The Speech Therapist In Your Pocket

You and I take the sounds of our words for granted. We don’t even give them a second thought.

Having learned our alphabet as kids (to the tune of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, possibly our earliest exposure to the power of a jingle), we gradually picked up a vocabulary, adding to it a few words at a time.  And now, we speak effortlessly and instinctively.

But not all of us.  

Consider kids with speech disorders.  For them, learning to speak clearly can be a daunting task.

The development of communication skills begins in infancy, before the emergence of the first word. Any speech or language problem is likely to have a significant effect on the child’s social and academic skills and behavior. The earlier a child’s speech and language problems are identified and treated, the less likely it is that problems will persist or get worse. Early speech and language intervention can help children be more successful with reading, writing, schoolwork, and interpersonal relationships. (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association)

Chances are you know someone who has struggled with a communication difficulty, whether that be a lisp, a fluency problem, or trouble pronouncing certain sounds. With the help of a speech-language pathologist or speech therapist, their problems were met and often overcome.

photo courtesy Pullman Regional Hospital

But it’s not just kids who need this help.

People from other countries come here to pursue an education or career opportunity. English is not their first language. And even though they’re committed to learning to speak it fluently, they sometimes find it difficult to wrap their heads around certain sounds.

Hey, so do we. When was the last time you heard a group of non-native English speakers, speaking in their native tongue? Here in our college town, it’s not unusual to encounter, say, Asian or Middle Eastern students holding an animated conversation in Chinese or Arabic, for instance. What we hear are sounds, not words. So, put yourself in their shoes.

Whether the cause is physical or cultural, the fact remains: some folks need help learning to pronounce English sounds correctly.

And that’s where this story begins.

Enter Keri Jones, speech expert.

A speech pathologist at Pullman Regional Hospital, Jones has developed a breakthrough application for anyone needing to learn to pronounce English sounds correctly. It’s called Speech Sounds Visualized.

There are 26 letters in our alphabet, from which are derived 44 phonemes or sounds that form the basis of our speech communication. These fall into three categories: consonants, vowels, and blends. Speech Sounds Visualized provides an easy, convenient way to learn these sounds by watching, listening, and speaking.

Back in December, as Keri was finalizing work on the various components of her app, getting everything ready to send to the developer for final coding, she decided that the app needed a male voice to balance her own. One of her colleagues, a mutual friend, telephoned me to ask if I’d be willing to record a list of words for her. I was glad to help.

After countless hours of work by Keri and a team of project partners, including Pullman Regional Hospital, the PRH Center for Learning and Innovation, and Gemiini Educational Systems in Spokane, developers of innovative learning tools for people with autism, Down Syndrome, stroke victims, etc., the app went “live” last month in the Apple iTunes Store.

It’s already getting 5-star ratings and enthusiastic reviews, with only limited marketing to date. Everyone involved has high hopes that it will take off.

I’ve lost track of all the commercials and audio features I’ve recorded over the years, but it’s unlikely that I’ll soon forget this, my first contribution of voice work to a project that has the potential to improve the lives of thousands of people struggling to learn to speak English. For them, Speech Sounds Visualized will be “the speech therapist in their pocket,” and I’m honored to have been able to make a small contribution to its success.

Thank you, Keri. And congratulations on bringing this dream of yours to fruition.

We can’t wait to see what happens next.

______________________________________________________________

Additional resources:

Steve Stone’s blog on Speech Sounds Visualized

Moscow Pullman Daily News article (unfortunately, the full article is behind a paywall, available only to paid subscribers)

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association website 

Keri Jones’ profile on LinkedIn

About Rod Schwartz

Rod Schwartz backed into a lifelong career in radio advertising in 1973 in Springfield, Illinois. He became sales manager for the Pullman Radio Group in 1979 and served in that position until 2006. He continues to serve clients in the region as the stations’ senior account executive. Since 1991, Rod and his family have operated Grace Broadcast Sales, providing short-form syndicated radio features to radio and TV stations across the U.S. and Canada. Rod also operates an independent advertising, marketing, and promotions consultancy for small business owners and operators, FirstStrikeAdvertising.com. An avid photographer, Rod shares some of his favorite images of the Palouse at PalousePics.com.
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