¡Ponle SALT a Tu Evaluación!

  • October 6, 2009
  • Raúl Rojas

Raúl Rojas, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA

Raúl Rojas received his M.A. in Speech-Language Pathology from Temple University, and provided bilingual (Spanish-English) SLP services in the schools for six years.  Currently he is a doctoral student in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Temple University.  Raúl’s primary research area of interest is child language, specifically bilingual language development in typically developing children and in children with language disorders.

As you may or may not know, I have an addiction to SALT.  Not to the potassium-sodium-laced mineral, however.  Rather, I am addicted to the Systematic Analysis of Language Transcripts (SALT) software program.  Joking aside, I have been engaged with developing the functionality of SALT for bilingual (Spanish-English) language sampling since 1998.  Currently, the latest version available is the SALT 2008 Bilingual Spanish-English (SE) version (Miller & Iglesias, 2008). For this month’s blog, I will:

  • Describe SALT Bilingual SE
  • Outline the clinical benefits of using SALT Bilingual SE
  • Address common questions and concerns
  • Discuss planned updates

Why should You use SALT Bilingual SE?
First and foremost, best practices recommend language sampling as a part of any evaluation of language (Paul, 2006).  There are many reasons for this, but perhaps the most obvious is that language sampling allows one to measure connected, spontaneous language output.  Most of us have struggled eliciting specific grammatical structures, such as the preterit tense, within a sentence production subtest of an unnamed formal assessment tool in Spanish.  After a seemingly endless eternity, the child fails to produce the target conjugation, which will negatively impact his standard score.  However, upon leaving the testing room, Ramiro reminds you: “¡yo lo vi ayer speech-teacher!”  Then you find yourself, again, pondering whether Ramiro’s standard score on formal test X is truly indicative of his language skills or not.  After all, Ramiro decided to conveniently conjugate the elusive target (the preterit), just not during your formal testing.  Why not measure the expressive language skills of your clients in Spanish and English when they are actually speaking?  Even better, why not do it within a structured and academically relevant task (Miller, Heilmann, Nockerts, Iglesias, Fabiano, & Francis, 2006), such as retelling a story?  As the clinician, you model the task (tell the story) prior to the child’s retell, minimizing intimidation and unfamiliarity of the task.

The advantages and clinical benefits that SALT Bilingual SE offers you are straightforward.  These benefits are perhaps best defined by a series of questions regarding your goals as a speech-language pathologist serving bilingual children.

  • Do I want to appropriately compare the narrative Spanish and English language skills of my bilingual children to those of other bilingual children?
  • Do I want to move beyond informal assessment that relies exclusively on clinical judgment?
  • Do I want to access measurable data of language skills, not only for assessment purposes, but also to track progress over time within therapy?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then the next question should be asking yourself is: “why am I not using SALT Bilingual SE?”

What is SALT Bilingual SE?
Fundamentally, SALT Bilingual SE is a clinical tool that is primarily used for assessing the oral language skills of bilingual (Spanish-English) speakers.  The program allows you to appropriately analyze language transcripts from the bilingual, Spanish-speaking children in your caseload and compare the child’s performance to a large database of other English language Learners. The program features the largest available databases of bilingual children providing narrative language samples in Spanish and English.  SALT Bilingual SE comes with two built-in reference databases: The Bilingual Spanish Story Retell and The Bilingual English Story Retell database.  Combined, these two databases contain over 2,000 Spanish and English retell narratives provided by bilingual, Spanish-speaking children from the United States in grades Kindergarten through third.  You can (and should) compare the language transcripts of the bilingual children in your caseload to those of the bilingual children in the Bilingual Spanish and English Story Retell databases.  Let’s take a step back and consider what this means.  Although we often criticize the lack of appropriate standardized assessment tools for bilingual (Spanish-English) children (e.g., test translations, monolingual norming samples, culturally inappropriate test stimuli), SALT Bilingual SE offers an appropriate, formal assessment tool of bilingual children’s narrative language production.  Further, although language sampling tends to fall under the umbrella of informal testing, comparisons done with SALT Bilingual SE provide performance information across a range of language domains (e.g., syntax/morphology, semantics, discourse, intelligibility, and others) for your client as well as your client’s standard deviation from the respective database on several measures (e.g., total utterances, MLU in words, number of different words, etc.).  Put another way: the “informal” component of your bilingual speech-language assessment protocol, supported by measurable, normative data, will be stronger than ever!  Watch as jaws drop at your next IEP meeting, with your SALT Bilingual SE analyses in hand.  Joy.

