Seattle: New program seeks to help smooth pronunciation

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Mon Jun 5 14:18:07 UTC 2006

>>From  The UW Faculty and Staff Newspaper
May. 18, 2006

Toward clearer English: New program seeks to help smooth

By Nancy Wick University Week

If English isn't your first language and you would like to improve your
ability to speak it more clearly, a new program starting at the UW Speech
and Hearing Clinic may be of help. Beginning this summer, the clinic will
work with people who have good skills in English vocabulary and grammar
but who need help with pronunciation.  "We're not aiming to make people
sound like native born Americans," said Laura Sargent, Speech and Hearing
Sciences lecturer, who has been spearheading the program. "We just want to
help them make themselves understood more easily." Non-native speakers who
qualify will go through an assessment this summer;  the actual training
begins in fall quarter and may continue into winter, depending on the
need. "We are after outcome data," Sargent said. "We want to know how long
it will take to get people to a level where they're better understood by
their colleagues, friends and strangers."

The training will be done by supervised graduate students in the
speech-language pathology clinical program. Program graduate Kathy Nagle
has been hired to oversee it. The graduate program is expanding, Sargent
said, and the department is exploring new opportunities to give its
students clinical experience. That need dovetailed nicely with the needs
of employees who are non-native speakers. Members of the community at
large will also be eligible for the service. Working with adults in this
way isn't greatly different from working with the more traditional clinic
clients, like children who have speech difficulties, Sargent said,
although "adults' sound perception systems are more established and less
flexible than children's. They might have more difficulty hearing the
correct pronunciation."

The assessments are designed to zero in on the areas where a client is
having the most difficulty and then establish a baseline record against
which progress can be measured. The training itself will be one-on-one,
starting at an easy level (single sounds) and then practicing skills at
more complex levels (words, sentences and conversation). There will be two
one-hour sessions per week, with optional evening group sessions for
practice. Supervisors will be asked to grant release time for the program.
"Mostly the clinician will help the client hear differences between the
client's production and the desired speech target. In addition, the
clinician will try to find ways to explain how to pronounce a sound or how
to place a stress in a word to the client and model how it should sound,"
Sargent said. "The client repeats what has been modeled and continues
practicing at home."

Sargent is hoping that a proposal to fund the program through the UW's
English in the Workplace Program will be approved. The proposal, which has
already been approved by Provost Phyllis Wise, goes to the Board of
Regents today. If funded, the training would be free to UW employees. If
it is not funded, the clinic will keep the cost low. The assessment will
be free regardless, and the training will be $25 per session plus an
overall materials fee of $250. (Non-UW clients will pay this fee
regardless of what happens with the funding proposal.) According to
Sargent, this compares to community programs that can charge more than
$1,200 for 12 to 14 sessions.

Anyone interested in the program can get more information by calling
206-543-5440 or e-mailing uwspeak at A flyer and
application are available at

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