German Sign Language Receptive Skills Test

The need for German Sign Language (DGS) tests to be used in schools calls for the adaptation or development of a sign language test. The objective of this study is to adapt a sign language test that evaluates the comprehension skills of selected aspects of morphology and syntax in DGS. Based on a review of existing sign language tests (Haug, 2008), the  British Sign Language Receptive Skills Test (Herman, Holmes, Woll, 1999) was selected as the template for adaptation.
Research design: The research was based on an experimental design, using cross-sectional testing methodology (i.e., comparing children of different ages to each other at one point in time) and including the adaptation process from the source sign language, BSL, to the target sign language, DGS. The adaptation process included different steps of piloting and revising the adapted test instrument (for an overview see Table 1).

Table 1: Overview of test adaptation process
Steps Description of steps
1. Review and revision of test stimuli Picture materials reviewed and changes made, e.g. replacing the red British mailbox with a yellow German mailbox
2. Pilot 1 Suitability of test items established: check for regional variation in three regions with deaf adults and children
3. Adaptation of items (1) Order of test items (2) Comparability of BSL and DGS linguistic structures (3) Development of 10 additional items
4. Filming of test Filming of test instructions and test items
5. Programming test interface Programming of a user-friendly test interface that runs on a laptop and can store the results automatically
6. Pilot 2 Piloting first test version with: (1) Non-signing hearing children and (2) Deaf adults
7. Revisions of first version Revision of the first version based on Pilot 2: (1) Changes to the pictures (2) Re-filming of items (3) Changes to the layout
8. Planning of main study (1) Contacting the schools (2) Development and distribution of educational background questionnaires for children
9. Main study Conducting the main study at five school sites in Germany

Main study

After completing the first adapted DGS test version the main study was conducted in five schools for the deaf in Germany. Besides the test results, a background questionnaire was used to obtain information on the children’s hearing status, language use, teachers’ judgment of the children’s signing skills and other background information (e.g., age).

A total of 54 deaf children aged 3;9 to 10;10 years (M = 7;0, SD = 1;6) were tested on their comprehension of different morpho-syntactic structures in DGS. Thirty-four children came from deaf families, 20 from hearing families.
The adapted test uses a computer-based testing format to evaluate deaf children’s receptive skills in DGS. The adapted DGS test consisted of 49 items (including practice items) presented on a laptop (see Video 1).

Video 1: Examples of the computer-based German Sign Language Receptive Skills Test (© Haug, 2006)


The results indicate sound psychometric properties (e.g., item and distractor analysis, Cronbach’s alpha) of the adapted DGS test. Using non-parametric statistics, variables such as the lengths of exposure to DGS, parental hearing status, and chronological age provided additional information explaining performance differences. The findings are promising and serve as a basis for revisions prior to the standardization study. 

Currently a Web-based version of the DGS test is under development and will be available soon for a standardization study.
: (1) Sound psychometric properties, (2) user-friendly computer-based interface.
Weaknesses: (1) Need to develop more difficult items, (2) not yet standardized.


Haug, T. (2011). Adaptation and Evaluation of a German Sign Language Test - A Computer-Based Receptive Skills Test for Deaf Children Ages 4-8 Years Old. Hamburg:  Hamburg University Press.

For more information regarding this test, please contact  Tobias Haug at the University of Applied Sciences of Special Needs Education Zurich, Switzerland.