by Marilyn Gee
What would life be like if people could not engage in conversation? The form
of verbal communication is so prevalent today that people frequently forget how
crucial spoken language is to society. The use of verbal language seems to be
thought of as a natural ability and particularly easy to accomplish. However, in
reality, many people struggle with speech and language on a daily basis. It
causes difficulty in conversations and often makes the speaker feel embarrassed
by the way he/she speaks.
A speech disorder is having difficulty in producing sounds, whereas a
language disorder is having difficulty understanding or putting words together
to convey ideas in a conversation. Approximately six percent of people in the
United States have some type of speech or language disorder (Hugo). Studies have
shown that forty to one-hundred percent of individuals with speech and language
disorders have long-lasting language problems and fifty to seventy-five percent
have academic difficulties (Lewis, Freebairn, & Taylor 433). The disorder(s)
not only affects the speaker, but also the listener. It greatly affects the
conversation in which both participants engage.
Researchers have studied speech and speech disorders for several years.
According to Hugo (2002), there are five main types of speech defects: (1)
articulation problems, such as not being able to produce certain sounds; (2)
stuttering, cluttering, and other fluency problems; (3) voice disorders; (4)
delayed speech; and (5) aphasia, the loss or partial loss of being able to speak
and/or understand language. These disorders affect many individuals and often
vary in degree.
Fluency problems- Stuttering:
Stuttering is one of the top five most common language problems people deal
with daily. Of the six percent of people in the United States with a speech
disorder, twelve percent have fluency difficulties (Hugo). The absence of
stuttering used to refer to the term fluency. Today, it has come to be much
more. Fluency identifies with something flowing smoothly. Therefore, fluency of
speech directly correlates with continuity and rate. Continuity of speech shows
how smooth someone can produce speech, and rate deals with the speed in which
the person is able to make speech flow (Starkweather and Givens- Ackerman 12).
The most common fluency disorder is stuttering. "Stuttering is a type of
speech characterized by repetitions of sounds or syllables, by prolonged sounds,
by hesitations, or by complete verbal blocks when no sound is produced"
(Malone). It results in the loss of fluency or smoothness of speech and causes
difficulty within conversation. For example, a person who often stutters might
sound like this: "I w-w-w-w-went to the m-m-mall" or "I, I, I, I
went to the, went to the (three seconds of silence), went to the
Affecting people all over the world, stuttering usually begins before the age
of three. It tends to be much more prevalent in males rather than females, and
is usually accompanied by excessive bodily movements around the face and neck
area (such as head jerks, tightening of the neck, and rapid eye blinking).
Though a person may stutter, it does not mean that they are never capable of
speaking with complete fluency. In fact, a person is not likely to stutter when
speaking in a comfortable situation. People often stutter the most under
conditions in which they feel uncomfortable (i.e. public speaking) or on the
The causes of stuttering are still unknown today. Researchers cannot agree
upon a single cause for the disorder. Some believe stuttering is inherited by a
gene since stuttering often runs in families, while others believe it is learned
through experience and the environment of the individual’s life. Another
possible cause may be the person’s poor level of speech motor control that
causes them to stutter (Starkweather and Givens-Ackerman 15).
Being able to articulate specific sounds is another primary aspect in speech
and language. Not being able to articulate or produce certain sounds is a common
disorder with which many people struggle. Articulation disorders deal with
having difficulty in speech-sound production of the initial, medial, and final
word positions, as well as consonant blends and clusters (Lewis, Freebairn, and
Taylor 435). It is the most common speech defect (especially in young children)
and tends to hinder learning ability and academic performance.
Articulation problems often result in sounds, syllables, and words that are
incorrectly pronounced. For example, some children will substitute [theta] for
the [s] sound, or replace the [w] sound for the [r] (i.e. wing for ring).
Omission errors of letters (ca for cat) and these distortion errors are
prevalent conditions that cause disturbance in the speech. The articulation
defect causes difficulty for the listeners to understand the speaker.
