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Speech in the Schools

Looking at Language Samples

Published December 7, 2015 9:52 AM by Teresa Roberts

A colleague asked about ways to analyze a language sample:

Consider cultural and linguistic factors: dialect/language differences, linguistic community, etc.

Highlight conjunctions: compare compound and complex sentences
•    Coordinating conjunctions: and, but, or, etc.
•    Subordinating conjunctions: before/after, because, until, where, etc.
•    Examine use of simple coordinating conjunctions for overreliance on forms
o    “and then… and then… and then…”
•    Look for sentence complexity: cause/effect, rationale, temporal relationships
o    “We were last because there was a long line”
•    Find the longest grammatically correct sentence as a sample to share with family

Highlight morphological errors
•    Subject-verb agreement: “she play”
•    Past tense forms: “it costed(-ed)”, “he catched it”, “I drawed”
•    Plurals: “two cat”, “two teeths”
•    Comparatives and superlatives: “more funner”, “goodest”

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Highlight syntactical errors
•    Declaratives: “going up kitty”
•    Interrogatives: “why he come here?”
•    Negative: “we not go to the park”

Consider noun and verb specificity: level of semantic meaning
•    Non-specific nouns: “that guy”, “the thing”, “there”, “it”
•    Generic nouns: girl, dog, store, park, ball
o    “the kids went to the park”
•    Specific nouns: proper nouns, descriptive elements, character names, location names
o    “my sister Briana, she goes to South City High School”, “My friend Ethan caught the baseball.”
•    Non-specific verbs: go/went, have/had, do/did, get/got
o    “that boy went ‘hi’”, “they do it”
•    Generic verbs: play/played, ran/run, says/said, etc.
o    “they ran outside”
•    Specific verbs: describes action and gives detail, yell, ask, race, jump, write, etc.
o    “the tall boy grabbed the ball”, “he won the game”
•    Look for metacognitive verbs for mental processes:  thought, remember, forgot, etc.
o    “and then I ‘membered what to do”
•    Look for modal verbs for ability, obligation, or likelihood: can/could, have to, might, will, etc.
o    “I had to go outside”, “he couldn’t play”
•    Look for adverbial forms: manner (slowly), location (here/there), time (first/last), extent (only/almost), and intensity (very/really) for actions
o    “we always walk real slow”, “he ran out so fast’, “I literally laughed”
•    Consider any non-words (created forms): “he tornating the other boy”, “she swipt the floor”
•    Consider repetition: same concepts/terms used multiple times, overuse of routinized/ritualized phrases, e.g., “and it was fun”, “and I liked it”

Descriptors/adjectives: details, perception/opinion, and specificity
•    Unelaborated noun: “the bear”
•    Elaborated with adjectives: “the big, fuzzy teddy bear”
•    Elaborated with prepositional phrase: “the bear on the shelf”
•    Elaborated with relative clause: “the bear that my sister gave me”

Narrative conventions: stylistic elements and story grammar
•    Introduction/conclusion, time elements, etc.
o    “Once there was”, “for a long time”, “and it was all better”
•    Complexity of episodes (events – actions/attempts – consequences, etc.)
•    Characters: dialog, feelings, motivations, responses
o    “he was excited because he found the treasure”
•    Coherence: referents, introduction of characters, noun/pronoun agreement
o    “this girl, he had a cat”
•    Topic maintenance: tangential or off-topic, multiple topics

Sequencing: presence and order of events/steps
•    All steps present: in chronological order or out of order
o    “My sister got a new doll. We had a party. It was her birthday”
•    Not all steps are present
o    “It was her birthday. She like her doll.”

Pragmatics: attempts to engage listener and emphasize information
•    Paralinguistic: pitch, stress, rate, pauses/hesitations, etc.
o    Delayed responses, asking for help, persistence, self-cueing, mazing (mid-sentence revisions)
o    Look for clues about planning and formulation of ideas
•    Nonlinguistic: gestures, body posture, facial expression, etc.

Listener response: listener’s ability to understand and retell story
•    Level of communicative competence
•    Presupposition: understand when listener doesn’t know background information
o    Listener able or unable to determine who did what, what happened, where/when/why something happened
o    Determine which elements are missing and why listener would be confused

In-depth analysis may guide language goals. Noticing areas of difficulty provides information about skill development across language domains.

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About this Blog

    Speech in the Schools
    Occupation: School-based speech-language pathologists
    Setting: Traditional and specialized K-12 classrooms
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