Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Vocal Fry? Not for Teachers

Well it's been almost two months since I put finger to mouse to 'pen' my blog. A new year has arrived and much water has flown under the bridge; at least it does when the ice jams periodically break up.

Much is being written these days about vocal fry or one of the many other names by which the ultra-relaxed form of speech is known. I must admit that when I initially, consciously  heard it being used I found it somewhat annoying but I've moved on to a point where I worry about its use by teachers of young children. As adults we are able to use the context of speech to construct the words distorted by vocal fry and so complete the intended meaning of the spoken words. In adult to adult conversation we are also not trying to model or teach words to each other. Our main goal is communication of meaning, whether it be cognition or affect.

With young children, however, our speech serves a far greater purpose than simply communication of meaning. As teachers we are role models for childern's vocabulary development and clarity of speech. The words that we use need to be spoken clearly and in an appropriate context so that children can learn not only their meaning but their pronunciation too. Take the words "fifteen' and "fifty" for example. There is, of course, a slightly different stress characteristic for each word but it's very subtle and unlikely to be picked up by a young child especially if she/he is an English Learner. The clear pronunciation of the 'n' phoneme at the end of fifteen is what distinguishes it from fifty. The use of vocal fry makes this distinction very difficult to hear. 

This distinction is true for all the teen and decade numbers as I discovered some years ago while teaching a class of Somali students how to count in English. Each one of the 26 students thought 'twenty' followed 'ninety' because they couldn't hear the difference between 'nineteen' and ninety'. Even with the clearest of voice tones, making the distinction between similar sounding words can be difficult. When adults use vocal fry in the teaching process the students' ability even to hear individual words can be significantly  compromised.

As teachers of young children we need to try to avoid creaking or croaking the words we expect children to learn how to say.  

1 comment:

  1. Teachers must model correct grammar and articulation for all our students, however, it is not so easily done in a busy classroom. It is wonderful that a Speech & Language pathologist will be giving a workshop to our local music teachers about "vocal fry on the job" next month. Unfortunately many of our students do not have words correctly modeled for them at home as well. It is common for me to correct my students when they say "nah-kin" for "napkin" or "re-raser" for "eraser" and so on. That is why reading aloud frequently and well in all genres is so critical for our students through out their school career. To be truly fluent in reading we must be fluent in speaking.