Web-based British Sign Language Vocabulary Test (BSL-VT)

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Get involved! DCAL/City is inviting Deaf children (aged 4-15 years) with different levels of signing to test their knowledge of BSL vocabulary by completing the newly developed web-based BSL-VT. This test can be accessed on the internet between 1 May and June 30th 2010. See below for more information.

A new DCAL-associated project, based at City University London, is studying Deaf children’s (aged 4-15 years) development of vocabulary in British Sign Language (BSL) with the aid of an innovative on-line tool. One of its aims is to address the considerable difficulties in assessing a Deaf child’s sign language vocabulary and the project could have significant implications for children’s education and help teachers and Speech Language therapists in their daily work.

We know from spoken language that vocabulary is important because it is closely linked to later reading and writing skills and academic success in school. There are many different elements that are considered part of our vocabulary knowledge, e.g., what a word means, how it sounds, how it is written, which context it can be used in. This makes the task of measuring a person’s vocabulary quite challenging. For instance, if children fail to correctly produce a word in a vocabulary test, does this mean they do not know the word, at all, or is it possible that they may know its meaning but not the form? Assessing a Deaf child's sign language vocabulary is even more difficult, given that many children come to language delayed which means that their vocabulary size varies a lot.

Our project has two main objectives:

• to show that deaf children know signs in more than one way
• to show that there are different levels of vocabulary knowledge in BSL which follow a hierarchy of strength

A team of deaf and hearing researchers and teachers has developed a web-based British Sign Language vocabulary test, the BSL-VT, which measures deaf children's vocabulary knowledge as it relates to form and meaning of signs. The test consists of 4 tasks with 120 sign each and is the first of its kind. Each task measures a different level of children’s knowledge of a sign:

1. Meaning recognition
2. Form recognition
3. Form recall
4. Form/meaning association

Tasks 1 + 2 are comprehension tasks, tasks 3 + 4 are production tasks

bls vt tasks

Test participants complete all four tasks. The BSL-VT has been designed in an online format so it can be administered remotely through the internet. Upon completion, the test administrator receives four scores. By looking at each sign in more detail, our aim is to overcome some of the basic limitation of many vocabulary tests for spoken language which usually focus on one level of vocabulary knowledge only, usually form recognition or form recall.

Between October 2009 – March 2010, we have trialed the BSL-VT with a small number of strong signers. Results showed a number of similarities between vocabulary acquisition in sign and spoken language. These findings and the positive feedback from teachers and students suggest that the BSL-VT makes a good assessment for sign language.

Our next step is to confirm these findings by testing a large number of deaf children with different levels of signing skills in schools and units throughout the UK. This will tell us whether the BSL-VT works equally well for all deaf children. If it does, we plan to standardize the BSL-VT and make it available for schools.

DCAL would like to encourage as many pupils to participate as possible in this next test phase. This will run for just two months between May 1 and June 30th, 2010. Interested teachers and Speech Language therapists will be given special access to the test website so they can administer the test to any pupils who meet the criteria for participation. Any practitioners who would like to get involved should contact the lead researcher Dr Wolfgang Mann by email (wolfgang.mann.1@city.ac.uk) to discuss the criteria for participation and receive their login information. Guidelines for test administration will be available on the website. We look forward to hearing from you.

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Deafness Cognition and Language Research Centre (DCAL)
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