Transcription and language analysis are just difficult!
Speech and Language Therapists (SLTs) transcribe language samples and analyse them linguistically to help assess and identify children’s language difficulties. Knowledge of linguistics is a core component of all pre-registration speech and language therapy programmes. However, transcription and language analysis are time-consuming processes and often difficult to do. Unfortunately, SLTs can lose skills in these areas over time if they do not use them regularly. Here are some reasons why transcription and language analysis are just difficult.
Transcribing a language sample ‘online’ i.e. transcribing what the child says as they say it, is a skill in its own right. A problem with online transcription is that details can be missed or even incorrectly transcribed especially if the child produces a lengthy language sample. An easy solution is to record the language sample and listen back to it as many times as necessary. Although this can raise additional issues. Listening to a language sample can be quite subjective. It is possible to listen to the same recording on say three different occasions and hear new or different things each time. It is obviously time-consuming to go back and listen to a recording after the child’s session particularly if you have a busy clinical caseload.
When carrying out a language analysis the type of language sample i.e. spontaneous conversation, picture description or story retell, might affect which linguistic features may be evident or omitted in the child’s language sample. You also need to decide how detailed the language analysis needs to be and which linguistic features are going to be the most clinically useful e.g. number and use of irregular past tense verbs, prepositions etc. Language analysis can also be difficult because words can belong to more than one word class, for example, ‘when’ can be both a subordinating conjunction and an adverb.
It can be a balancing act between transcribing and analysing a child’s language sample with the demands of a busy clinical caseload. Although in the long term, it will be time well spent to correctly identify the child’s language needs and therefore plan the most appropriate and effective intervention for them. Tools such as Language Explorer will help reduce the time needed to transcribe and analyse children’s language samples, as well as refresh and maintain SLTs’ linguistic knowledge. Elaine Ashton Newcastle University