2012. Vol.3, No.10, 912-915
Published Online October 2012 in SciRes (http://www.SciRP.org/journal/psych) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/psych.2012.310137
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
The VL2-Spoken Language Phonological Awareness
M. Diane Clark
Gallaudet University, Washington, USA
Received July 28th, 2012; revised August 23rd, 2012; accepted September 20th, 2012
Tests of phonological awareness have been developed for spoken languages that require spoken responses.
For many deaf individuals, spoken measures of phonological awareness (PA) are not appropriate, as these
deaf individuals do not use any spoken language or their oral language is rated as low on levels of aural
comprehension. Given the need to have accessible measures of spoken language PA for deaf children, the
VL2 Spoken Language Phonological Awareness Measure (VL2-SLPA) was developed. The VL2-SLPA
can also determine if participants use a phonological code or an orthographic code to identify the two
pictures that have the same first or last “sound”. The VL2-SLPA showed strong convergent validity to the
Phoneme Detection Test, another measure developed for deaf individuals, which does not require a verbal
Keywords: Phonological Awareness; Measure; Deaf
The term phonological comes from the Greek word phone,
which means voice or sound (Wagner, Torgesen, & Rashotte,
1999). Interestingly, phonemes are recognized along category
boundaries rather than on acoustic similarity (Liberman, Harris,
Hoffman, & Griffith, 1957). Here two stimuli that have the
similar perceptual or acoustic differences are not perceived as
different phonemes unless they cross a categorical boundary.
Therefore, phonemes are not perceived along a continuous
dimension but are perceived as discrete units. This discrimina-
tion allows individuals using aural/oral language to segment
auditory stimuli into language specific phonemes, adjusting for
spoken variation in individual speakers. Decoding of words into
their individual phonemes is based on specific articulatory
movements, depending on the placement of the tongue in the
mouth the position of the lips, whether the mouth is closed or
open, and whether the vocal cords are vibrating (Wagner et al.,
1999). Therefore, phonemes represent differences in speech
sounds that signal differences in meaning.
Phonological awareness (PA) includes not only the sounds of
a language but also how words rhyme. PA leads to the aware-
ness that sentences can be broken down into words, syllables,
and their corresponding sounds. These skills develop through-
out the late preschool period and are tested by a child’s ability
to detect rhyme and alliteration or the use of similar consonants.
PA also includes being able to identify words that start and end
with the same sounds as well as segmenting words into their
corresponding phonemes. Blending of new sounds is often
tested when looking at children’s PA.
The reason that PA is considered to be a necessary skill is
that is relates to the alphabetic principle (Chard & Dickson,
1999) that allows students to understand the internal structure
of words so that they can benefit from formal reading instruc-
tion. The University of Oregon’s Center on Teaching and
Learning (“What is the,” 2009) defines alphabetic understand-
ing as the knowledge that “words are composed of letters that
represent sounds” (para 1). This concept is linked to phono-
logical recoding, which is defined as “using systematic rela-
tionships between letters and phonemes (letter-sound corre-
spondence) to retrieve the pronunciation of an unknown printed
string or to spell words” (para 2). Then phonological processing
refers to the use of this information that translates the sounds of
oral language into the comprehension of written language.
Mastery of phonological awareness is seen as important to
the development of reading, writing, and spelling for languages
that use the alphabetic principle (Wagner & Torgesen, 1987).
Studies have found a casual influence between the development
of phonological processing abilities and the acquisition of
word-level reading skills (Perfetti, Beck, Bell, & Hughes, 1987)
and a deficit in phonological abilities is viewed as a the reason
for reading disabilities (Shankweiler & Liberman, 1989; Stano-
vich & Siegel, 1994).
Deaf education also tends to focus on phonological knowl-
edge as a necessary skill for skilled reading (e.g., Paul, Wang,
Trezek, & Luckner, 2009). Paul et al. state, “Phonology cannot
simply be abandoned even for children with limited or no ac-
cess to it” (p. 348) and “Again, we contend that phonological
awareness is necessary, but not sufficient, for reading compre-
hension” (p. 350). Based on these ideas, both cued speech and
visual phonics have been used with deaf children. Cued speech
is a system that allows all of the phonemes of a language to be
visual to a deaf child while visual phonics is a classroom based
phonics curriculum that helps deaf children learn to read Eng-
lish. Here the explicit assumption is that having access to the
spoken phonemes of the language through a visual medium will
allow the development of skilled reading for deaf children (La-
Sasso, Colin, & Leybaert, 2011).
*This version of the VL2-SLPA measure is in English. In the International
Reading Project, four other parallel versions were also created; one in Ara-
bic, German, Hebrew, and Turkish.
M. D. CLARK
Tests of Phonological Awareness for
Tests of phonological awareness have been developed for
spoken language. These measures require a spoken response in
response to the stimulus. These tests include subtests of the
Woodcock Johnson (Woodcock, McGrew, & Mather, 2007) as
well as the Test of Phonological Awareness (TOPA; www.
additional tests used with spoken language include The Phono-
logical Awareness Test (PAT 2) (www.linguisystem.com/
products/product/display?itemid=1049) and the Comprehensive
Test of Phonological Processing (Wagner, Torgesen, & Rashotte,
1999). These measures are easily administered to hearing indi-
viduals and provide information regarding the level of PA skills
used by them.
For many deaf individuals, spoken measures for phonologi-
cal awareness are not appropriate. Many deaf people do not use
spoken language or their oral language is rated as low on levels
of aural comprehension. Therefore, typical measures of PA that
require spoken responses to tap this knowledge of spoken pho-
nology may not reflect deaf individuals PA skills as the tester
must make judgment calls as to whether the spoken response is
accurate. Conrad (1979) reported that many deaf individuals
have what has been referred to as inner speech, which functions
like spoken phonological knowledge. Therefore, having meas-
ures of spoken PA are felt to be important in understanding the
reading skills of deaf individuals.
Recently, a measure of spoken PA test was developed that
does not require a verbal response. This test is called the Pho-
neme Detection Test (PDT; Koo, Crain, LaSasso, & Eden, 2008)
and is administered via computer, using 150 high frequency
words. Participants are instructed to determine whether a word,
presented visually on the computer, includes a specific pho-
neme (e.g. Does it have a /k/). Target phonemes include multi-
ple or opaque orthographic to phonological correspondences
(e.g. “c” maps to the phoneme /s/ in “cent” and /k/ in “call”).
The PDT test has been shown to identify PA skills in deaf par-
ticipants (Clark, Gilbert, & Anderson, 2011; Koo et al., 2008).
Koo et al. found that signing deaf participants were less accu-
rate than deaf participants who were either oral or used cued
speech, i.e., those who had grown up with a focus on spoken
phonology. Clark et al. found a wide range of PA skills, rang-
ing from one percent correct to 99 percent correct. In addition,
Clark et al. found no correlation between PA scores and reading
skills. Given these results, the PDT provides important infor-
mation about deaf adults spoken language PA skills as both
Clark et al. and Koo et al. used young adults.
Because PA has been related to young children’s reading
development, it becomes necessary to have tests that can be
used with younger participants. The Koo et al. (2008) PDT test
has not been used with children and given the length of the test
may not be appropriate for this age group. Given the need to
have an accessible measures of spoken language PA for deaf
children that does not require a verbal response, the VL2 Spo-
ken Language Phonological Awareness Measure (VL2-SLPA)
was developed (Miller, Kargin, & Clark, 2010)1 for use in an
International Reading Study with children. The measure in-
cludes 12 trials; six testing awareness of initial phonemes and
six testing final phonemes. All words are from a third-grade
corpus. Each trial has four pictures. The four pictures include a
distracter, two items that are a phonological match on either the
initial or final phoneme, and two items that match orthographi-
In Figure 1 (a sample item), the pictures of a knot and a
gnome are phonological matches while the pictures of a gnome
and a goat are an orthographic match. The star is the distracter.
All pictures are color drawings. Participants are provided the
stimuli in computer format using PowerPoint. Four practice
trails are included with feedback to be sure that participants
understand the task.
The research question for this study focused on determining
if the VL2-SLPA could be used as a quick measure of PA with
adults. The PDT was therefore compared to the VL2-SLPA to
determine if convergent validity could be established.
The study included 56 college students from a convenience
sample at an ASL/English bilingual liberal arts college on the
east coast for deaf and hard of hearing students. The sample
included seven men (mean age = 21.3 years) and 43 woman
(mean age = 23.5 years). Six participants did not include their
sex on the background questionnaire. English or ASL was the
native language of the participants and they all had a hearing
loss of above 70 db. The majority of the participants reported
that their language preference is American Sign Language (n =
47). In addition, the majority of the participants (n = 44) were
born deaf. Therefore, this sample is similar to the deaf signing
group in the Koo et al., (2008) study.
Testing took about one hour. Participants were paid 20 dol-
lars an hour for their time. Participants completed three meas-
ures that are reported here.
Sample item from the VL2-SLPA.
1The VL2-SLPA is available from firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 913
M. D. CLARK
VL2 Background Questionnaire
The approved VL2 Background Questionnaire was adminis-
tered to all participants. This measure collected information on
language preference and information related to their hearing loss.
The Koo et al., (2008) Phoneme Detection Test was admin-
istered to all participants. The test, includes a set of four prac-
tice trials to show that phonemic units, rather than orthographic
units, are the focus of each trial. Participants were instructed to
respond as fast and as accurately as possible. Responses are
recorded by pressing 1 on the keyboard if the word includes the
target phoneme or 2 if it does not have the target phoneme. Five
blocks of 30 items are included. Half of the items have the tar-
get phoneme in either initial, medial, or final position within
the word while the other half of the items was foils. Order of
blocks is counterbalanced across participants.
