elocution lessons

Elocution lessons in Ireland

It’s never too late to learn to speak clearly and confidently. Ken Phelan finds out how elocution lessons can help your child to grow in confidence. And speaks to Jill Anderson about elocution lessons in Ireland.

Once considered the preserve of the middle to upper-middle classes, children’s elocution lessons are now seeing something of a resurgence. For many, elocution lessons are just a distant memory from childhood, but for one Dublin therapist at least, their popularity has never been so strong.

Elocution lessons in Ireland

Jill Anderson runs The Jill Anderson School of Speech and Drama in Ballinteer, Co. Dublin, where children are taught the intricacies of pronunciation, voice and diction. According to Jill, unlike the past, lessons are no longer concerned with accent or teaching children how to speak ‘posh’, but are primarily geared towards teaching children how to speak clearly and confidently.

Teaching children how to speak clearly and confidently

“Elocution lessons are hugely popular now; there seems to have been a huge shift. Up until about five years ago, it would’ve been considered quite boring, quite old-fashioned and people weren’t really that interested, but now people see the benefit of good clear speech and of children being able to be heard and to project their voice.

Elocution lessons in Ireland

Elocution used to be more of a class thing; it would’ve been for example to make sure that someone didn’t have a strong Dublin or thick country accent, but it’s not about that nowadays. Elocution isn’t about having a posh voice or a received pronunciation accent, it’s about making sure a child can speak confidently in class when they’re asked a question and that they can be easily understood.”

Finding your voice

In today’s culture of ‘text-speak’ and social media, many parents are turning to elocution lessons to foster correct pronunciation, spelling and grammar. While not necessarily trying to attain a particular accent, parents are simply concerned that their children speak articulately and with confidence, Jill explains;

“Elocution problems really stem from lack of confidence and from learned behaviours, so if a child is quite shy, for example, they tend not to open their mouth properly. If that happens, the sounds don’t come out and the words aren’t pronounced. We work to strengthen the child’s voice to make sure their articulation is strong, and to make sure they don’t mumble, that the consonants and vowels are pronounced clearly.

With pronunciation, accent and grammar, children pick that up from whoever’s around them, be it their parents, family, friends or at creche. You would find a lot of children with American accents, and that’s from watching a lot of American T.V., so there would be a lot of American twangs, a lot of American pronunciations. A lot of kids would come into me saying the American pronunciation of ‘tomato’ for example.”

Learning to speak up

So what does Jill see as being the advantages of classes? “Class sizes in schools are very big now and sometimes children are afraid to speak out because they’re part of this huge group; what elocution classes can do is help build the child’s confidence and get them used to hearing the sound of their own voice.

Children who can’t be heard or can’t communicate get quite frustrated. You can have children who are very intelligent, but perhaps they mumble or speak very quickly and can’t be understood by other children or by teachers in class.

Elocution lessons in Ireland

When you move on into college, it’s great to be able to stand up in front of a group of people and be able to speak confidently. Adults who’ve been to elocution lessons know how to project their voices by using the different delivery skills and are able to make what they’re saying interesting to the listener.”

Spell it out

The benefits of elocution are well documented; apart from the improvements seen in speech and language, it helps children identify how different sounds are spelled, and is even said to help with problems such as dyslexia. But at what age should children attend lessons and how soon should parents see results?

According to Jill, The Jill Anderson School of Speech and Drama starts children from age four upwards. “Obviously, it would be a shorter class and the classes are all tailored for the child. Because it’s one-on-one, you would have a shorter class than say a child who is twelve years old.

Practice makes perfect

Daily exercises are a must maintains Jill. “If an older child attends classes once a week, they’ll get homework exercises, which take about ten minutes a day. If they do this, they’ll see huge improvements very quickly, but if a child is coming to do a 40-minute elocution class a week and not completing these exercises, it’ll be a lot slower. Your voice is like a musical instrument – you have to practice it every day…”

So the benefits of elocution are many; children gain confidence, speak clearly and fluently, learn how to articulate effectively and learn the basic tenets of grammar and pronunciation. Despite having witnessed many years of decline and being associated inextricably with class, elocution still remains a valued resource. Having weathered an uncertain future and precarious climes, it may yet be said (in the poshest of tones): “the Rain in Spain still falls Mainly on the Plain…”.

The Queen’s English

According to one speech and language therapist in the U.K., the resurgence in popularity of elocution lessons is down to the 2010 Oscar-winning movie The King’s Speech, in which Colin Firth plays King George VI, who himself struggles with speech difficulties. In the movie, King George overcomes a debilitating stammer with the aid of a speech and language therapist.

