Samantha and the Babelfish: speech pathologist Samantha Siyambalapitiya

Our next curator is Dr Samantha Siyambalapitiya (@SamSiySP),  Senior Lecturer at Griffith University, Queensland, Australia. Samantha is a foundation staff sam twitter avimember at two brand new speech pathology programs and has been training speech pathology students for over 10 years. Her research explores communication disability in people who are from culturally diverse backgrounds, including bilingual speakers. Here’s more about Samantha.


As a speech pathology student, I worked with a bilingual patient with aphasia (difficulty in reading, writing and speech due to acquired injury) and discovered how little knowledge there is about working with bilingual patients with acquired language disorder. I learnt psycholinguistic methodologies as an Honours student and then got to investigate bilingual aphasia as a PhD researcher. This was a challenging topic! I almost gave up on bilingual research because of the many challenges of doing research in this field. But I realised that the clinical challenges of treating culturally diverse/bilingual speakers with communication disorders would remain unless we expand the knowledge base in this area.


Growing up in a bilingual household, I have always been fascinated by bilingualism and how the brain stores and processes more than one language. I also grew up between two cultures so I’m also really interested in understanding cross-cultural interactions. My research as a speech pathologist allows me to combine my interests in these areas with looking at how we deliver health care to people who are from culturally diverse backgrounds and/or bilingual. When you have a communication disorder, issues of cultural/language difference are particularly pertinent. This is an under-researched area, despite the fact that most people in the world are bi/multilingual and there will be an increasing need for health professionals to work ‘cross-culturally’ as more and more people move to different locations across the globe. I work with lots of great researchers, including doctoral students. I love working with like-minded people and potentially doing work that might bring about changes that help people.


My main job is to train future speech pathologists. This includes doing research that informs speech pathology clinical practice. I currently lead research projects that investigate how speech pathologists work with interpreters; how stroke care is delivered to stroke survivors who are culturally and linguistically diverse; and how we provide speech pathology services to bilingual people with aphasia (an acquired language impairment). I am working with other researchers to explore questions like: what are the long-term social communication outcomes for bilingual children with autism; how do we treat language disorder in bilingual children; and have recently joined a team looking at the provision of pain management to refugees. I supervise PhD students investigating: acquired communication disorders in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults with acquired communication disorders; how to improve interprofessional practice of speech pathologists and interpreters; exploring aphasia services in Malaysia; and developing an aphasia assessment for use in Vietnam. I’m working with an Honours student who is trying to develop a language screening tool for Thai/English speakers.


Most of the world’s population is bi/multilingual. Many societies (e.g., Australia, UK, US, Canada) are culturally diverse. With high levels of migration across the globe, the cultural diversity of many societies is only going to increase. Yet most research into communication disorders (and often healthcare more broadly) has focused on monolingual, English speakers.This is not representative of the world’s population. It is challenging to deliver healthcare when the research evidence doesn’t extend to all of the people you work with and when there are potential cultural/language barriers.


I meditate regularly. I find that meditation calms and clarifies the mind which I sorely need when life always seems to be so ‘busy’. I like to learn languages when I get the chance. I’ve previously learnt French, Italian, Spanish and am trying to learn some basic Portuguese for an upcoming trip. At the moment, my main aim is to preserve my conversational Sinhala, which is my parent’s native language.


Ideal Day Off? Taking it easy somewhere in nature. If I got tired of the solitude then my family and friends could join me and if I was hungry, I would want my favourite meal of ‘rice and curry’.


Please welcome Samantha to Real Scientists!

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