There is no mistaking the self-assurance when Xiaofei Qiao says “Nice to meet y’all” to her departing visitors — in the best Southern accent she can muster.
|Xiaofei Qiao (left) works with UAB Speech Clinic Pathologist Lyndsey McIntyre to modify her accent as part of a new 13-week program targeting UAB professionals who speak English as a second language. |
She also says it with a chuckle and a little self-confidence, traits that weren’t present when she moved to Birmingham from China in 2001. “I think everybody who comes into this country who doesn’t speak English as their primary language experiences feelings of embarrassment, anxiety and confusion,” says Qiao, a clinical data anaylst at Spain Rehab Center. “I certainly did.”
A new 13-week program targeting UAB professionals who speak English as a second language and have a foreign accent they want to modify has alleviated Qiao’s apprehensions. The Compton Pronouncing English as a Second Language program (Compton P-ESL), offered by the UAB Speech Clinic, has reduced Qiao’s accent, changing the way she communicates with her co-workers and the way she views herself in her professional setting. The embarrassment and anxiety are gone.
“Communication is essential in our daily lives, and it’s not always easy as a foreigner coming to the United States,” Qiao says. “I wanted to be in this program because I thought it would help me learn to communicate better. I definitely feel more confident when speaking because I know how a native speaker should speak.”
All program sessions are taught one-on-one by a speech pathologist who has received special training and is certified by the Institute of Language Phonology as qualified teachers of the Compton P-ESL method.
“We think there is a great need for this service, especially for professors, physicians and others in direct patient care who have to communicate important information,” says Lyndsey McIntyre, Speech Clinic pathologist.
“It’s very important they are well understood by their clients, co-workers and students.”
Four key elements
McIntyre and fellow speech pathologist Suzanne Brown are the program instructors. They use four key elements in assessing client needs:
• An initial analysis, which includes recording a speech sample.
• A customized learning program then is developed, targeting speech patterns and sounds to practice.
• A schedule of 13 one-hour, one-on-one appointments is developed, and the speech pathologist works with the client to review sounds, make adjustments if needed and present new sounds.
• Each participant is given the Compton P-ESL workbook and training materials, which include cassette tapes or an interactive CD-ROM.
“The accent is not the only thing we address,” McIntyre says. “The way people talk is just as important as how their words sound. General communication tips also are provided during the course. When clients incorporate skills such as proper eye contact, posture and voice projection, their accented speech comes across more intelligible.”
The program also requires participants to practice on their own time with the help of the workbook and training materials. McIntyre says one of the reasons Qiao has been successful is because of the work she has put in after their weekly one-on-one sessions.
The only requirement for those interested in enrolling in the program is that they already speak some English.
Re-training the ear
The key to success for program participants is re-training their ear to hear sounds a different way, McIntyre says.
“With Xiaofei we had to re-train the way she speaks and listens so she can hear the sounds that are different,” McIntyre says. “Like telling the difference between ‘dat’ and ‘that.’ She would be using the word the right way and in the right context, it just sounded different. She had to re-train the way she catches things.”
“One word I couldn’t speak very well was ‘rose,’” Qiao says. “I used to say ‘lows,’ but I’ve gotten much better at saying it because I’ve practiced a tremendous amount.” That practice has given her a remarkable amount of confidence, too, as is evidenced by her ‘Nice to meet, y’all.’”
“This has helped me with my daily communication, presentations and confidence,” Qiao says. “It’s been crucial to helping me in my daily life, professionally and personally.”
Contact Cheryl Kennedy at 934-4816 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.