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Sign Language: Methodologies and Evaluation Tools (SignMET)

Background and aims

Only approx. 5% of deaf children have deaf parents (Mitchell & Karchmer, 2004) and acquire a sign language as their first language. For the other 95% the acquisition of spoken and sign languages presents a very varied picture.

In the countries participating in this project (Italy, France, Switzerland and Spain), children with little or no hearing attend special schools and mainstream schools. In mainstream schools in particular, the support they receive from professionals - using sign language or not - varies greatly. In those contexts where sign language is used, it is vital that the children's development in sign language can be tested, so that support can be granted where appropriate.

For most sign languages, there are no sign language tests that can be used in a (pre-)school context. Consequently, this projects aims:

  • to develop test procedures to test sign language development in deaf children aged four to eleven years (comprehension and production),
  • to create an online platform for these sign language tests,
  • to grant professionals access to these tests, and
  • to train the testers.


To test sign language comprehension, a test is to be developed for each of the four sign languages involved (Italian, French, Catalan and German Swiss), in order to assess understanding of morphosyntactic structures. In some cases (e.g. Swiss German) there is earlier work to draw on, in that a version of the British Sign Language Receptive Skills Test (Herman, Holmes & Woll, 1999) has already been adapted to German Swiss Sign Language (Haug, 2011) and will serve as a basis for developing the German Swiss test.

The psychometrics of the test will be evaluated in a pre-test with deaf adults and a full test with deaf children. The tests for the various sign languages will be made available on a sign language test platform.

A Sentence Repetition Test will be developed for assessing sign language production. This will require children to retell a story that has been devised using a tool for the detailed examination of the discursive features of sign languages.

Workshops with schools will be held in the partner countries to test sign language skills. The tests will be made accessible to Schools.


The expected outcomes of this research project are:

  • A test platform that schools in the partner countries will be able to use.
  • The data collected can, if parents and guardians consent, be used for research to gain new insights into language acquisition among this heterogeneous group; and
  • training to be provided for teachers.




Forschung und Entwicklung
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