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The Spokesman: Part III

D. Himy, M.S. CCC-SLP and Zivia Reischer

“That’s why it’s important to use specific words.”

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Baruch: I’m starting to understand why my mother looks confused when I talk to her.

Zaidy: Something has started to change with Baruch’s speech. I’ll keep davening.

Chavrusa: Baruch is starting to sound like a darshan…. must be the chaburah that Rebbi pushed him to give.


The next challenge we tackle is Baruch’s tone — or rather, monotone. [Tone and expression are important because they add flavor and meaning to speech.]

First, I read a paragraph aloud to Baruch. It’s an emotional letter written from a mother to her child as she sends him off on the Kindertransport during World War II. I read the entire paragraph in a monotone. Then I read it again, with appropriate expression.

“Do you see the difference?” I ask Baruch. “The expression you use as you speak helps convey the meaning of what you’re saying. It makes it easier for the listener to understand and also makes it more interesting to listen to.”

I give Baruch a printout of the paragraph and instruct him to underline one word in each sentence. Then, I direct him to pick another word in each sentence and underline it four times.

“Now read it aloud,” I tell him. “When you reach a word that’s underlined, emphasize it. When you reach a word that’s underlined four times, stress it even more.”

We do this with several paragraphs. One of us reads, stressing random words, and the other has to write a list of which words were stressed. Then we compare the underlined words to the list, to see if the expression is strong.

Once Baruch grasps this concept, I teach him how to choose which words to stress when talking.

I pick one sentence from a paragraph: The boy crawled through the bunker.

“Which words in this sentence should be stressed?”

I demonstrate for him: “Think about the difference between,

‘THE boy crawled through THE bunker,’ and

‘The boy CRAWLED THROUGH the bunker.’ ”

We do some practice together so that Baruch can get the hang of which words should be stressed. It’s the art of figuring out what’s most important in what he’s saying. Baruch writes his own sentences and then analyzes which words should be underlined and emphasized.

As Baruch’s expression improves, his use of vague and nonspecific words becomes more obvious.

“When I WOKE UP this morning, I COULDN’T FIND my thing,” he says. [He’s stressing the right words — but due to his nonspecific language, we still have no idea what he’s talking about.]

“Your what?”

“My thing, but it was on top of my stuff.”

I start a new list: thing, stuff, whatever. “These words are treif,” I tell Baruch. He looks at me blankly; he doesn’t even hear himself saying them. I imitate him humorously: “I lost my thing, did you see it?” I look at him. “What did you lose? Your hot dog?”

He laughs.

“You need to use specific words in order for people to understand what you’re talking about.” To demonstrate, I ask Baruch to write down the definition of the word “nice,” as in, “That boy is nice.”

We share our answers.

“Nice equals easy to get along with, good middos,” I say.

“Nice means with-it, classy, not cheap,” Baruch disagrees.

“See what I mean? If you had asked me to assign you a ‘nice’ guy to be your partner in a school project, I would have assigned you a boy who’s easy to get along with. But that’s not what you really meant. That’s why it’s important to use specific words.”

Originally featured in Family First, Issue 634. D. Himy is a speech-language pathologist in private practice and creator of the Link-It and STARPower curriculums. The fictional characters in this column represent typical client profiles.



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