Bristol gives Australian pre-schoolers 'A Sound Start'

Monday, 14 January 2013

An innovative software tool for promoting speech development in young children designed by UWE Bristol and Frenchay Hospital is to be used in New South Wales Australia, where there is a shortage of speech therapists.

Bristol Speech and Language Therapy Research Unit (based at Frenchay Hospital), in partnership with Charles Sturt University in Australia and the University of Sydney, will use innovative technology to promote speech and pre-literacy skills in at-risk pre-schoolers.

This research, known as 'A Sound Start', will be led by a team from four institutions. In the UK, Professor Sue Roulstone, Underwood Trust Chair of Language and Communication Impairment at UWE Bristol and Dr Yvonne Wren from Bristol Speech and Language Therapy Research Unit will build on their previous work using the Phoneme Factory software series.

In Australia, Professor Sharynne McLeod and Dr Jane McCormack from Charles Sturt and Dr Elise Baker from the University of Sydney in Australia will be leading the trial with children in pre-school settings in New South Wales.

Professor McLeod said: “One in five Australian pre-schoolers have speech impairment and without specialist services face an increased risk of reading difficulties and life-long consequences. Given that demand for services exceeds supply, this project will determine if a pre-school computer-based service can promote speech development and reduce the risk of reading difficulty.”

Professor McLeod, a Professor of Speech and Language Acquisition, recently established a new online resource for professionals world-wide who are working with multilingual children with speech sound disorders.

The Phoneme Factory software series consists of a screening tool and a set of interactive games for increasing children's awareness of sounds, which has been shown in other studies to promote improvements in children's speech production.

Developed as part of a research project funded by the Department of Health, the software is now used in a number of schools throughout England and Wales.

Professor Roulstone commented: “Phoneme Factory has been successfully used by teachers in the UK for some years. It is exciting that the software is now being employed in an international research study to identify whether it can be used to address a specific need for children with speech impairment.”

Further information on the software is available from

The grant of Aus $280,000 (£183,000) represents an outstanding achievement in international collaboration between the institutions which has arisen from existing work on joint publications and conference presentations. The project will start in January 2013 and will complete at the end of 2015.