Speech Impediment - How to Detect and Fix It
“My sweater. I cannot find my sweater. Can you help me look for?”
I scratched my head. Sweater? I kicked myself for agreeing to help Rosa in the study hall. Our teacher, Mr. Randall, had told me she was struggling with basic grammar and thought I might be able to help since I had spent a lot of time in Mexico and had a good grasp of both English and Spanish. Now not only did we have to go over the nitty-gritty of grammar, but she also had a lisp or something. Great, as if the grammar wasn’t enough.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Moriah D. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
I shivered and wished for a jacket or at the very least a sweater to fend off the cool autumn air. Then it dawned on me. Rosa was looking for her sweater. What an odd way to say it and the wheels started turning in my brain and I drew the correlation.
We found her sweater on the bleachers and grabbed our books to sit under a tree. As we talked, I realized she didn’t have a speech impediment, but rather a peculiar pronunciation issue. I laid it aside as we addressed the two main issues that Mr. Randall had identified. He had seen them before so I was able to come a little prepared.
“Rosa, Mr. Randall said you need help with your subject-verb agreement and that you have a hard time remembering to use pronouns. Do you have any ideas on why they are hard for you?”
“Si, well, I think it is because we don’t always need them because we use our verbs differently. We say ‘es especial’ or 'es muy interesante,’ which translates ‘is special.’ But you say ‘IT IS special’ or ‘IT IS very interesting.’
“Special?” “Yes, especially.” Hmmm, I thought to myself, there it is again. I was familiar enough with the language to know that Spanish speakers didn’t have words that begin with ‘s’ and so apparently it’s a hard pronunciation for them to adapt to. But that is for another time.
“Yes, I can see that would be challenging to remember. Because it’s not a habit in your native tongue. I have some exercises we can do to help it feel more natural. It’s like training your muscles to remember certain patterns in sports. But this would help your mouth muscles and brain, which is also a muscle, become used to using the pronoun with its verb. Are you ready?”
We wrote down some example phrases and then read them aloud. I encouraged her to begin using those phrases in our conversation. “Well, Rosa, you are doing great. Let’s meet next week and we can talk about why the subject-verb agreement is hard and how to help you with that. Oh, and this week, I want you to memorize this phrase. ‘She sells seashells down by the seashore.’ See you at the library, it’ll be warmer there!”
Working on the Solution
A week had passed and Rosa and I were sitting in the library talking about our favorite artwork on the walls. “Do you paint Rosa?” “No. But Pedro, my brother, he paints. My family don’t think it is important—it is important—to paint. But a doctor or lawyer is more important. “Yes, I understand. So your brother likes to paint, you said?” “Yes, he paints every day if he can.” “Paints.” “Yes.” “Excellent, this brings us to the reason for meeting today to talk about, as Mr. Randall says, ‘subject-verb agreement.’” What do you know?” “Well it—it is hard to remember how a verb is for each subject. In Spanish, we just have certain ways to say the verb.” “Okay, let’s look at this.” I started writing in her notebook. “We’ll use a regular verb, to paint.”
I paint You paint He/she paints We paint They paint
“Regular verbs are all the same, except for the third person conjugation. He, she, it. There you add ‘s.’ Instead of ‘paint,’ it becomes ‘paints.’” “Si, si. It is just easy to forget.” “Sure, well, I brought a worksheet for us to go through. And like last time, we’ll do some verbal practice because we want to get you more comfortable with using it naturally.” After practicing and letting Rosa create sentences with some additional verbs, we called it a day. We were walking out of the library when she stopped, “Oh! I learned that phrase. She sells seashells down by the seashore.” She finished with a proud smile. “Great job!” Let’s meet next week to talk about that. How about at The Lake Coffee. And here’s another sentence for you this week. “I saw Susie sitting in a shoeshine shop.” “Okay, thank you. Adios amiga!”
The following week, I walked into The Lake Coffee, ordered the pumpkin spice chai special, and was settling into my seat when Rosa walked in. Soon we were both ready to dive in. “So how did it go this week?” “Well, I learned them both. ‘I saw Susie sitting in a shoeshine shop.” She beamed. “Wonderful. I’m sure you’re curious about why I had you learn those. Let me ask you, can you hear the difference between special and special?” “Si. But it’s hard to just say es-s-special. I need help getting to the “s” sound right away.” “Okay, so today, we are going to work on some pronunciation. In Spanish, I know that words often begin with ‘es’ but in English, we just start with ‘s’ and it can be hard to get that right. It seems that in the middle of a sentence is not quite as difficult, so let’s practice with some words by themselves or at the beginning of a sentence. Repeat after me. “
We came up with some words and practiced them and I was glad to hear the improvement. “Well Rosa, it’s been a few weeks and we’ve accomplished a lot. So let’s talk to Mr. Randall and see what he has to say about your progress.”
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