Today was a special day for me; I officially began speech therapy. It has been two months exactly since my speaking voice has changed from my normal Midwest farmer’s daughter dialect to one that sounds clearly like that of a foreigner trying to speak English.
Though I had my initial analysis with the speech therapy department on May 20th, they had only the original neurologist’s diagnosis of “disarthria,” which is just an official word for “slurred speech”Â oftenÂ caused by a neurological problem in mechanically producing the sounds. However, my speech is not really slurred as much as “accented”.
My therapist today said that we will focus on identifying which sounds I am getting wrong and then correcting those sounds. She told me that I seemed to be doing a fairly good job of “catching myself” producing the incorrect sounds. There are just so very many sound combinations that are not coming out properly in my everyday speech that it is a LOT of work.
One of the sounds that I know I have a great deal of trouble with is the “TH” sound.Â The words “there or their”, “mother or father” are mispronounced as “Dar, mudder, and fadder.” That TH is a killer for me. When I try to slow down and really make my mouth form the sound it causes my tongue to tickle my lower teeth and lips together. It feels like when we used to make that kazoo sound by using a comb and a piece of paper OR when we took a very thick blade of grass held just-so in our cupped hands and blowing to produce that incredible buzzing sound like a kazoo.
Though I have spent the last two months working on putting the long A’s into words like table and baby. Now, the real work begins as I carry around a notebook and notate as many mispronounced words as I can. This phonetic journal should help me identify some of the biggest problems that I am having in accented speech. It is just that there are so very many accented words in my normal speech, that I get a bit discouraged as I wonder ifÂ I’ll be able to work my way back to my regular voice.
I got excited when my speech therapist said that she had worked with a lot of people with foreign accents… I suddenly felt like this was something I was not so alone in. However, then she corrected my thinking. These foreign speakers were actually from that other country, not like me. Unlike the Japanese lady that my therapist was able to help with r’s and l’s; my dialect is not from any one language so we don’t have the typical pointers like if you are from Sweden then you have very strong UU’s or French has a very nasal and broad A. My accent is literally “all over the map”.
So. . . where to begin?Â One word at a time. I remember two months ago when I first came out of the hospital I couldn’t say “yesterday,” without hitting hard brick walls between each syllable. Now, it is still somewhat slower that my old voice, but I have gotten that word to come out more naturally. One little victory with hopefully many more to come.