UCL News


New language development test for children

24 January 2007

A team from the UCL Centre for Developmental Language Disorders and Cognitive Neuroscience has launched a new groundbreaking test for children of pre-school age to check their language development skills that takes only 10 minutes and can be administered by parents.


Led by Professor Heather van der Lely, the team has devised the Grammar and Phonology Screening (GAPS) Test, to assess the grammatical abilities and key pre-reading skills of children between 31/2 and 61⁄2 years old. The test assesses whether the child has appropriate knowledge of how to use grammatical rules to create sentences and whether they know the rules underlying how to add sounds together to make words correctly.

The test can be administered by both professionals and parents alike and is suitable for children of all abilities. The aim of the test is to identify those children who may need help at the earliest possible stage, thus avoiding later educational problems.

Professor van der Lely's intention is that all children in the UK will be tested prior to or when they enter school to try to ensure that any child with language weaknesses or impairment or at risk for dyslexia is identified.

The 10-minute test is just as reliable as the conventional 90-minute test, which can only be administered by a professional. The child repeats a small set of sentences and made-up words to a character called Bik - an alien who only understands children. These two tasks measure the child's ability to use two fundamental components of language: grammar, their ability to build words from parts of words and construct sentences; and phonology, their ability to use the sound system to construct words.

After many years of working in this field, Professor van der Lely was aware that far too often children's language problems were not being identified. She became convinced that early diagnosis of language problems and the provision of appropriate treatment and professional help could enable those affected youngsters to achieve their full potential.

Professor van der Lely said: "What really motivated me was seeing first-hand how failing to diagnose these problems was blighting so many young lives. The skills assessed in the GAPS test are required for a child to communicate appropriately, understand language, learn to read and write and reach their full potential at school, so the test indicates whether a child is 'school ready'. This test will be of benefit and value to children, parents and professionals."

Image: Bik the alien