Core Language Assessment – how and why?
Core language skills describe a person’s core capacity for understanding and using language. It is the ability to understand and express using the building blocks of language: words (vocabulary), sentences, stories and narrative, and spoken memory. A language assessment will ‘pull apart’ and assess each of these skills individually. A child’s performance on the various testing areas is then compared to scores of other children of the same age. This creates a ‘language profile’ showing the areas of strength and difficulty. We all have different language strengths and difficulties – no two people are the same. Knowing more about a young person’s language profile tells us a great deal about how they communicate, why they behave or respond the way they do, and how we can best support them to communicate more successfully.
Some core skills that are assessed:
- Understanding concepts (e.g. between, next to, all…except) and following directions
- Recalling sentences (verbal memory)
- Formulating sentences
- Using correct grammar (e.g. past tense, plurals, pronouns)
- Describing word relationships (e.g. how do they go together?)
- Expressive vocabulary
- Understanding complex sentences
Case Example – Sally
Sally was a young girl who struggled a great deal with her understanding of words and sentences. She did however, have a stronger ability to repeat spoken information. When her mother gave her a direction, then asked ‘what did I say?’ Sally was often able to repeat it back to her. However, Sally’s mother experienced great frustration when her daughter failed to follow through with the instruction or respond to the message appropriately. This was due to the fact that her daughter did not always understand the underlying meaning of what was said to her.
Because Sally appeared to understand more than she actually did, her mother’s expectations of her child’s abilities were too high. She interpreted Sally’s lack of response or co-operation as willful disobedience. Language assessment provided this mother with more insight into Sally’s strengths and difficulties. Strategies were provided to the mother to help her adjust her communication and enhance her child’s comprehension. Therapy also helped Sally to develop her receptive vocabulary skills, and her ability to understanding more complex sentence structures. The Speech Pathologist provided her mother and classroom teacher with ideas about how to continue supporting Sally’s learning at home and in the classroom.
Case Example – Flynn
Unlike Sally, Flynn had a strong ability to understand word meanings and complex sentences. However, he found it difficult to process and remember large chunks of spoken information (known as ‘verbal memory’). As Flynn progressed through school, the teacher spent more time speaking to the class and less time writing notes and using pictures or visuals. Flynn often became overloaded with verbal information and he disengaged from class work as a result. He began falling further behind at school and became increasingly disruptive. Language assessment allowed us to identify Flynn’s difficulties and provide specific recommendations to his teachers. More visuals, written notes, and ‘chunking’ of information helped him to participate more successfully in the classroom and perform to his potential.
What happens after assessment?
After your child has completed a language assessment, a comprehensive assessment report will be provided. Reports will include an explanation of the assessment areas and an outline of the child’s performance compared to other children of the same age. If your child scores below the expected range for their age, the degree of difficulty will be clearly described. For example, if a child scores well below the expected range in verbal memory, we might say that their skills are ‘severely below the average range’. Reports can also include a list of parent strategies and specific classroom adjustments that will support their learning. Reports will be individualised for each child and will contain information that is most relevant for supporting the child in various environments.
Brooke Miller – Speech Pathologist and Director