Original Research

The cat on a hot tin roof? Critical considerations in multilingual language assessments

Thandeka Mdlalo, Penelope S. Flack, Robin W. Joubert
South African Journal of Communication Disorders | Vol 66, No 1 | a610 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajcd.v66i1.610 | © 2019 Thandeka Mdlalo, Penelope S. Flack, Robin W. Joubert | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 10 September 2018 | Published: 30 May 2019

About the author(s)

Thandeka Mdlalo, Livingstone School, Durban, South Africa
Penelope S. Flack, Discipline of Speech-Language Pathology, School of Health Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa
Robin W. Joubert, School of Health Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa

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Background: In speech-language pathology (SLP), there is a paucity of resources to provide just and equitable services to South Africa’s culturally and linguistically diverse population. Although South Africa is a multilingual country, English remains the dominant language. However, there is limited research on resources for English additional language (EAL) speakers.

Objectives: This article addresses this gap by presenting the results of a critique of a commonly used language screening tool, the Renfrew Action Picture Test (RAPT), on EAL speakers.

Method: This tool is used as an example to broadly critique the use of culturally biased assessment instruments with EAL speakers from an indigenous linguistic and cultural background. It is administered to children who are EAL speakers and then critiqued by the children too. Their voice, often ignored in research, is central to the research. A mixed methods approach is used, including focus groups and test administration. This article is based on the results of the thematic analysis used to closely examine the patterns that emerge.

Results: A key finding is that the cultural and linguistic background of the child assessed cannot be disregarded, as it plays a crucial role in understanding the response of the child. The interpretation of the response of the child to the presented material of the language assessment tool significantly influences the result of the assessment.

Conclusion: The speech language therapist has a responsibility to avoid skewed results based on uninformed interpretation of the response of the child. These findings provide useful insights for clinicians regarding culture-fair assessment.


Assessment; cultural and linguistic diversity; English additional language speaker; language dominance; language competence; speech-language pathology.


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