September 22, 2011

Ch 3. Play with your speech

It has been seen that if you can change your stammer a little bit- just a wee bit, you can eventually change it a LOT. You can almost modify it to appear normal! So, can you modify the way you talk? Just for fun? Just for few minutes? If you talk in a fixed, frozen way and believe that this is the only way you can talk- if you believe that you can stammer just one way, your way- then, path ahead is difficult. But in our experience, every PWS is capable of making small changes at a time- and a lot of changes over a period of time.

You must have tried your hand at mimicry or taken off the boss in office just for fun- or may be you like to deliver the famous dialogue from Deewar, in Amitabh Bachhan's style and his baritone. May be you think that you are not good at these things- but if you have tried a little bit, you can try a little more, especially if you know, that this is the key to your problems. Yes, it is.
A) Vocalization exercises:
It will be good if you begin with some relaxation exercise- Inhale deeply and tense all muscles, beginning from feet, hold the tension for 2-3 minutes and then gently relax whole body in the reverse order- as you breathe out slowly. Next, you sing out consonants in all combinations of vowels (Ka, ki, ke, ku, ko, mi, me, ma, mo, mu etc.) in a relaxed and stretched way: kaaaaa... Kiiiiiii...... etc. (Look at this video for better understanding:
After one full cycle of all consonants, start a new cycle, wherein you add variations in volume (low, almost whispering and then raising it to a loud shout and then again back to a whisper). Next, add variations in pitch- put a hand on your throat to get the feel, as you manipulate your vocal cords to get a high note (kiiii...), followed by a very base note.
Most attempts at personal change fail to sustain, because they are often devoid of FUN. A fun way of beginning this journey would be SINGING. First, sing alone, record it and review it. Begin with simple popular songs. Try to pay attention to notes, melody and rhythm. After a few recordings, you will feel good about your singing abilities. Next, sing for a friend, who stands a little away. You may also try reciting shloka, chants, poetry, shayari etc. Consider learning classical vocal music.
B) Play with your stammer:
Now, let us try and change the way we stammer. There are many ways of doing this, but two very simple and effective methods are bouncing and stretching. In bouncing, we just repeat the first sound of a word gently couple of times before saying the full word in the normal way. We dont slow down; we say rest of the word at normal speed. In stretching we, start the word but hold on to the first sound till we are ready to say the rest of the word, again at normal speed and in normal style. Learn and approach both these methods systematically as given below.
We have noticed that sometime, under stress, our mouth just runs away with words and we feel helpless, as if we have absolutely no control over our sound box (throat & mouth). Bouncing is a technique which gives us back the control over our speech mechanism and related emotions. It also teaches us to stutter in a relaxed way- as very young children do. This is the purpose of the self-therapy here: to teach us to stammer as a four year old child does – no struggle, no secondary behavior, no shame, no fear. That effortless stammering is less tiring to us and less distracting to the listener. Lastly, it is a nice way of letting people know that we stammer and getting used to their reactions. Here are the main rules:
  1. Start with easy, simple words. Bounce on difficult words only after 2-3 months of regular practice with easy words. By difficult words we mean sounds which pose problems regularly- for example for some of us, it could be K (as in Kanpur); for others it could be B (Bimal), P (Peepul) etc. Dont start with these difficult words. Speak them as you have been doing all this time. Start bouncing on easy simple words.
  2. Practice alone for a few days; When comfortable, do it with a friend or in the self help group or on phone with friends or strangers and after many months, in the work-place or in a bus or train etc. You may have to reorganize this protocol depending on what situation you find least to most stressful where speaking in concerned. Start a new exploration or technique in that particular order: easy to difficult situations.
  3. Read a story book or news paper and bounce on every second or third word in every sentence. Finance m-m-m-minister has d-d-d-decided to l-l-l-lower the interest r-r-rates...
  4. You just repeat the first sound (syllable) slowly. SLOWLY is the key principle here.
  5. Avoid bouncing rapidly, which happens sometimes during uncontrolled stammering:
Finance mmmminister has ddddecided to llllower the interest rrrates..
This is bad bouncing. This can be avoided by stopping completely and being totally relaxed between two bounces. If this happens, dont get discouraged. Start all over again with easy words and with less stressful situations.
