When you’re first starting to work with a new student, one of the “go to” assessment tools is a language sample.

But wait…

What if you don’t have time to collect language samples?! Aren’t they incredibly time-consuming?

They don’t have to be!

What is a language sample? Why is it important?

Before we jump in, let’s chat a little bit about why we should even bother with language samples.

Language samples, and particularly narrative language samples, may offer a valid complement or even alternative to norm-referenced testing (Ebert & Scott, 2014).

1. Language samples address many of the weaknesses of norm-referenced testing.

2. They provide rich, in-depth information about a child’s use of language in real-world situations (Costanza-Smith, 2010; Hewitt, Hammer, Yont, & Tomblin, 2005), resulting in strong ecological validity and the ability to derive language treatment targets.

3. They place very few behavioral requirements on examinees, allowing for flexible use across children of diverse ages and types of impairment (Costanza-Smith, 2010).

4. They have been shown to be a valid assessment for diverse populations, including bilingual children (Restrepo, 1998) and speakers of nonstandard dialects (Stockman, 1996).

And guess what?! It doesn’t have to take you hours to analyze your samples.

6 Steps to Streamline Your Language Sample Collection

When documenting my language samples, I wanted some quick and easy data to share. The mean length of utterance (MLU), or the average number of morphemes per utterance, is a quick, easy, and useful measure. Several research studies cite MLU as an “index for language development” (e.g., Condouris, Meyer, & Tager-Flusberg, 2003; Tager-Flusberg et al., 2009). We also know that students with language delays/disorders produce shorter utterances and use fewer grammatical morphemes. We even have some norms that we can refer to when making clinical decisions. (MLU isn’t the only measure we can look at, but it is a very helpful starting point!)

I used to manually count all the morphemes/utterances and pull out a calculator to do the math, but I knew there had to be an easier way! I did some research, and I was able to create a smart spreadsheet that automatically calculates MLU for you!

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Here are the steps to use it!

1. Enter Student Information

I typically only include my student’s initials. My school district didn’t purchase the HIPAA-compliant version of Google Drive, so I want to avoid including too much student data.

I also include the date, time, and type of sample collected.

2. Start the Timer

Give the student a prompt (e.g., a conversation starter, a wordless picture book, sequencing cards, etc.) and start typing away!

To calculate mophemes (instead of words), just want to add a space in between every morpheme. For example, “The cats walked across the room” would be “The cat s walk ed across the room.”

I hit “Enter” to move each utterance to a new line.

I usually record the sample so I can refer back to it, if needed.

3. Add Relevant Notes

I make note of anything that struck me in regards to language content, form, or use.

4. Delete Extra Rows

I delete extra rows, so the spreadsheet only calculates the MLU using the student’s utterances.

5. Update the Number of Utterances

I highlight the utterances, and Google Sheets automatically calculates the number for me. I update that number on the bottom of the sheet. (We typically want to shoot for 100 utterances in a language sample.)

6. Language Sample = Complete

Now, it’s time to “plug and chug.” I move the data into my report. Because I took notes in “real time,” it makes it really easy to describe what actually happened during the language sample (rather than guessing…!).

You can also print the sheet to attach to your report.

Want access to this spreadsheet and a special cheat sheet?

Enter your e-mail below to have the freebies sent to your inbox!


Hi there! I'm Marisha. I am a school-based SLP who is all about working smarter, not harder. I created the SLP Now Membership and love sharing tips and tricks to help you save time so you can focus on what matters most--your students AND yourself.

Reader Interactions


  1. This is AMAZING! Thank you for making and sharing! I can never figure out how google sheets and/or excel work to automatically add up words and calculate MLU. You rock Marisha!

  2. I just discovered this, and its great. Is there an easy way to add more lines to the sample, and keep it in your formula?

  3. The spreadsheet looks incredibly helpful and I’m excited to try it out. I confirmed my subscription but haven’t received the spreadsheet yet. I don’t know if it just takes a little while or if my confirmation didn’t go through.
    Thank you for sharing such a great resource!!!

    • Hi Elise! There’s a little form just below the blog post. If you enter your e-mail there, you’ll be good to go!

  4. I just entered a short language sample. I’m not getting an MLU based on morphemes. The “MLU” calculation seems to be an average length of utterance based on words. I’m familiar with SALT from grad school, and am wondering if I need to “mark” words when typing (ex.: eat/3s).

    • You’ll want to add spaces to count morphemes! For example:
      The boy is eat ing donut s.
      That’ll give you the right morpheme count!

  5. Hi, I received the email, but I am having trouble accessing the template at bit.ly.
    Could you explain how to access the template?

  6. I am a bilingual SLP and I take language samples for all of my students, so this is a huge time saver!! How many utterances do you typically collect? I know 50-100 is recommended, but not always feasible in a school setting with a high caseload, especially when the majority of my students are bilingual and require a full language battery in both languages. I’m just curious what other SLPs do?

  7. Thank you so much for providing this tool! It has saved me so much time!

    I’m interested in hearing more about the number of number of different words. I used the calculator provided but looking for information describing clinical interpretation.

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