Skip to content
April 26, 2013 / the speech monster

My time as an SLP volunteer in China

It is about time I started writing about my time in China. Not that the memories are fading by any means, no, they won’t for a really, really long time; hopefully never. I want to write about China because I’d love to share about it, and hopefully inspire someone to do something similar, too!

Over the Easter break, I traveled with my husband and 16 month old son to Shanghai, China for 13 days to do volunteer work. Actually, my husband was the one who really pushed me to do this. He knew I had felt called to do this for awhile now, but because of finances and the fact that we have a little toddler, I kept putting it off. Thankfully, Shanghai was one of the places he had wanted to visit, so the trip was worthwhile for him, too. He also graciously sponsored the entire visit and looked after our son while I worked. What a gem!

I spent a little over a week at a healing home called Charity Dream Shanghai Healing Home. Orphans or abandoned children with cleft lip and palate (pre and post surgery) receive special care at this foster home. In addition to providing them with medical care and a loving, nurturing home environment, they also raise money for their operations. Many times, these children get matched with a forever family and leave the home at around 2 years old. The children who do not get adopted by around that age either get fostered locally or sent back to the orphanage that originally accepted them.

Children with cleft lip and palate are by default highly at risk for delayed speech and language skills. Throw in the fact that these kids are in an orphanage…and their starting point for speech and language development is even further behind. Despite the fact that the home was such a bright, happy place, with extremely nurturing and loving nannies “ayis” who were cuddly and affectionate with the children, many, if not most, of the children there had significantly delayed language skills.

Being strategically situated in Pudong, the eastern part of Shanghai, the home gets many volunteers – most of them expatriate trailing spouses – who spend time playing with the children.

Three days a week, some volunteers run a language program using songs, rhymes, books, and signs for the 1-2 year old kids.  As most of these volunteers are from western countries (mostly North America), the kids get input in English in addition to their native language, Mandarin.

I was pleasantly surprised and pleased that there were volunteers without speech and language backgrounds who recognized the need for such a program to help these children. I was even more impressed when the children were able to sign words like “shoe,” “dog,” “car.” So cute!

Together with my co-volunteer and unofficial mentor, Angela, M.S., CCC-SLP, our main role at this home was to develop this language program further, working alongside the volunteers who coordinate the program and the Director of the home. I was also tasked to see a few kids to do case studies on their speech and language abilities, to provide the volunteers with some direction on how to better help these children develop linguistically and cognitively.

By the end of my time there, Angela and I had a working document with specific goals for the language program. We also proposed a structured play-based program. We modeled a few sessions for the volunteers, which meant we were up there, signing songs, rhyming, signing, and having a lot of fun with the kids! I had gotten to work individually with two kids, and prepared case studies for the Director to share with her team.

Because I speak Mandarin, I was also able to do some incidental teaching to the ayis about how to best stimulate the children’s speech and language. I also got to incorporate some Mandarin rhymes and stories to include the ayis who sat with the children during the language time.

The experience in China was amazing, challenging, and eye-opening. Speaking to Angela, a Chinese-American from New York who moved to Shanghai to work, as well as a few other volunteers, I got firsthand experience of the SLP profession there. Like a lot of developing countries, there are few SLPs and even fewer who can speak the native language. Currently, there are1.3 billion people in China but only about 1000 SLPs.[1] Most locals cannot afford SLP services and the SLPs who work at therapy clinics service expatriate communities. Angela works for a pediatric therapy clinic called Olivia’s Place that strives to also provide services to those who need but can’t afford them. There is even a foundation set up by the clinic just for this purpose! I meant to see a couple cases with her but there was simply no time during this trip. Fingers crossed, it won’t be too long till my next visit to China.

If any speechies are inspired to go on an adventure to China to volunteer and/or work, regardless of whether you speak the language, there will be somewhere and someplace that would desperately need you and greatly benefit from what you can offer. I haven’t done much research on the adult population and the SLP needs there but with an aging population, I would imagine there to be a big need for rehab SLPs in hospitals and nursing facilities, too.

Did I also mention that the food there is incredibly delish and extremely affordable? 🙂


Angela and I with some of the super adorable children at the home



[1] Meyer, D. (2011, November 01). Speech-Language Pathology in China: Challenges and Opportunities. The ASHA Leader.




