs the Language Learning Lab. She intends to extend her work to the clinical population in the near future. She also collaborates with Motor Speech Lab at OSU on projects that apply principles of motor learning in the acquisition and retention of a foreign language.

Note: You should consult with your doctor or speech pathologist for recommendations on treatment. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of Dr. Kaipa and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of

How did you become interested in multilingual language learning?

As an undergraduate clinician, I provided language intervention to several children with various language disorders. I was quite surprised and perplexed what to answer when a bilingual parent asked which language would be appropriate for language intervention for their child. Although I told her I will give therapy in the child’s native language I was not sure whether that was the right clinical decision. I pondered over this question several days and waited to see if my client will show transfer effects of therapy in the native language (L1) to second language (L2). When I noticed that my client was making progress in the second language I had evidence that I made the right clinical choice regarding the language of intervention. Being multilingual also made this area of research personal to me. Combined, these experiences sparked my interest in multilingual language learning.

How has our understanding of the effects of multilingual language learning grown over the years? What are some of those effects?

It has long been assumed that bilingualism or multilingualism affected children negatively i.e., learning two or more languages would be confusing for children. However, there was a shift in this view from the early 1990s as a series of studies found bilingual advantage in cognitive performance and metalinguistic abilities. The primary question that concerns multilingual language acquisition is whether the languages develop separately or as a unified system in a simultaneous multilingual. The current take on multilingual language acquisition is a holistic view or the integration approach rather than separation of the languages at the bi/multilingual’s disposal.

Bilingual advantages are seen across the lifespan for executive control abilities like selective attention, inhibition and task switching. However, bilinguals exhibit poor language proficiency and lexical retrieval when compared to monolinguals. We know a lot more about the cognitive and linguistic processing in bilinguals than multilinguals.

Do these effects change depending on the number of additional languages the person speaks?

Language proficiency and lexical retrieval are comprised in multilinguals to a greater extent than bilinguals. However, the cognitive processing skills tend to be more pronounced in multilinguals than bilinguals. It is not the number of languages but the proficiency and the use of the languages that predict the cognitive effects in multilinguals.

What are some of the current challenges in providing speech and language therapy to multilingual language learners?

Although there has been growing research documenting the linguistic and cognitive abilities of multilinguals, assessment and intervention remains a clinical quandary among this population. A limited number of multilingual or bilingual clinicians within the field of Speech-Language pathology pose a major challenge in providing intervention to multilingual clients. Often the clients possess varying skills within and across the languages and make it difficult to differentiate whether they are exhibiting a language difference or a disorder. More intervention studies in multilinguals are required to establish the effectiveness and efficacy of various language interventions.

You also have done a lot of research on people with separation anxiety- how does this affect speech and language learning?

Separation anxiety disorder (SAD) is distinguished by extreme anxiety in children due to the fear of separation from their primary caregiver. The speech and language deficits typically seen in SAD can be attributed to the impaired functioning of amygdala and hippocampus. Amygdala is a subcortical structure in the brain responsible for mediating emotions. Children diagnosed with SAD tend to be extremely emotional and often have impaired prefrontal functions leading to behavioral inhibitions. Often this pathophysiology along with environmental factors contributes to the communication deficits seen in this population.

What can a speech-language pathologist do to better treat children with separation anxiety?

Speech and language deficits are often overlooked in children diagnosed with Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD). Since SAD is not typically seen in the clinic it is a challenge to assess and treat children diagnosed with communication deficits secondary to SAD. Extreme anxiety of the child also poses a challenge for the speech-language pathologist. Flexibility is a key factor; clinician needs to be flexible and think out of the box to develop strategies that will facilitate interaction with the overanxious client. Building a good rapport with the client is also crucial.

What aspect of your research are you most proud of?

I am proud of the interdisciplinary training I received during my doctoral education. It has helped me to critique my work as a speech-language pathologist (SLP) as well as step out of the field and see how other disciplines will perceive my work. I am excited how my line of work will have an impact on clinicians who have multilinguals on their caseload.

What is your advice to current SLP students?

Embrace the challenges you face in your professional career. If you settle for an easy goal within your comfort zone, you would lose an opportunity to learn and grow your professional life. Also, acknowledge the need for lifelong learning and integrate theory with practice to build a solid foundation for future careers as Speech-Language Pathologists.

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