“Speak up, speak clearly.” Sounds like a mother’s or a teacher’s reminder. Growing up, most people hear these words of advice. Speaking in front of a class, an audience, interviewing for a job, meeting new people — these are just a few situations in which speech counts. Not speaking too softly, not mumbling or rushing your speech seem to be the keys to being a successful speaker. Indeed, they can be considered as cornerstones for effective speech.
But what’s behind the idea of speaking clearly? Surprisingly perhaps, the individuals we consider good speakers all share the virtue of what used to be called good “elocution,” a term one rarely hears now. The basis of elocution is pronouncing the sounds of the English language with “standard sounds; that is, speech without articulation errors. Good articulation develops in childhood and needs to continue throughout the adult years.
Doesn’t everybody learn to imitate what they hear when they’re young? The majority of people learn to articulate the sounds of our language in their early years. But not everyone. Frequent ear infections, colds, enlarged tonsils and adenoids are just a few of the reasons that speech skills may not develop uniformly. Children who don’t pronounce the standard sounds of English by the time they’re five or six years old may need speech therapy to learn to speak properly. When these problems aren’t addressed or solved in the early years, the same speech patterns continue into adulthood and become one of the key reasons why some adults don’t “speak clearly.” And if they realize they don’t “speak clearly” they may not be confident in “speaking up.”
Can articulation be remediated at any age? While it’s certainly easier to change a speaking pattern at a younger age, adults can modify their speech at any age. With children, the process usually works best in a play context in therapy supported by home practice with parents. Older individuals can make these changes as well, sometimes with less difficulty because they recognize the problem and bring self motivation to the process.
What about the other keys to speaking up and speaking clearly? The basis for all good speech rests on pronouncing the sounds of our language in the same way as everyone else in society. Once the fundamental issue of proper articulation is resolved, the other factors critical for effective speech can be addressed.
I’ve written about some of these other important elements in previous blog articles: “The ‘Um’ ‘Ah’ Problem” and “The Two ‘P’s’ for Effective Speaking“. You might like to read further on the question of how to speak clearly.
Check back next week for more thoughts on speech and language, communications, and executive functioning.