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Things I Don’t Care About… Vocal Quality

August 8th, 2008 by | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments »

This may sound shocking, coming from a prospective SLP/AVT/TOD, but could not care less whether your speech sounds “deaf” or not.  Yup.  You read it correctly… I do not care!  Why???


The goal of a listening and spoken language approach to deaf education is to help people with a hearing loss make the best use of their residual hearing or the hearing gained from technology and to use speech to have functional communication with the world at large.  Note the word “FUNCTIONAL” … functional does not mean perfect.  Functional does not mean your voice sounds like angels descending form the heavens.  Functional does not mean that you have 100% perfect articulation every time you open your mouth.  These goals aren’t even attainable for hearing people!  Even the typically-hearing, typically-developing hearing adult isn’t intelligible all of the time!  Instead, functional means that your speech works for you — your life, your daily needs.  The goal of a listening and spoken language approach is that deaf children can be understood when they talk and understand when others talk to them.


So why all the misconceptions… that all people in my field want is to “force deaf kids to talk pretty” — give me a break!  “Pretty” speech (such a judgmental and subjective term, anyhow) IS a reality for many people with hearing loss because, with early intervention and better technology, the future of deaf education has never been brighter.  Self-monitoring and auditory feedback impact our ability to modulate our speech.  We talk as well as we hear, and, for many deaf children with appropriate amplification, they hear — and therefore, talk — pretty darn well!  This is fantastic — but it’s the icing on the cake!


More important than vocal quality, however, is the LANGUAGE behind the speech.  The primary goal of a listening and spoken language approach is to give the child competence in their parents’, and their society’s, language.  To give them the words, the concepts, the language structures needed to express themselves in their everyday life.  If you can express yourself competently and confidently in spoken English, people will listen, regardless of how you sound.  When you start early enough, vocal quality will come along with that package!


So, I’m not saying to throw articulation and vocal quality out with the bathwater, but I am saying that it is a gross mischaracterization of the listening and spoken language approach to assume that all we care about it “pretty speech” with an utter disregard for the child’s language development.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  It’s just that, with appropriate early identification and aggressive audiological management, the child’s language and speech can develop as naturally as possible, and thus, excessive preoccupation with how the child sounds is no longer relevant.  It will come with time, and we’ve got bigger fish to fry!

Written by

Elizabeth Rosenzweig MS CCC-SLP LSLS Cert. AVT is a Listening and Spoken Language Specialist Certified Auditory Verbal Therapist. She provides auditory verbal therapy, aural rehabilitation, IEP advocacy, consultation, and LSLS mentoring for clients around the world via teletherapy. You can learn more about Elizabeth's services on her Website or Facebook.



August 9, 2008 at 8:16 pm

great post Elizabeth and soo true! That is one thing I try to highlight to people that programs for speech and language are about development of the whole child not just how their speech sounds. It is about language, cognition, social skills, inclusion etc etc etc, not just what we hear when they speak!


August 10, 2008 at 9:46 am

Great post here! Regarding voice quality. How unfair to a child/adult to “characterize” their vocal quality.

Here’s something that I learned from my time in singing groups, and it has proven to me to be truthful and helpful. If you smile when you talk, people will hear the pleasantness. If you smile when you talk, it lifts your palate. People will hear the difference. (we had a singing instructor who was famous for his determination to get us to “SMILE!”) Yeah, for better or worse, it did improve the brightness of our vocals!!

Yeah Rachel, I know, it’s true. Not even everyone should be expected to “Smile” all the time, esp when dealing with intolerable and discriminating persons :P)

………But we are smiling now, no? :D

Can you hear the difference ? :)


August 10, 2008 at 9:50 am

OOps, and that was for both Elizabeth AND Rachel :) hehe

August 10, 2008 at 5:04 pm

Most definitely, when we began our journey with Elliot, it was the furthest thing from our mind to expect “pretty speech.” First of all, we had seen videos and met kids who were orally educated and we had not met any who had “perfect” speech, though this did not deter us in the least. We wanted what we saw– communication and understanding of and with the people around them (with varying degrees of speech quality). Never once did I hear any of the AVTs or speech therapists we met discuss vocal quality when he was an infant. I suppose he was almost finished wiht AVT when our therapist mentioned how great his speech sounded, really as a measure of how it indicated his auditory skills and his CI were performing (if you can replicate it, you must be hearing it well). I also was never informed by any manufacturer that the CI would allow perfect vocal quality. So it came as a surprise when we realized how good it was turning out!

The icing on the cake has been the great vocal quality which he developed. No, it was not expected, and no, it is not essential for communication, but we welcome it. We know what kinds of things this will assist in. While it isn’t fair and isn’t nice to think about, vocal quality assists in first impressions from the educational arena to employment. If he didn’t have perfect speech, no doubt he’d find a way to compensate… my older son’s high school principal has a severe cleft palate and it does affect his speech, but not his great performance as an educator and inspirational administrator.

What parents need to know now is that early implantation along with good auditory skills can and does lead to that icing on the cake, in many cases! As a parent, I am always guarded toward the thought that I don’t “hear” abnormalities because I’m used to them, but I have had lots of people who didn’t know my child was deaf remark that they sound great. No doubt there is something there which is indicative, but I can’t hear it… except when one or both CIs are off. Then I can hear it with my eyes closed. It’s interesting how young children will insist on asking mom where things are no matter who lost them OR whether they have their “hearing” on!!! I have often pointed at my head and mouthed “put your CIs on” in the early morning when Elliot stumbles in searching for his Nintendo game or the book he was reading the night before!

But I am in agreement– the essentials are what it’s all about.

(licking the frosting from my knife and smiling) :-) I recently added a brief “hello” from my boys on their website… I am still trying to caption and add Elliot reading your book, Elizabeth! But we had some fun adding the brief new videos to the welcome page at cochlearimplant dot net.

February 17, 2009 at 5:39 pm

[...] 3.     Would I watch the show if the deaf person featured had a CI?  Perhaps.  Would I watch it if that person had “perfect speech”?  Ouch.  I resent that statement.  It’s about COMMUNICATION, not perfection.  Even hearing adults with no other articulation, language, or fluency problems are not 100% fluent in running conversational speech.  “Natural” vocal quality is a pleasant benefit of early access to sound with CIs/HAs and an emphasis on learning to talk through listening, it is not the sole goal of a listening and spoken language approach to deaf education.  It’s about communicating, though spoken language and listening, in the broader world.  For a more detailed discussion of my thoughts on this subject, please see my previous post, “Things I Don’t Care About: Vocal Quality”. [...]