Articulation/ expressive phonology plays an important role in the learning
process. When people have difficulties articulating, it often results in
negative consequences. "Fifty percent to ninety percent of children with
early onset of phonology disorders continue to have difficulties in language or
learning skills at school" (Lewis, Freebairn, and Taylor 433). Having
problems articulating often leads to poor spelling skills, reading disabilities,
and other learning disabilities due to the weakness of pronunciation and
According to Jan Edwards, et. al. (1999), "Phonological knowledge comes
from a phonological acquisition in the first two to three years of life"
(169). A language-rich environment facilitates the child and decreases their
likelihood to develop an articulation defect. It is proven that getting the
children involved in rhyming activities and thematic- fantasy play are effective
ways to help articulation problems (Constantine 9).
Being able to produce voice is another significant aspect in conversational
speech and language. Voice production occurs in the glottis, which is located
inside the larynx. Vocal cords lie on the sides of the glottis, and the muscles
in the vocal cords connect to the glottis wall. Sounds then produce when the
cords are close together, and the air flows rapidly between the cords. The vocal
cords determine the pitch (high or low sound) of the voice. Meanwhile, the
throat, nose, and mouth all contribute to the quality of the person’s voice
Dysphonia often describes a voice disorder. Voice disorders result from
various problems including: paralysis of the larynx, injury to the larynx,
disease of the endocrine glands, benign and malignant growths, vocal misuse and
abuse syndromes, and infectious conditions ("Speech disorder"). Voice
disorders include problems of pitch, quality, and volume. Though this disorder
often gets untreated, it is important that people be aware of how they are
producing their voice and the environment/ context in which they are using it.
All these aspects greatly affect the speaker’s vocal communication, and their
psychological wellbeing (Carding, et. al. 663).
The impact of a voice disorder on an individual is more than a physical
abnormality (i.e. problem with the larynx) and the simple disturbance of voice.
Daily activities and social function of a person are also greatly affected. For
example, if a salesperson is required to change jobs because he/she does not
speak loud enough, can greatly affect their psychological wellbeing, as well as
economic consequences. Ultimately, social activities tend to deteriorate, and
the individual’s perception of life tends to deteriorate as well. A recent
study conducted voice therapy to people with voice disorders and found that
voice therapy had a significant effect on the quality of life (mental health) to
the individuals by the end of the treatment (Carding, et. al. 664).
Delayed speech is a defect in speech, characterized by a child’s slow
speech and language development. By one year of age, most children are capable
of using one to three words and know the meaning of several others. At around
the age of two years old, children are usually able to ask in simple sentences
for things they want or may talk to themselves (Walling- 146). Therefore, if a
child is not producing speech by the age of two, parents get really concerned.
Delayed speech is when children develop language at a much slower pace than
what is age appropriate. It is a defect in speech that is fairly common among
young children. Various reasons cause delayed speech including: the child’s
difficulty in hearing, oral-motor problems, developmental disorders, a specific
language disorder, or autism (Walling 146). Oral impairments such as problems
with the tongue or palate are usually never causes of delayed speech.
Speech development needs to be encouraged by both nature and nurture.
Promoting a language rich environment, reading books out loud to children, and
singing nursery rhymes are all optimal ways parents can help to encourage speech
development. Without the active engagement and stimuli, the child is often more
prone to developing speech later.
Aphasia is the partial or total loss of the ability to speak or understand
language. A defect in the use of language, aphasia usually affects
comprehension, expression, reading, and/or writing in various ways (Sudin,
Jansson, and Norberg 482). It often varies in form and severity and tends to
affect all forms of communication.
Aphasia results from damage to the brain or a disease. The primary cause of
aphasia is a stroke. One-third of all stroke victims develop aphasia (Sudin,
Jansson, and Norberg 481). Aphasia most often occurs when the left side of the
brain (which dominates the use of language) is affected. With the varying levels
of aphasia, some patients are able to recover and regain most of their ability
to understand language with the help of a speech-language pathologist (Malone).
