Language sample analysis is a great, free tool for assessment, functional goal setting, and progress-monitoring in speech-language therapy
As a speech-language pathologist for elementary school-aged kids, language sample analysis (LSA) has long been on my radar.
I've known that LSA is an effective way to assess a child's functional communication skills, that it can uncover issues that standardized tests may not, and that The American Speech-Language and Hearing Association (ASHA) considers it best practice to include LSA in comprehensive assessments.
Language sample analysis can also help with choosing therapy goals and progress monitoring. In addition, unlike standardized tests, you can use LSA over and over with the same student.
While I've wanted to include LSA in my clinical practice, I allowed seemingly impenetrable barriers to deter me.
What were these barriers, you ask? Oh let's see...
I felt like I didn't have the time or headspace to sit with a bunch of journal articles to figure out which approach to use because there are a few different options out there, each with their own procedures.
Terms like relative clause, subordination index coding, and C-units gave me the heebie jeebies.
I took hours and hours of the self-paced training modules for SALT, but anytime I had to put it aside for a week or more, I felt like I'd forget all of the transcription conventions! (I feel bad saying this because the people at SALT are super helpful and I really do encourage anyone who has the time to dig into SALT to try it! Also, you get free CEUs for completing the training modules!)
I felt like I needed someone to just walk me through a straightforward and quick way to collect and analyze a language sample.
SUGAR Language Sample Analysis
Along came the SUGAR method of language sampling. Stacey Pavelko and Robert Owens have developed this LSA method, called Sampling Utterances and Grammatical Utterances Revised (SUGAR), specifically to make it easy for busy SLPs like us.
In their 2023 article in Perspectives, they take us through a very easy way to elicit and analyze a 50-utterance sample that will give us measurements for:
total number of words
mean length of utterance
words per sentence
clauses per sentence
Their website provides quick video tutorials (found on the "downloads" page) for each step if you prefer to learn that way. They also provide norms and standard deviations for kids ages 3-11. Sub-analysis forms are also available to help you identify therapy targets and -- get this --materials for intervention are provided too! These people get us!!
I tried SUGAR out last week as part of a comprehensive speech and language assessment I had to complete. The SUGAR language sample analysis took very little time (less than 30 minutes), it gave me some great data points, and I loved that the results lined up with what the parent and teachers had reported.
I'll definitely be incorporating SUGAR into my practice from now on. And it feels really good to have finally gotten over the LSA barriers!
I have two additional tips to share:
If you want to brush up on your grammar terms, I highly recommend the Grammar Fundamentals for a Pluralistic Society course through the Leaders Project at Columbia University. It is 6 quick, free self-study modules and provides 0.5 ASHA CEUs. The language nerd in me really dug it.
I used my iPhone to record the sample and then used MacWhisper to transcribe the sample quickly. MacWhisper is free software and does a surprisingly good job. As the name suggests, it's for Mac computers. There will be errors that you'll have to edit, but I'd much rather make a few edits than transcribe a sample from scratch.
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Pavelko, S. L., & Owens, R.E. (2023). A Sweet Tutorial to the SUGAR Method of Language Sampling. Perspectives. 8(1), 32-49.