As reported in The Daily Telegraph in 2012, pupils at Cherry Tree Primary School in Basildon, Essex were offered elocution lessons to get rid of their Essex accents. Teachers also reported a ‘vast improvement in students’ spelling and writing’ since the lessons were introduced.

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Q My son is 18 months old and has just started saying his first words. It is an extremely exciting time in our house and my husband and I are eager to encourage his speaking as much possible. What advice would you give us on how we can foster this without bombarding and confusing him?

AThere is nothing better than hearing your baby begin to talk. All the hard work you have put in over the last two years is coming back tenfold.
Toddlers will vary significantly with ability and speed of which they talk however a guide would be about 50 words by 2 years of age. The most important thing to watch for is that your baby/toddler is cooing and babbling and begins to string sounds together like “Mama/Dada” They should have a wide range of speech sounds and like to imitate you and things they hear.
There are many ways that you can promote Speech and Language development at home:
1. Slowing down your own speech and taking time over conversations with your little one. Every day is a new experience when you are 18 months, nappy changes, bath time, baking a cake brings endless opportunity for you to interact and offer new words for them to hear and repeat. Make eye contact, smile and use exaggerated tones to keep things interesting and fun for your tot.
2. Review the toys that you have on offer to your tot and ensure that they give plenty of open ended play opportunities. Role play is a wonderful way to allow children to take the lead. Kitchens with lots of plates, cups and pots. Fill the pots with dry pasta and allow your child to cook and serve you. Playdoh, painting, gardening and sandpits are also great for allowing your child to take the lead and babble about what they are doing. Read plenty of books together and point and allow them time to answer any questions that you ask.
3. Limit screen time. Overuse of televisions and iPads do not give your child opportunity to interact in a two way manner.
4. Ask your child lots of open ended questions “What’s that?” “Where are we?” Point at things they know the answer to for boosting confidence (Car/ Car, etc.) When they don’t know the answer, explain it to them. Limit baby talk and speak clearly with good pronunciation, remember you are the teacher and they will copy you.
If you are concerned about your child’s speech and language development, be sure to speak with your GP or developmental Health Nurse. They are very skilled at understanding the difference between speech delays and spotting something that may require professional attention.
Enjoy watching their little brains absorb the world around them and listen to what they have to say. It won’t be too long before they won’t stop talking to you, asking “Why Mummy/ Daddy?” every 5 minutes….


Ask Sarah

Q I’ve heard a lot about the Paleo diet and as I am very interested in reducing the amount of processed foods and grain based meals my family eats, we are considering following this diet. From what I read it seems to be a back-to-basics type of eating. Is a Paleo diet safe for children? My kids are aged seven and nine.

A The Paleo diet is one of the most fashionable diets around at the moment. It is also known as the ‘caveman diet’ and is based on cutting out processed foods, starchy foods like bread and potatoes and eating more meat, vegetables and fruit.
As fad diets go, it is not the worst but there are some good and bad sides to it. Reducing the amount of processed foods we eat is always a good idea and by doing that you will usually reduce the amount of fat, salt and sugar you eat, which is a good thing! The problem with the Paleo diet is that it also cuts out dairy (on the basis that cavemen didn’t drink milk) and this means that the diet is very low in calcium. For this reason it is really not suitable for children who do need a lot of calcium for growing bones. How did cavemen manage without dairy? They ate a lot more food than we do (up to 10,000 calories per day compared to the 2,000 most of us eat). By eating that amount of food they were able to pick up just enough calcium from green vegetables and seeds. To put it in perspective, you would need to eat 16 servings of broccoli a day to get all the calcium you need. This is easier to do if you eat 10,000 calories per day rather than 2,000.
The other problem with the paleo diet is that it is not entirely based in science. Many of the Paleo diets out there say you should not eat wheat, even though we know that cavemen did in fact eat wheat and other grains. These diets also don’t recommend that you eat blubber and the big lumps of fat that were also a large part of the caveman diet!
A final problem is that many Paleo diets encourage people to cut out beans and lentils and to get their protein from meat and fish instead. Many studies over the last few years are clear that eating too much animal protein is linked with more cancer and heart disease. Eating some vegetarian meals based on beans and lentils is a great way to get your protein without always going for meat.
Is this a diet we should follow? I think there is a lot we can learn from the Paleo diets. We could all do with eating less salt, sugar and processed foods and adding in more nuts and seeds as well as more vegetables. However, I think following a strict Paleo diet could lead to low levels of calcium and vitamin D and so it is not suitable for children or teens and adults would need to think about a calcium supplement.