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.

More like this:

Speech development
How to recognise a learning disorder
How to recognise the signs of autism


Q. I’m would like to start an exercise programme that will benefit my emotional health as much as my physical health, but I don’t know which type of class would be best. Should I consider choosing from yoga, pilates, tai chi, or could you recommend a class, please?

A It’s great that you have decided to get into exercise. The benefits to you are going to be great. You’ll sleep better, have more energy, better skin, reduced stressed, not to mention all the amazing physical benefits of your clothes fitting better, and looking healthy, trim and toned! My advice to you would be to try them all. Even if some don’t offer pay-as-you-go sessions, if you get in touch directly with the instructor, they will almost always let you try it out first to see if it’s for you. All of the above things that you mentioned are great for mental health, so it really will be a personal preference as to which you go for. On top of the classes you mention, all forms of exercise will give you great mental rewards so consider the not so obvious interval training sessions, bootcamp, and circuits too, as you will also feel on top of the world after a class like that.


Ask Allison

Q My sister-in-law and I both work three-day weeks and we help each
other out with child minding on our working days, which up until recently has worked out really well. Between us, our kids are aged between five and nine years – the problem is that it’s now become quite apparent that we have very different parenting styles. I prefer my two daughters (seven and nine) to have a structured day. For example, in my house, we have allocated times for television and iPads, etc. My sister-in-law, however, lets the kids run loose after school – homework is ignored and my kids end up wired after eating sugary treats all afternoon. I am considering looking at after-school childcare for the kids, but I’m worried that this is going to cause a family argument. Is there a diplomatic way that I can ask my sister-in-law to introduce some discipline into her child-minding days? It certainly doesn’t do her two kids any harm when I am minding them in my own house!

In a word, no, there is no diplomatic way to do this as it may very likely seem like your saying that your parenting style is better than
hers. As L’Óreal says, ‘now here comes the science bit.’ Dr. Kaylene
Henderson, a child psychiatrist, wrote a very interesting blog about ‘the
science behind the Mummy Wars’. She explains that before she had
children of her own she hadn’t been aware of how parents have a
very specific sense of the right parenting style. She also found that parents could be very definite in defending their chosen parenting style. Dr. Henderson, who describes herself as a curious, scientific, open-minded person, was surprised at how defensive parents could be and, at times, of their judgemental attitude towards each other. She explained the neurology of the Mummy Wars; okay, I’ll need you to bear with me for a second. Warning; I’m about to use some neuro-techie language.

Why do we judge each other?
As we have all had different experiences, this means that we all have very different memories stored in our brains. Most of our memories are ‘explicit’ memories – these are ones that we can recall easily such as important dates that mean something to us; important birthdays, special events or stories of and about our lives.
There is another type of memory called ‘implicit’ memory that plays a
key role in our parenting. This type of memory is the stuff that you do on autopilot. Psychologists call these heuristics or rules of thumb –
such as tying your shoelace, or driving your car (once you have learnt
to do both first!). Otherwise we’d really waste a huge amount of time
pondering over tasks that we have readily available to us. This seems to be where the science bit of our parenting style kicks in. This implicit memory goes all the way back to when you were an infant being parented by your parents. This is when you started the process of storing up how they did it into your memories.
Unless you make a conscious choice and effort to parent differently, what you saw and unconsciously learnt will be your automatic go-to parenting style.

We learn habits
This can really kick into gear when we feel our parenting style is
being mirrored or highlighted by disapproval from another parent. I know the cold sweat you feel when your child decides to make their outstanding bad behaviour performance at, of course, the most public and worst time. The implicit autopilot of how your parents dealt with these outbursts will flow unconsciously from you if you haven’t worked super hard to be aware and consciously change the old habits.
What’s happening for the on-looking parent is that they see you doing something they are used to doing, but you are doing it all wrong. Simply, because that is not how they know how to do it.

Find a way that works
You both have different parenting styles – who is to say which type is correct? You just need to know what works best for your family and that’s the bottom line. The irksome feelings won’t go away. You can talk to your sister-in-law, but I’m adding a caveat that it would be hard not to hurt her feelings. What we’re possibly looking at is that you prefer a more structured form of parenting, whereas your sister-in-law has a more permissive style. I’m not sure the two styles can mix, the mixture is a bit like oil and water.
If a collaborative shared form of parenting style can be agreed upon, then that is great, but our learnt hardwiring may prove difficult to change despite the intent to do so.
Perhaps, your own instinct of changing childcare might work best for you. In terms of making childcare work; the fit is ultimately the most
important aspect as you want a cohesive congruent feeling of the other caregiver to just ‘getting it’, like in any good partnership. Best of luck
with this and I wish you both well.