Aphasia is a depressing and frustrating condition that can truly
isolate a person. In a recent study, the inability to communicate appeared to be
the top loss for patients and their spouses (Sudin, Jansson, and Norberg 482).
Aphasia often results in negative psychological and social consequences.
The "lack of knowledge and awareness is a significant barrier to life
participation for people with aphasia." Being isolated often results in
depression, which makes for a longer and more painful rehabilitation. Therefore,
many researchers believe it is essential for aphasia patients to have
conversation partners or "talk-interaction" so that the aphasia
patients can maintain social relationships, increase their mental health, and
help their recovery (Kagan, et. al. 625).
Teachers, counselors, and parents are primary people who first recognize a
speech defect and often refer the individual to be tested. In many schools,
speech-language pathologists test children to see if they have any type of
speech defect. The therapist tries to determine what exactly the child is having
difficulty with and then diagnosis them according to the conditions of the child
(Hugo). If the child seems to have a speech or language defect, the child may be
referred to seek professional help or simply get help through the school (i.e.
individual or group speech therapy).
Researchers believe that treatment is a necessary component for people who
have a speech and/ or language disorder(s). It allows for correction of the
speech defect and helps motivate the person toward success. Though some cases
progress slowly, it still is important to seek professional help as soon as
Many people with speech or language disorders feel self-conscious about the
way they talk or are apprehensive to talk because they are embarrassed by the
way they speak. They tend to isolate themselves from social interaction, which
results in psychological damage and dampens their social life. This is another
reason why seeking professional treatment is so important.
Methods of treatment vary from case to case depending on the exact situation
of the patient. The speech-language pathologists must consider the following
factors: the patient, their family history, their speech condition, and their
age. The therapist gets to know the patient and talks to other people that have
daily contact with the patient in order to further their knowledge about how to
treat the patient (Hugo).
Since children develop their speech habits by the age of eight, a therapist
working with a young child can implement the "development of good speech
habits" (Hugo). In contrast, when working with an older adult, a therapist
will most likely try to implement corrective measures to correct the speech
defect. Just as in any type of therapy, the therapist will try get the patient
to recognize their speech problem/ disorder and know what the difference is
between correct and incorrect production of speech.
People often take for granted their ability to produce speech and use
language effectively. Six percent of all people in the United States struggle
with some sort of speech defect(s) daily (Hugo). With so many variations, it is
important to recognize and be aware of the top five speech defects: (1)
articulation problems; (2) stuttering, cluttering, and other fluency problems;
(3) voice disorders; (4) delayed speech; and (5) aphasia. Just as it is
important to be aware of the conditions, it is equally important to facilitate
people struggling with these defects
Having a language defect may isolate an individual, hinder his/ her social
life, cause psychological damage, result in academic difficulties, and much
more. Therefore, it is essential to seek professional help at the onset of a
speech defect. Treatment can improve the patient’s quality of life and mental
health. Though the speech defect may never go away, treatment will help the
individual cope with his/ her defect and be able to communicate their ideas in a
way where speech will get in the way or frustrate the listeners and/or the
Carding, Mackenzie, et al. "Is Voice Therapy an
Effective Treatment for Dysphonia?"
MJ: British Medical Journal 323.7341 (2001):
Constantine, Joseph L. "Integrating Thematic-Fantasy
Play and Phonological Awareness
Activities in a Speech-Language Preschool Environment." Journal of
Instructional Psychology 28.1 (2001): 9-15.
Cummings, Charles W. "Larynx" World Book Online Americas Edition
2002. 22 Feb.
Edwards, Jan, et. al. "Characterizing Knowledge
Deficits in Phonological Disorders."
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research 42.1
(1999): 169-187.Hugo, Gregory H. "Speech Therapy." World Book
Online Americas Edition 2002.15