Leave a Comment
  1. Joanna / Mar 9 2014 6:59 pm

    Hi, I am a MA of SLP student who is from mainland China. I feel surprised and happy to read your post. Thank you for having a heart for Chinese orphans, and caring about the situation of speech therapy in this big country. Actually, I am going to organize a therapy camp in China in an orphanage I used to work at in this May. This is going to be the first trial for a foundation I’ve dreamed for children with special needs. I will be more than thankful to be connected with you, or if you could leave me you email so I can ask some suggestions for therapy-based activities. Thank you!!

    • the speech monster / Mar 10 2014 9:58 am

      Hi Joanna
      So good to hear from you and that you are keen on more using your skills and training for more volunteer/social work.

      I would so love to connect with you. Contact me on cherylyelien at gmail

      Speak soon.

  2. Eshan Pua / Sep 7 2014 7:08 pm

    Hi, my name is Eshan and I am an Asian-American student at Butler University in Indiana double-majoring in Chinese language and Communication Sciences and Disorders. Right now, I am in the process of applying for a graduate school. I read your post and got incredibly excited because I just got back from studying abroad for 8 months in the city of Xian, Shaanxi province of China. I share very much in your passion and call for Chinese orphans. Actually, when I was in Xian, I volunteered for 4 months in the Xian Children’s Welfare Institute (Orphanage) and got to visit a few other orphanages (Agape in Xian and New Day Foster Home in Beijing). I was able to get to know a lot of the orphans there and understand more about their needs and really want to go back and help them. However, as I was looking for graduate schools, there are no Chinese SLP programs in America. I have been doing a lot of research on what can best prepare me to be an SLP in China but am still not quite sure. I was so interested when I read about how you the methods you came up with to work with Chinese children! If you are willing, I would be so honored to be able to connect with you and hear more insight from you and maybe even work with you in the future! Thank you so much and it is such a blessing and so encouraging to read your post!

    • the speech monster / Jan 27 2015 11:20 am

      Eshan, I’m glad the post was inspiring. I am based in Australia but am happy to connect. If you leave your email address here I am happy to follow up and start a chat going. Best wishes.

  3. Lauren Anick / Dec 7 2014 7:54 pm

    Hello, I am a SLP living in New York City and hoping to move to Shanghai next January. I am so happy i can across your blog post and really commend you for your work. I was wondering if you knew anything about the certification process in China or if I would be able to practice under my ASHA certification. Any information would be greatly appreciated and I look forward to hearing from you soon. Lauren

    • the speech monster / Jan 27 2015 11:16 am

      Lauren, I do apologize for this tardy reply. I hope you would’ve gotten some answers by now. You shouldn’t have any trouble finding work in China with ASHA certification. Most places that provide allied health services seem to be set up for expatriates (mostly Americans, British, Australians). In Shanghai there are a few big SLP/OT therapy places like Olivia’s Place and Essential Learning Group that hire ASHA certified SLPs. Good luck!!

    • Madison Bennink / Sep 3 2015 5:39 am

      Hi Lauren,
      I was wondering if you know of any good SLP clinics in Shanghai or elsewhere that offer internships. I am a junior at University of Oregon currently studying Communication Disorders and Sciences and plan to obtain a Masters in Speech Pathology. I am minoring in Chinese, which is why I hope to find a clinic in China. Thank you for your time!

  4. carmen ng / May 28 2015 6:49 pm

    Your journey to Shanghai sounds amazing! I would love to do something like that. I am not a student in SLP but I just finished my BA in Linguistics and going for my Communicative Disorders Assistant graduate certificate this year. I eventually plan to get my SLP (hopefully) in a few years, and I feel like this would be perfect to get my feet wet and see how it is really done. Do you have any suggestions??

    • the speech monster / Sep 10 2015 11:28 am

      Carmen, nothing like going there to have a look and observe. You may like to volunteer in SH, with a speech therapy place or the countless of foster homes/orphanages, etc. See if they have speech therapists on board, and speak to them on site. Or ring up your local area to see if they have SLPs you can shadow. Best wishes.

  5. Madison Bennink / Sep 3 2015 5:51 am

    Dear “the speech monster”,
    Thank you for your article! Could you please give me more information about the clinic you worked at?I am trying to find an internship for next summer. I am an undergraduate studying speech pathology and minoring in Chinese.
    Thank you for your time!

  6. xraytango / Oct 15 2015 7:00 am

    Hello, I’m studying Speech Pathology in Australia and was so excited to chance upon your post/blog! Being bilingual (Eng/Chi), I’ve always been interested in the impact of a second (or third) language on fluency and speech/language disorders, and how therapy is carried out and measured in other languages. If you’ve the time, I’d love to connect/meet with you, to find out more about your overseas experiences and your work in Australia. Hope to hear from you soon 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: