Clinical experience and categorical perception of children's speech

Marie K. Meyer, Benjamin Munson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Background: Accurate and detailed records of children's speech are a critical component of competent service delivery in speech–language pathology/speech and language therapy (SLP/SLT). Previous research has shown that during speech-sound acquisition, children gradually learn to produce sounds in adult-like manners. Continuous rating scales are a way to track this gradual learning. Aims: To examine whether clinical experience affects the ability and willingness to rate children's speech production using continuous rating scales. Methods & Procedures: An online survey was administered to 81 US-based SLPs/SLTs, binned into more- and less-experienced groups, and 20 non-SLPs/SLTs. The survey included a speech-sound rating task in which participants rated the production of place of articulation in children's productions of word-initial /θ/, /s/, /ʃ/, /d/, /ɡ/, /t/ and /k/ on a nine-point equally appearing interval scale. We examined the extent to which these were accurate (i.e., the extent to which they matched laboratory measures of production characteristics) and the extent to which the ratings were gradual (i.e., they used the entire rating scales, rather than just the endpoints). Main Contribution: There were no consistent differences between non-SLPs/SLTs, less-experienced SLPs/SLTs and more-experienced SLPs/SLTs in a measure of the accuracy of responses. More consistent differences were found in the extent to which listeners used the endpoints of the scale: greater experience was associated with greater use of the endpoint values. Conclusions & Implications: More-experienced SLPs/SLTs are less likely to use the entire range of continuous rating scales to rate children's speech accuracy than less-experienced SLPs/SLTs or clinically untrained listeners. Implications for service delivery are discussed. What this paper adds What is already known on the subject Children's productions of individual sounds, like /k/, become gradually more adult-like over the course of development. For a child who has a [t] for /k/ error, this gradual development means that children's productions become progressively less like /t/ and more like /k/ over development. Phonetic transcription does not capture this gradual development. In contrast, studies have shown that continuous ratings of children's speech (such as rating productions on a scale anchored by the text “the ‘t’ sound” at one end and “the ‘k’ sound” at the other end) can capture this gradual development. What this paper adds to existing knowledge To determine continuous ratings are clinically feasible, we must first determine whether clinical experience affects people's use of continuous rating scales to rate children's speech. We conducted an on-line speech perception experiment in which 81 speech-language pathologists/speech and language therapists (SLPs/SLTs) and 20 non-SLPs/SLTs rated 60 productions by children on continuous rating scales. The 60 stimuli included many sounds that had been independently verified to be intermediate productions (i.e., a target /k/ that was neither completely /k/-like nor completely /t/-like). Non-SLPs/SLTs and less-experienced SLPs/SLTs rated those intermediate sounds with intermediate ratings (i.e., somewhere on the midpoint of a continuous scale). In contrast, more-experienced SLPs/SLTs were more likely to rate those sounds as instances of endpoints (i.e., as either /k/ or /t/). What are the potential or actual clinical implications of this work? This finding suggests that clinical experience is paradoxically associated with a reduced tendency to use the entire range of responses on continuous rating scales. This finding suggests that we must better understand the cause of this reduced tendency, so that clinicians at all levels can use continuous rating scales equally effectively.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)374-388
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Journal of Language and Communication Disorders
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists


  • assessment
  • clinical experience
  • speech development
  • speech perception
  • speech sound disorder

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


Dive into the research topics of 'Clinical experience and categorical perception of children's speech'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this