How to evaluate young children’s polysyllable productions


Think about the last time you assessed a young child’s speech— did you look at polysyllables (i.e., words with three or more syllables)? There are often only a small number of polysyllable targets on speech-sampling assessments, which is problematic because polysyllable production is related to both phonological processing and later literacy development. In this article, Masso and colleagues provide tools for analyzing longer words in order to enhance our evaluations and to provide better descriptions of children’s speech.

Literature Review. The authors reviewed 53 studies that explored a variety of polysyllable sampling and analysis methods with either typically developing (TD) children or children with speech sound disorders (SSD). There was more information relating to polysyllable development in TD children vs. those with SSD, but even more research is still needed.  

Tools and Analysis Methods. Simplifying things for SLPs, the Word-Level Analysis of Polysyllables (WAP) captures the 7 polysyllable analysis categories including substitution, deletion, addition, etc. The WAP can be applied to any polysyllable word list, so SLPs can select one of the 19 lists in Table 1 to meet the needs of the children you support. Be sure to also check out the WAP Short Form to use during analysis. SLPs can then use the Framework of Polysyllable Maturity (Figure 1) to interpret and visualize the child’s polysyllable productions on a continuum.

Sound complex? There’s a tutorial! The authors guide SLPs through the case study of a 4 year, 10-month old girl with SSD, first analyzing her polysyllable productions using the WAP and then interpreting the results using the Framework. The tutorial compares these results with those obtained using the DEAP, a standardized speech assessment.

The bottom line: Although we need more research on how to actually treat polysyllable production, assessing it will increase the depth and richness of your analysis of children’s speech.

Masso, S., McLeod, S., & Baker, E. (2017). Tutorial: Assessment and analysis of polysyllables in young children. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 49(1): 42-58. doi: 10.1044/2017_LSHSS-16-0047.