Test for French Sign Language

The Test de Langue des Signes Française (TELSF), developed at the University of Geneva (Laboratoire de Psycholinguistique Expérimentale) and the Centre pour Enfants Sourds de Montbrillant (Geneva) (Niederberger et al., 2001), is an adaptation of the Prinz, Strong, and Kuntze’s Test of ASL (TASL; Prinz et al., 1994).

The purpose of the TELSF project was to create the first assessment tool available in LSF for the bilingual schools of the French-speaking part of Switzerland. Later, the data collected were used to replicate Strong and Prinz studies (Strong & Prinz, 1997; 2000) in another cultural and linguistic context (Niederberger, 2001) and are currently analysed in crosslinguistic sign languages studies.

As the original test in ASL, the TELSF provides an in-depth investigation of specific linguistic structures (morphosyntax and discourse) and, thus, does not provide a wide screening for deaf children.

Since the French-speaking part of Switzerland has a very small deaf population, the TELSF has been used with only 39 deaf students from three bilingual schools (LSF and French), aged 8 to 17, representing almost all the severe and profoundly deaf students available. Students with major handicaps were not included, as well as those who had their first contact with a native LSF signer after the age of 5. Only few of the children (8) had contact with a native LSF signer from birth.

Similar to the TASL, the TELSF consists of two production and four comprehension measures. Most of the material used is the same in both tests. 

Production measures

(1) Classifier Production Test: A five minute cartoon movie was shown to the students and then presented again in ten segments. The students were asked to sign each segment in LSF and were videotaped. The number and types of classifiers were later scored by the Deaf collaborators of the team. The first third of  protocols was scored separately by three fluent signers and then discussed. The rest was scored by one (same) fluent signer involved in the process since the beginning.

(2) Sign Narrative Production Test: A children’s book without text was given to the students. They were asked to sign the story in LSF. The students were videotaped and later scored using a checklist for the presence of LSF grammatical and narrative structures by the Deaf collaborators of the team. The first third of  protocols was scored separately by three fluent signers and then discussed. The rest was scored by one (same) fluent signer involved in process since the beginning.

Comprehension measures

(1) Story Comprehension Test: A LSF narrative was signed by a near-native Deaf signer and shown on video. While watching the video, the students were asked questions in LSF about the content, and their answers were videotaped.

(2) Classifier Comprehension Test: Pictures with objects of a variety of features were shown to the students. They saw on video a Deaf person describing each object in four different ways, using correct, inappropriate or pseudo-classifiers. The students had to choose the only correct LSF description, between the four, presented as frozen pictures from the videotapes on a laptop screen.

(3) Space Marker Test: A description in LSF was given of objects located in given environments, e.g. vehicles at a crossroads or furniture in a bedroom. For each description, the students had to select the correct representation from a selection of photographs on a laptop screen.

(4) Time Marker Test: LSF sentences including time marker were shown on video. On a calendar-like answer sheet, the students needed to find corresponding dates/time period.

The TELSF is an adaptation into LSF (French Sign Language) of the Test of ASL. The English glosses of the TASL were translated in French and the team, including researchers and students in psycholinguistics, Deaf teachers, LSF/French interpreters and language therapists, created a pilot version. This pilot was tested on 4 children and 11 adults and reviewed carefully. A new version was created taking into account the outputs from the pilot and the feedback of the Deaf teachers of the four main bilingual programs in the French-speaking part of Switzerland.

Changes compared to the original ASL version

Material: the score sheets were replaced for two sub-tests by scoring automatically the students answers a laptop.

Linguistic adaptation: the scoring needed to be adapted to be relevant for the LSF linguistic description.

Cultural adaptation: some details of the content needed to be changed to make the situations presented familiar to the students (e.g. in the signed narrative, which is very similar in both signed languages, the name of the drinks and the type of game were changed).

Psychometric analyses of the TELSF showed that the reliability calculated with the alpha of Kroenbach is satisfactory for most of the subtests. In addition, the scores of the students globally match the observations made in the classroom by the LSF teachers.

The TELSF takes approximately 70 minutes to administer and 150 minutes to score per student.

The test is now available to all professionals. Requests should be sent to  Ulrich Frauenfelder, University of Geneva.

Among the strengths of the TASL are that (1) Deaf experts were involved all along the process of the adaptation, the testing and the scoring (2) it is an unique collaboration in Geneva between two institutions combining academic and practical experience to provide an assessment tool for the schools and new data for the research field of LSF acquisition.

Among the weaknesses of the TASL are that (1) scoring is slow and requires training (2) no report on the results or the psychometric testing exists in the published literature yet and (3) it focuses only on the older age ranges (8 to 17).


Summarized by Nathalie Niederberger et al. (2001).

For more information regarding this test, please contact  Nathalie Niederberger.