January 21, 2011

Having Imperfect Speech, Not the End of the World

My speech is not perfect or typical, but it is understandable. I may mispronounce or have trouble clearly saying certain words but I can get my point across effectively through the use of my voice. Most of the comments I get about my speech is that I sound as if I am from Boston or that I have a very interesting accent.

A few years ago, I was told by another teacher that I should probably avoid trying to get a job working with oral/aural deaf/hh students or mainstreamed deaf/hh students who speak and listen. Why? Because I would not be an ideal spoken language model for these students, according to her. She said that I should consider working in schools for the deaf where they use sign language, even though I am not fluent in sign language or comfortable with the idea of using mainly sign language to teach and communicate with my students.

I do agree that deaf and hard of hearing students should have plenty of exposure to appropriate language models. The more they are around ideal language models (signed or spoken), the better. However, it is absolutely ridiculous to think that I can somehow negatively affect my students' spoken language skills by spending a few hours a day with them, five days a week, throughout the school year. I once had a teacher who spoke with a thick German accent. If teachers are able to strongly impact how their students talk, I would have developed a German accent.

I would never discourage someone from doing something they would like to do just because they have a speech difference or are unable to communicate effectively using their voice. There are plenty of people with speech differences who are successful in careers where they often utilize their voice and speaking skills.

Here is a list of some well known successful people with speech differences or atypical speech:

Christopher Walken
Bruce Willis
Marc Anthony
Lou Ferrigno
Drew Barrymore
Barbara Walters
Marilyn Monroe
Howie Seago
Vice President Joseph Biden
Rowan Atkinson ("Mr. Bean")
Anthony Natale
Robert Francis "Bobcat" Goldthwait
Truman Capote
Marlee Matlin
Mel Tillis
Jimmy Stewart
Samuel L. Jackson
Winston Churchill
Tom Brokaw

Just because someone has a speech difference or does not have "normal" speech does not mean that they should avoid doing things they love that would traditionally involve using good speaking skills.

It does not do any good to focus only on the negative aspects of having a speech difference or lacking the ability to speak properly. Sometimes having a speech disorder can work in your favor as you find ways of dealing with it, as you can see in this excerpt from David Sedaris' book, Me Talk Pretty One Day:

"At school, where every teacher was a potential spy, I tried to avoid an s sound whenever possible. "Yes," became "correct," or a military "affirmative." "Please," became "with your kind permission," and questions were pleaded rather than asked. After a few weeks of what she called "endless pestering" and what I called "repeated badgering," my mother bought me a pocket thesaurus, which provided me with s-free alternatives to just about everything. I consulted the book both at home in my room and at the daily learning academy other people called our school. Agent Samson was not amused when I began referring to her as an articulation coach, but the majority of my teachers were delighted. "What a nice vocabulary," they said. "My goodness, such big words!" 


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  1. Oh, that "s" is a bane to those of us who don't hear that silent consonant very well, lol. My speech therapist would say with exaggeration, "Imagine a shhh-nake hiss-ss-sing". Needless to say, for a little kid who hated snakes, that didn't go over too well. It took a while to master that sound.

    Loved Sedaris' book, I could relate to it. The excerpt you quoted describes what I call a "workaround". Lol, the author had to deal with the 's' in his own surname, no getting around that 'un. :)


  2. if they hire someone with a with a deep southern accent,or even deep mountain talk, over a deaf person with a deaf accent, its definitely audism.

  3. The minimum requirement is to have intelligble speech. That's it. If people can understand your speech then you're alright. But what was really incredible is for one deaf person who can talk to lambast another deaf person who can talk claiming his speech was unintelligble when it was clearly not.

  4. anony on southern accent:

    You...got...to....be...kidding me!

  5. Anony,

    Lol, you got something against Southerners' accent?

    That's just as discriminatory as hearing folk who's got something against deaf voice.


  6. All three of the oral schools my daughter attended had deaf teachers. They all worked with the kids just fine. If the child has other language models (which of course they do!) they should have deaf teachers whenever possible. I wish there were more deaf teachers willing to work with oral kids.

  7. lol

    I'm laughing at anonymous. Axdism? Gawd.

    Well, (e, I have the same problem with my "esses" too. Luckily, I learned from you that all these years I said my state name correctly. The S is silent in Illinois. I've been told I sound English. And, I've been told I sound like a New Yorker. And if I sound like I have an accent, cool! Ya know, even people with normal hearing don't always say things right either.


