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SLU Graduate Student Improving Barriers to Language Sample Analysis

by Bridjes O'Neil
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Bridjes O'Neil
Communications Specialist

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ST. LOUIS — Students enrolled in the Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences (SLHS) program at Saint Louis University don’t have to wait until graduation to gain real-world experience. SLU first-year graduate student Lucy Heller is working to identify barriers in language sample analysis.

Language sample analysis is a supplemental assessment used by speech-language pathologists (SLPs) in addition to several standardized tests to evaluate the presence of a speech or language disorder in clients, mostly preschool or school-age children and adolescents. 

A photo of Lucy Heller outdoors on a fall day.

Lucy Heller is a graduate student majoring in speech-language pathology at Saint Louis University. Photo by Sarah Conroy. 

A standardized language sample analysis involves transcribing an audio recording, identifying and labeling parts of language, and then comparing those results to normative data. This comprehensive technique is not regularly practiced by the majority of SLPs, primarily due to time, efficiency, and lack of training in analysis programs.

"SLPs have caseloads of 40 to 50 people they're seeing weekly," Heller said. "Transcribing all of these language samples is time-consuming, especially in school settings."

Heller believes language sample analysis difficulties can be measurably improved by automatic transcription or speech-to-text programs. As part of her mentored research project, Heller compared language sample transcripts generated by Microsoft Dictate to those created by trained transcribers to determine the accuracy of computer-assisted language sampling.

"Each of these determinants allows for further analysis of one’s conversational ability, speaking style, and linguistic features that are not always detected through standardized tests or traditional testing methods," Heller said.

Heller adds language sample analysis tends to be a more inclusive testing procedure, as it is not limited to speakers of one language and can measure language from speakers of numerous cultures and dialectal variations. 

A Rising Career Field

A photo of Lucy Heller sitting at an outdoors table on a fall day.

Lucy Heller inspired SLU's Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences Accelerated Direct Admit Track, allowing students to graduate with their B.S. and M.S. in speech-language pathology in five years instead of the standard six-year track starting in the fall of 2024. Photo by Sarah Conroy. 

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the employment of SLPs to grow 19% from 2022 to 2032. SLU is doing its part to populate the pipeline through the rebranded SLHS Accelerated Direct Admit Track, formerly the SLHS Scholars Program.

Heller inspired the Direct Admit Track, allowing students to graduate with their B.S. and M.S. in speech-language pathology in five years instead of the standard six-year track starting in the fall of 2024. 

It was through the SLHS Scholars Program Heller first came to SLU and began her studies on LSA as an undergraduate research assistant for Sara Steele, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences. Steele has been teaching and researching language sample analysis for over 15 years. Heller's research is part of a larger project to increase standardized language sample analysis in school settings.

Heller represented the department last year at SLU's Senior Legacy Symposium and credits Steele for her knowledge and guidance throughout the research process. 

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