All participants completed the Miller et al. (2010) picture
measure of PA. Recognition of each picture was tested prior to
the start of the test to insure that participants were familiar with
the words. If a picture was not named correctly, participants
were retested on items that they had gotten incorrect. Next, they
were instructed to pick the two pictures where the initial (final)
sound was the same. Two sample items were presented, two for
initial sounds and two for final sounds. If participants did not
select the two phonologically matching pictures, they were told
which two were correct and why. Responses were recorded on
a separate coding form that recorded which two pictures were
selected. Each response was timed using a stopwatch and the
reaction time was recorded on the coding form. After complet-
ing each trial, participants pressed the space bar to continue to
the next item.
Percentage scores were used to compare the PDT and the
The range of the PDT was from 2% to 94% correct, with an
average of 61% correct per block and a standard deviation of
15.1 per block (raw mean per block = 18.7, SD 3.7). The range
of the VL2-SLPA was from 25% to 100% correct, with an av-
erage of 54.8% correct and a standard deviation of 18.5% (raw
mean = 6.6, SD = 2.2). The correlation between the PDT and
the VL2-SLPA was r = .54, demonstrating a strong correlation
between these two measures (Cohen, 1988.) Using a dependent
t test, the PDT was found to have a higher percentage correct
than the VL2-SLPA, t (41) = −2.34, p = .02.
On the VL2-SLPA, participants could select either a phono-
logical match or an orthographic match. Using a dependent t
test with the raw scores on the VL2-SLPA, it was found that
participants were more likely to select the phonological match
for initial phonemes (mean = 2.57, SD = 1.10) than the ortho-
graphic match (mean = 1.94, SD = .85), t (46) = 2.72, p = .009.
They were also more likely to select the phonological match for
final phonemes (mean = 3.27, SD = 1.21) than the orthographic
match (mean = 1.90, SD = .1.00), t (40) = 4.38, p = .000.
The VL2-SLPA showed strong convergent validity with the
PDT. The strong correlation demonstrates that both measures
can provide an indication of a deaf participant’s PA without a
verbal response. The difference between the PDT and the VL2-
SLPA can be explained by the difference in the number of re-
sponses for each measure. Participants on the PDT have a 50/50
chance of getting the correct response, even if they are guessing.
The VL2-SLPA has four response choices, which reduces the
probability of getting the correct response on a simple guess. In
addition, the VL2-SLPA can evaluate not only PA but gives
participants an option to select an orthographic choice. These
two sub-scores may allow researchers to identify participants
who prefer an orthographic response.
Watching participants in this study was painful as they
struggled to pick the correct match. Hearing pilot participants
took about five minutes to complete this task, remember it is
only 12 items. Deaf participants often took 20 minutes to com-
plete this task. The importance placed on phonology is clearly
understood by deaf individuals and they wanted to do well on
this task. One might hypothesize that they would think, “what-
ever—I will just guess”. This guessing strategy was clearly not
the case. Some participants could easily do the task and scored
100% correct. Others struggled and still were unable to select
the correct item.
These participants did not substitute an orthographic strategy
for a phonological strategy. They understood the goal of the
task, obtaining an overall average of a bit over 50% of the items
correct. Currently, this VL2-SLPA measure is being used to
collect data on younger readers in the VL2 International Read-
ing Project and it will be interesting to see if they select an
orthographic strategy in this task. Bélanger, Baum, and May-
berry (2011) found that only skilled deaf readers used a phono-
logical code while less skilled deaf readers used an ortho-
graphic code. The participants in this study tend to be skilled
deaf readers as they are college students. Therefore, the results
of the ongoing study with younger and less skilled deaf readers
will help to answer this question.
Future research can compare results on the VL2-SLPA to
more traditional measures like the TOPA or PAT 2. If deaf
phonological users show higher levels of PA on the VL2-SLPA
than the tests that typically require spoken responses, it will
support the ideas of Conrad (1979) that skilled deaf readers
have inner speech that they used to decode written texts even if
their spoken responses may not be showing this effect. One
would need to select these participants based on the PA abilities
rather than their reading skills, as we have evidence that skilled
deaf readers may or may not use spoken language phonology
(Allen, Clark, del Giudice, Koo, Lieberman, Mayberry, &
Miller, 2009; Bélanger, Baum, & Mayberry, 2011, Clark, Gil-
bert, & Anderson, 2011; Miller & Clark, 2011).
The VL2-SLPA measure can be used to evaluate spoken
language phonology for anyone, hearing or deaf—adult or child.
Future analysis of the VL2 International Reading Project will
provide data on this comparison, with information on 3rd and
4th graders, 6th and 7th graders, and 9th and 10th graders who
are both hearing and deaf. The measure is easy to administer
and can be obtained through the VL2 Toolkit Project.
This work was partially supported by National Science
Foundation under grant number SBE-1041725 and from a
Small Grant to Jessica Feldman from the Gallaudet Research
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
M. D. CLARK
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 915
Institute. Part of this work was presented at the Annual Meeting
of the Association for Psychological Science, Washington, D.
C., by Jessica Feldman as part of her undergraduate research
internship. We would like to thank Selina Agyen for her help
with this project as well as the other VL2 graduate assistants
and the research participants.
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