SALT Bilingual SE offers a number of editing tools to expedite and simplify transcription of bilingual (Spanish-English) language samples.  For example, SALT Bilingual SE allows you to mark accents, tildes, and use inverse symbols such as: “¿Será un sueño?”  Going further, with SALT Bilingual SE you can keep account for the vast morphological complexity of the verb system in Spanish.  Therefore, if a bilingual child commented on losing her little frogs (“se me perdieron mis ranitas”), SALT Bilingual SE will credit this child for conjugating the preterit (i.e., past) tense, using a diminutive to indicate size, and also the plural morpheme -s.  The program’s built-in verb conjugations (>450,000) and other inflections (>1,500) – such as diminutives, plurals, and pronominal clitics – help automate and demystify the process of tracking morphological use in Spanish.  In case you may be wondering, SALT Bilingual SE also accounts for morphological use in English, for those language samples you may collect in English or the samples that were “supposed to be in Spanish” but contain consistent code-switching.  In other words, SALT Bilingual SE allows you to track morphological use in Spanish and English, simultaneously.  For more in-depth information regarding bilingual sampling and SALT, please refer to Rojas and Iglesias (2006; 2009).

Questions and Answers
For the SALT-uninitiated, there are a number of common questions about the software program and its use.  Let’s attempt to address some of these common concerns with a question and answer session.

Q: Ok, so I am definitely getting SALT!  What if I have questions, where do I go for support?

A: Fortunately SALT comes with detailed, searchable documentation, built directly into its Help system.  The SALT Help system is contained contextually in any SALT window.  This means that SALT will provide Help information pertinent to the specific task you are working on.  Also, the SALT website (www.saltsoftware.com) contains a wealth of information, including several training modules.  These training modules cover everything from elicitation to analyses interpretation to case studies.  For example, let’s say you are not 100% comfortable with providing your clients with a Spanish model of a narrative.  Visit the SALT website, and you’ll find scripts for a number of Mercer Mayer’s “frog stories” as well as the corresponding audio samples in Spanish and English, that your clients can listen to.  If you purchase SALT Bilingual SE a copy of the wordless picture book, Frog, Where Are You? (Mayer, 1969), is included as well as the corresponding script and audio sample.
See: http://www.saltsoftware.com/training/

Q: There are different versions of SALT.  Which version do I need?

A: The answer to this question depends on what your needs are.  If your caseload consists of primarily Spanish-English bilingual children, SALT Bilingual SE is the version you need.  If your caseload consists of both monolingual English speaking and Spanish-English bilingual children, then you may want both SALT Bilingual SE and SALT English.  The only differences between the two versions, is that SALT English has a number of reference databases composed of monolingual English speakers.

SALT Research is targeted for folks who want access to all the reference databases, and to research tools that facilitate working with large data sets.  SALT Instructional is available to college or university instructors.  Finally, the SALT Student CD is available for students.
See: http://www.saltsoftware.com/salt/

Q: I have an older version of SALT.  Should I upgrade?

A: Although the reference databases are available for download to SALT users, every new version of SALT is equipped with expanded functionality for both transcribing and analyzing language transcripts.  Also, if you own an older version of SALT, the most recent versions of SALT are available with discounted upgrade pricing.
See: http://www.saltsoftware.com/salt/upgrade/

Q: I know that SALT runs on PCs, but I have a Mac.  Can I run SALT on my Mac?

A: SALT is a Windows-based software program. Therefore, it will not run natively on a Mac operating system.  That being said, any Intel-based Apple computer can run Windows applications, if Windows is installed.
See: http://www.saltsoftware.com/salt/support/faq/mac.cfm

Q: SALT Bilingual SE is designed for Spanish-English bilingual speakers. Are there any other languages available?

A: As of October 2009, there is a Turkish SALT version and a French SALT version.  Turkish SALT has a conversational database.  French SALT does not have any reference databases, but does have built-in conjugations for French verbs.  Please contact the wonderful SALT folks, if you are interested in these other versions of SALT.
See: http://www.SALTSoftware.com/company/contact/

Planned updates
Updated versions to all SALT versions will be released at the 2009 annual convention of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, and will also be available online from the SALT website.  Expanded functionality will characterize all updated SALT versions.  Two areas of expanded functionality will be transcription and analyses options for tracking the subordination index (measure of syntactic complexity measure) and the narrative scoring scheme (index of narrative skills).

Mayer, M. (1969). Frog, where are you? New York: Dial Press.

Miller, J., Heilmann, J., Nockerts, A., Iglesias, A, Fabiano, L., & Francis, D. (2006). Oral language and reading in bilingual children. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 21, 30-43.

Miller, J.F., & Iglesias, A. (2008). Systematic analysis of language transcripts (SALT), Bilingual SE Version 2008 [Computer software]. SALT Software, LLC.

Rojas, R., & Iglesias, A. (2006). Bilingual (Spanish-English) narrative language analyses: Why and how? Perspectives on Communication Disorders and Sciences in Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Populations, 13(1), 3-8.

Rojas R., & Iglesias, A. (2009, March 3). Making a case for language sampling: Assessment and intervention with (Spanish-English) language learners. The ASHA Leader, 14(3), 10-13.

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