Ground-breaking assessment tool for Cantonese-speaking children

Shuyee Chen


Nearly 300 speech therapists, government officials and related professionals were recently introduced to a new language assessment tool at City University of Hong Kong (CityU).

The Hong Kong Cantonese Oral Language Assessment Scale (HKCOLAS) was introduced at a seminar and workshop jointly organized by the government’s Department of Health and the Language Information Sciences Research Centre (RCL) at CityU. The aim of the talks, which ran from 25 to 26 March, was to acquaint local speech therapists with this new assessment tool.

Dr Catherine Lam, a consultant for the Child Assessment Service (CAS), which is within the Department of Health, said HKCOLAS signaled a major step forward in research into the language development of Cantonese-speaking children. “We hope this assessment tool can help detect the kinds of language problems Hong Kong children have encountered in the past but had not been dealt with directly,” Ms Lam said.

The Department of Health entrusted this three-and-a-half year research project to RCL in September 2002. Professor Benjamin T’sou, RCL Director, led a team of RCL linguists and senior speech therapists from CAS. During this period, more than 1,100 kindergarten and primary school students from different districts were sampled and tested.

Professor T’sou said language assessment tools adopted by Hong Kong in the past were translated mainly from English and therefore not particularly suitable for the local language environment. “HKCOLAS was developed in accordance with Hong Kong’s specific biliteracy and trilingualism policy. We believe it will identify the problems of speech-impaired children more accurately and offer speech therapists more insight. We also hope it will initiate further study into related issues in Hong Kong,” Professor T’sou said.

Topics under discussion at the seminar included the use and structure of Hong Kong Cantonese vocabulary; a Hong Kong Cantonese articulation test; grammatical development in Cantonese; and the assessment of Mandarin-speaking children with specific language impairment.

“It’s quite rare for Hong Kong to hold such a large scale seminar for speech therapists, and with such practical content as well. I believe this tool will greatly help speech therapists and speech-impaired school children in Hong Kong,” said a speech therapist at the seminar.


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