  1. Vary the number of bounces. Start from 6 or more bounces and then gradually reduce it to 2-3. Then, again increase it to 5-6 or even more. The idea is to get totally comfortable with this technique and develop good control.
  2. Keeping relaxed while bouncing in a controlled way is important. When you achieve this target, only then increase the level of difficulty by choosing longer / difficult word in a more challenging situation as mentioned above. If you have difficulties, go back to the lower level and practice for a few days before taking up the challenge once again.
  3. Finally after some months’ practice, you should be able to say a word with just one small relaxed unnoticeable bounce: Finance m-minister has d-decided to lower the interest r-rates...
If you watch TV carefully, you will notice many speakers, anchors using this little (sometime even bigger) bounce frequently.
  1. While learning to bounce, pay close attention to your emotions. Bounce as a child
does. No fear, no struggle and with total acceptance. Give me a ticket for Ha- Ha- Herbertpur.
  1. Gradually, try to bounce on a difficult word in a spontaneous conversation on phone or in person. Remember: failing to bounce on a word in a given situation is only a temporary setback. It does not mean that this technique is not for you. Whenever you fail to bounce properly on a word go back couple of steps and start again. Bounce on that very word, alone, then with a friend and then with strangers.
You have stammered for many years and therefore you must give some months to yourself while trying out a new way of stammering. Also, dont get influenced by unthinking feedback from friends or relatives. Since they know nothing of your stammering and speech therapy, they may say that your new way of talking seems unnatural etc. Remember, you will not be bouncing like this for ever. As your fluency and comfort level improves, need to bounce will reduce and manner of your bouncing will become unnoticeable.
  1. What decides your success is (a) following a plan (easy to difficult words, easy to difficult situations) (b) consistent practice over a long period (at least six months) and (c) keeping your moral high over this long period.
Gentle onsets & Prolongation
Gentle onset means that we pay close attention to the way we begin a word or a sentence. PWS often tense up, tighten their lips and jaw and start in a jerky uncontrolled fashion. With some practice and conscious attention, it is possible to start a sound gently. And then, prolong the sound. To beginner it may seem like speaking with a foreign accent. It involves prolonging the vowels, especially the initial sounds. It helps us to slow our speech down and be comfortable with the act of speaking itself.
  1. To begin the practice, read a newspaper or book with prolongation of vowels in every second word or more: Aai weel go too Kaaanpooor toooomorrow (I will go to Kanpur tomorrow).
  2. Then, practice it with a friend in general discussion. To understand what does prolongation mean, you may have to talk to some PWS already practicing it or watch a video of the technique. The latter is available on web.
  3. You begin with non-feared words and situations and VERY gradually move to feared words and situations over a period of some months (same as above for bouncing). For example you may talk like this to your pet dog and then gradually to your friends and family members for increasing durations. You may slide back once in a while, which is okay. But regular and motivated practice is very much needed to turn this technique into a useful skill, you can rely on.
  4. Gentle onsets may even mean, to soften the hard consonants at times: Khum on- leeet us plaaay (Come on- let us play). Similarly, sounds consisting of double consonants may have to be separated in the process of prolongation: Perroompt (Prompt); Currocin (Crocin), Burrave (Brave).
  5. Initially speaking like this might seem very strange to us but if we observe, many nationalities speak English (and other languages) in significantly different ways and are understood well enough: Pay attention to a Russian speaking in English, for example.
Your colleagues will get used to it quiet soon. It definitely sounds no more stranger than your old way of stammering!
Common Mistake: Many people short circuit the whole process- by starting to bounce on difficult words, straight away in difficult situations like workplace, hoping to master the process in 2 days and finish the whole cycle in one week! Obvious result is- what starts as a bounce becomes uncontrolled stammering or block, soon; they lose all hope of mastering it ever and give it up. Sometime, they get totally sold on a chance comment from a colleague and make a U-turn: yaar, your old way of talking was so much better- what is this new thing you have learned? sounds weird! 
In this case, it is time to find a better coach than such friends, to help you in this process. TISA has many such people.

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