Receptive Vocabulary App: A multilingual toolkit

What is the Receptive Vocabulary Screener (RVS)?

Generally, when we talk about receptive vocabulary we mean all words one person has learned and can understand. The receptive vocabulary can be tested by presenting a range of pictures, saying a word out aloud and asking people to point to the word they hear. The Receptive Vocabulary Screener (RVS) is a tablet application which can screen receptive vocabulary in English and (so far) ten other languages (including Polish, Czech, Slovak, Mandarin Chinese, Portuguese, German, Turkish, Punjabi, Urdu, and Welsh). We call it a screening because the app includes only 20 nouns and 20 verbs, which is a small number considering how many words children are able to understand. Nevertheless, such a screening provides a first insight into how well children are able to store words. This helps us to decide whether children speaking one of those languages may have difficulties with storing and understanding words.

Why did we design the RVS?

We live in a multicultural and multilingual world. In 2015 the Department of Education reported that over 19% of primary school children in the UK learn English as an additional language. A considerable number of those children need support in learning English to be able to follow instructions in school and to learn new things in and outside school.  A subgroup of those children struggle to learn their home language as well and need targeted intervention by speech and language therapists. In order to identify a child’s specific language learning needs, multilingual children should be assessed in all the languages they speak. However, there are huge challenges: in UK classrooms over 360 different languages can be found and for most of those languages we haven’t got any assessments available. In addition, most of us who work with multilingual children are not proficient in any of those languages. This makes it very difficult to identify who needs additional support and who does not. Therefore, we decided to design a vocabulary screening which can be administered in a range of languages without the testers having to be proficient in those languages.

How does the RVS work?

  • On the opening page of the app, the tester enters basic information about the child and selects the language in which the tester wants to assess the child.
  • When the app is started a cartoon figure called Meemo introduces the test to the child in the chosen language. For example, if Czech was selected Meemo provides information about the task in Czech. That means that the person who completes the test with the child does not need to be proficient in those languages.
  • Children are shown 4 pictures at a time, then they hear a word and they have to tap on the picture they have heard.
  • Two practice items are presented to explain how the assessment works and the children get immediate feedback about their choice.
  • The tester has the opportunity to play back the recording (in case the child was distracted) or to move on to the next item
  • The items are presented in a random order. So even if children are tested twice (in their home language and in English) the order of pictures does not help them to complete the task.
  • Meemo provides encouragement throughout the testing and the children’s responses are automatically recorded.
  • If the screening results are saved, the tester gets a summary of the results which can be exported and saved as a PDF file.

Can I use the RVS?

Yes, you will be able to download the app soon. We’re about to roll out the first beta to users who join our beta programme. Why not subscribe to our Newsletter? We’ll let you know when the first public release is launched. If you are an adventurous Speech and Language Therapist or other professional supporting multilingual children and their language development, why not register on our site and join our beta programme? We’d love to hear about your experience in using the beta version of the app and any issues you encounter.