A new perspective and strategy to help my ALS speech

Pronunciation drills for ESL students are useful for me, too

Dagmar Munn avatar

by Dagmar Munn |

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Even though I continue to practice daily voice skills to help me prepare for in-person conversations, I’m still challenged by the pronunciation of certain words. Often, I avoid the word altogether and use a simpler version. Or I simply plow ahead, slurring and bumbling my way and relying on lots of body language to convey what I want to say.

But I’m happy to report that I’ve adopted an innovative strategy that’s been helping me learn to speak clearly and with more ease. This is all part of my continuing quest to prevent my ALS-related dysarthria, or speech disorder, from robbing me of my ability to speak.

Challenges and strategies

Some strategies I’ve incorporated before include improving my posture, strengthening my diaphragm, and even using a personal voice amplifier. All good things to do, but breathing better and having more volume can’t help me improve my pronunciation. For example, when I say, “Hand me the spoon,” it sounds more like, “Han MEE da sch-POON.” Certainly, not what I intend to sound like.

Going online, I searched for suggestions from others who share my word pronunciation dilemma and discovered that nonnative speakers have challenges similar to mine. Learning English as a second language (ESL) also means learning to make new and difficult sounds, plus adopting a unique rhythm within each sentence.

Fortunately, this topic has a wealth of online resources, including YouTube videos focused on helping nonnative speakers learn to converse in English. Plus, following the videos makes it fun to practice.

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Exploring new sounds

As an example, for the “R” sound, as in “rah, row, rear,” I can watch a helpful explanation of how to position my lips and tongue to create the sound, practice some drills, and then try a few tongue-twister phrases.

On some days, I create my own version of the TV show “Sesame Street.” I pick a letter from the alphabet, and every time the letter’s sound shows up in my conversation, I pause, relax, and try to pronounce it correctly.

At one time, I’d developed the habit of trying so hard to say a particular word that I ended up exaggerating it to the point of adding extra syllables. When I said “please,” for example, it often became “PUL-LEE-SSS.” Now when I say the word, it sounds more like a simple “pleeez.”

The test

Recently, our daughter visited us for a week, and I had the opportunity to put my ESL-enhanced speaking skills to the test. Because she lives a distance away, we’ve had to rely on phone calls and Skype for the past year, so I really looked forward to our in-person conversations. But I still secretly worried about how I sounded.

Several times during the week, she’d remark, “Mom, I can understand you so well. Your speech has really improved.”

Oh my gosh, that made me feel so good.

Are you experiencing challenges with learning to accommodate your dysarthria? If so, I invite you to try my strategies and tips. Let’s learn to live well while we live with ALS.

Note: ALS News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of ALS News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to ALS.


Doris sutherland avatar

Doris sutherland

Good article. My husband is having the same speech problem. Sometimes the words come out okay and other times I'm forced to say, will you say that again. I just forwarded this to him to read. With ALS speech problems, sometimes the words just will not come out correctly no matter how hard he tries. But then the next day, he talking perfectly. ALS is something else.


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