  8. Lol. Great comments!

    Miss Kat's Parents - I agree. It would be great if there were more deaf teachers (who use manual language or not) working with all kinds of learners in all kinds of learning academies.

  9. I prefer southern accents and 'mountain talk'. The slower and deeper, the better.

  10. I have nothing against southern accent because I come from a southern family. But people do notice southern accents (especially if you live in New England, they think you talk too slow) but they don't care, and probably would hire that person anyway. I just think its fair to judge deaf people based on their speech.

  11. I don't think it is fair to judge people based on their speech, whether they are deaf or not. I think most people would agree.

    There are people out their who would hire a deaf person with a deaf accent over someone with a southern accent just as there would be people who would hire a hearing person with any kind of accent over someone who is deaf with a deaf accent.

    Discrimination exists. But, I don't think it is necessary to pinpoint what the discrimination could be using one word (axdism).

    For example, does there need to be a word to describe people who are prejudiced against people with southern accents? This type of discrimination is alive and well. I know some people who look down on others who have southern accents calling them 'country bumpkins' or thinking that they are not as intelligent or 'cultured'.

  12. Sure there's discrimination against southern accents but if they didn't know you are deaf, they would think you are from Boston and would not think much of it. Now they know you are deaf, all a sudden, you are not a good language model???

  13. It's kind of a slap in the face to deliberately misspell the word "audism". For those who have been harmed by activities that are prejudiced against the deaf, it is like saying it is all in the mind. You spelled racism and sexism correctly, however.

    Simply avoid using the word if you don't feel comfortable using it. Nothing wrong with ignorant, misguided or prejudiced, just more general words.

  14. If it is very offensive to you and others for me to purposely misspell audism then I will not do it anymore. I misspelled this relatively new word in an effort to help not further contribute to it being used often online. The words racism and sexism is already so prevalent and available, I did not see the need to misspell these words on purpose.

    But, I do apologize if misspelling it is a 'slap in the face' for you. I am sensitive to how certain words or use of words can offend others, and will do my best not to hurt others using certain words, unless it is unavoidable.

    I wish more people were more sensitive or aware of how they use audism, racism, sexism, and etc. towards others. It is highly offensive to me to be accused of 'audism' or 'racism' when I feel I was not being either. Until we know how to use these terms correctly or until they have agreed upon clear definitions, I refuse to use them.

  15. I mentioned southern accent ( knowing how people discriminate it) because how some people use deaf person' s speech, even though it is clearly understood by others , as a poor language model, yet I don't know what make perfect language model other than her dicriminating your hearing loss. Oh well I better stop talking before I confuse more people.

  16. The misspelling of "avdism" is one of our way of protesting the political correctness run amok and the abuse hurled at those who do not at all deserve the label. If anything, we all recognize that discrimination exists based on hearing loss. Abuse of that word is just too rampant. Sorry. That's the way cow patties fall.

  17. As mentioned on my blog and in several other responses on other blogs, I do not use "audism" in reference to other d/Deaf people, nor do I use it casually.

    But I do use it for blatant and egregious actions by the majority (hearing) society intentionally excluding nonhearing people on questionable grounds.

    People who have been hurt by the misuse of the "audism" word have the right to refuse to use it. Misspelling it, however, is a form of protest that sends the wrong message to all d/Deaf people. Part of that wrong message is "I don't experience that and you are making it all up."

    In English language evolution, words will appear when they are found useful. What drives this is the number of people who accept and use new words, possibly also the number of people who misspell them because they tacitly recognize the word.

  18. That's not what I mean. If a racist person doesn't want to hire a black person so he tells her the "you don't make a good language model" excuse . Yet he will hire people with all sort of accents (nothern,southern, deaf etc.) . And even though he doesn't care for some of accents himself, somehow those people make a better language model than the black person. I am not talking about preferring to hire someone because you like it.

  19. I also work as an itinerant teacher, and just recently stumbled upon your blog. I definitely identify with this post. I fight with audiologists daily who are angry with my school district for hiring bilingual (Spanish/English) SLPs. "It is too difficult for your hard of hearing students to understand accented speech!" they cry. For me, it seems limiting to expose children to only the "best" articulation models.

  20. Jennifer,

    I did not even think about those with foreign accents. I wasn't aware that there would be audiologists concerned about hiring SLPs with Spanish accents. Interesting.

    I agree, it seems limiting to expose children only to the "best" language models-whatever that may mean. Diversity is important. It is beneficial for the child to be exposed to many different people and cultures, in my opinion.


Keep it civil.