Experience and qualifications – 10 years as an NHS Speech and language therapist
After ten years as a speech and language therapist in the British National Health Service I started doing research which ended in 2002 as a PhD in linguistics at the University of Durham. I described some well-known patterns in children’s speech errors and some which had not been described before. I asked: Why do errors pattern the way they do? It is odd that they pattern at all. And I described what seemed to be a new therapy idea, based on possible words, rather than actual words, making use of the patterns which occur naturally in children’s speech. More research has shown that this was in fact an update of an idea from 1669.
I now work as a clinical linguist, and do research, and go to conferences, and give papers if I think I have something to say.
Noam Chomsky and others talk about what is often called ‘the logical problem of language acquisition’. In a 2008 paper at the International Clinical Phonetics and Linguistics Association in Istanbul, I proposed that there was a logical problem in the acquisition of speech.
There is, I believe, useful and valuable data in how children solve or don’t solve the logical problem for themselves. But it is also worth taking account of how speech and language may have evolved in the human species, as I discuss in Impairment and evolution.
In my treatment, I mostly try to hide the fact that I am trying to help a child to say something which he or she has not said before. Some small children are well aware of the fact that they need help. But to my way of thinking there no advantage in making this more evident than it already is. So unless a child actually asks for explicit feedback I prefer to congratulate them for whatever they say. If they don’t say things quite right I should have adjusted the task to make sure that the child’s effort was successful. Success is more motivating than failure.
All my life I have been fascinated by speech and language. But once I could not talk at all. And I was a late starter with reading.
I still remember being puzzled by the fact that the relation between letters and speech sounds did not seem to apply in all cases, as in the word the. I asked about this. I was told. “You don’t need to worry about that. It just says the.” But I was puzzled. And the puzzlement continued. Then, one bright, sunny day when I was about eight and three quarters, someone explained to me the relation between letter-shapes, speech sounds, and positions in words – and that this doesn’t always work – as in the word the. And I started learning to read. But I still have some small residual problems.
I have four degrees, in sociology, in theoretical linguistics, in speech and language therapy, and my PhD. I try to use all of them.