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 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.
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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