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Melissa Browne's Speakaboo Journey

A few months ago, we received an enthusiastic e-mail from a local speech therapist in Aruba. Eager to help her community, Melissa Browne volunteered to create a new language test for Speakaboo. Today we share with you her story of what it was like to develop Speakaboo's Papiamento test. 

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO DEVELOP A LANGUAGE FOR SPEAKABOO?

While I was working on Aruba as a speech therapist, I noticed there were very few assessments available for children in Papiamento. I realised that materials that I could easily get in other languages like the Dutch language were unavailable for Papiamento. I called some of my colleagues to enquire what materials they resorted to and learned that they often used tests translated from foreign languages. Assessing a child using tests that are not norm-referenced is a guessing work. I wanted to do right by children who speak minority languages.  Why shouldn't they deserve the same treatment, opportunities, and care as those speaking languages that are of more interest to academics? I decided to contact Speakaboo to see if they could help me develop a Papiamento test from scratch and fortunately they were up for the challenge. 

HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT CREATING THE TEST? 

First, I looked for existing research about speech development of children in Papiamento. Unfortunately,  I was unable to find any materials on the subject. With Liesbeth's help, I created a prediction of how development could occur. We formed the first list of words and selected fitting images that would elicit them during a test.  Afterwards, I tested it with children.  

THE TESTS TOOK PLACE IN SCHOOLS, ON ARUBA. HOW WAS THAT?

The children were very enthusiastic. They would name the pictures in the test before I could ask what they were. I also spoke a lot with the teachers who were eager to collaborate on the project. They notice there is a shortage of speech therapists on Aruba and the Duch Antilles. They see children struggle and try to signal this problem to parents. Often they don't believe them and don't react before it's too late.  

WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED FROM THE WHOLE PROCESS?

When I finished working on my list of words I asked a few colleagues on Aruba for feedback. Not all of them agreed with my predictions. For example, one colleague urged me not to use the word BUS as the first word on the list.  She believed that three and four-year-olds would not know it.  
 
Later, I tested the list with children that don't have any language impairments.  I have to admit I expected most words on my list would be too difficult for toddlers. During tests, it turned out their speech and language were more developed than we expected. The vast majority had no problem using the word 'bus'. Only a few longer more challenging words like 'telephone' posed a problem.  
  
I realised that without proper research we rely a lot on assumptions. It's possible we're underestimating language proficiency of young children on Aruba. We need more extensive tests to understand speech development in Papiamento.  

WHAT'S NEXT?

At the moment I am organising all my data so that it can be analysed and transformed into a Papiamento Manual for Speakaboo and possibly write an article.  

DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR OTHERS WHO WOULD LIKE TO CREATE A TEST FOR THEIR LANGUAGE?

Go for it! Think about the things you went through growing up with a minority language or a dialect. Stay curious and empathise with children that are in the same position you were in when you were young. Follow your own heart. You have the opportunity to give importance to your language and serve right by children. 

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Creating Speakaboo

Creating Speakaboo

In 2014 Mirjam Blumenthal and Liesbeth van der Zijden began working on a concept for a novel speech assessment tool inspired by an existing informal test. With their colleagues at Royal Dutch Kentalis, they developed a screening tool to examine the speech development of multilingual children in their mother tongue.