Monday, June 1, 2009
I love working with scholars who value language and the process of learning as much as the subject matter itself. Dorritta Fong, from the English Department, is a prime example of the thoughtfulness I see so often. I first met Dorritta when she attended a Clear Speech workshop I gave in April and since then I have the opportunity to lead her through several thirty minute private sessions. One of the reasons she had enrolled in the class was because several students and colleagues had commented that her speech was too quick for them to follow. In our first few sessions, I encouraged her to experiment with diaphragmatic breathing to support her speech instead of the upper thoracic or chest breathing she was accustomed to. She reported the next week that her discoveries were both "startling and humbling". The more she concentrated on breathing the easier it became-- until she went back in the classroom and found that she fell right back into her habitual way of communicating. Here's how she described the process:
"Since these modes of speaking are habitual, though, and comfortable, I am learning that I simply need to learn new practices. The work to undertake new habits is, at times, frustrating, and frequently difficult. I am needing to concentrate on my breathing, and trying to listen to my body. Doing such normal and natural things is astoundingly difficult. Breathing is both involuntary, in that we must do so, impelled by the body, but also voluntary, in that we can choose and control how to breathe. However, learning to over-ride what I normally do, with what I need to do, is a struggle. And I am stopping to tell myself to “Breathe!” many times a day. As well, my own sense of myself is that I think in complex, long, complete thoughts, as if I had a ticker tape unspooling iin my head. Thus, I find that trying to be conscious about what I am saying, considering what to emphasise, where to pause, when to breathe, how to place stress, whose reaction to note, and why I am speaking, is very odd. I feel, sometimes, as if my head contains a set of gerbils who have been running along, in tandem, on little wheels, complacently for years, without direction. Now, suddenly, as the über gerbil, or the rodent queen, I am trying to step in, with my little sceptre, and assert, in my squeaky (but eventually majestic) voice—“Okay, you. Breathing gerbil—fill the diaphragm. And you, pitch gerbil—vary things. You, speed gerbil, give it a rest. Emphasis gerbil—make yourself heard.” Trying to co-ordinate all these rodents and keep all the wheels churning along smoothly is exhausting, and I am finding that, to my friends, and to myself, I sometimes sound strange, and stilted. But this is temporary and will pass.
I am proceeding slowly, and am noticing small, but real changes. I am realising that Ms. Turner is helping me to allow myself time and capacity to speak in a considered and effective way. I am finding that I feel less anxious about speaking. I feel less pressure to rush on to the next idea. I am choosing my words more deliberately. I am reacting more thoughtfully to my audience, and registering their comprehension, or lack of it. Most importantly, since I want to speak to be understood, focusing on how I speak will eventually allow me to communicate in a mode other than English as an Accelerated and Incomprehensible Language."