Practicality

One phrase stuck out to me in a recent discussion about adapting KTS for short-term goals. It was acknowledged that there are some snake oil salesmen out there selling quick-fix speech lessons. These “one-hour schmucks,” as they were termed, are more than happy to prey on naive clients desperate for an authority figure to “fix” their speech…and fast! KTS teachers, on the other hand, know that there are benefits to a slower, more thoughtful approach.

As someone who had ventured to describe a short-term coaching project, I left the conversation wondering, is there room for efficient, targeted work in the KTS world?

I think there is. There’s a difference between putting the practicality of the work on display in an introductory session and selling a snake-oil cure for a made-up malady. There are some worthwhile things you can achieve very quickly in one session:

  • You can help a client feel a connection between shape and sound.
  • You can lead a client toward greater kinesthetic sensitivity and a rediscovery of their own speech anatomy.
  • You can give the client a sense of agency or choice by presenting multiple articulatory options as possible targets while sensitively discussing the audience implications of those choices.
  • You can model openness and discourage prejudice by showing enthusiasm for the wide variety of available choices.
  • You can model curiosity and empathy by listening closely to what the client says and acknowledging their point of view, even if the client has a more rudimentary understanding of speech, accent, and sociolinguistics than you.
  • You can help a client feel excited at the possibilities for their speech.

Even if there is no follow-up session, I believe achieving these sorts of things, even in a very cursory way, can do good for the client with very little chance of doing harm or contributing in a significant way to linguistic prejudice or shame. Of course, it’s also a good idea to point toward the full scope of the work, to show that, with time and persistence, we can go very deep indeed, and to educate (gently) around issues of prestige and “correctness.” But not all clients want to go speech-teacher deep, and I don’t fault them for being dilettantes. Remembering the root of that word, I want to be cautious about killing a client’s delight by making the work too precious–or (though I love the idea of rigor) too rigorous–too fast.

There are some things that are more difficult to do in an introductory session:

  • It’s very difficult to shift a lens or change a person’s worldview, especially with a lecture.
  • It’s very difficult to help a person feel less “wrong” in their speech simply by pointing out that there’s no right and wrong.
  • It’s very difficult to fully understand a client’s linguistic identity and know the extent of any internalized shame without therapizing the session.

I feel that these are long-term projects (and in the last case, possibly outside my scope of practice.) These long-term projects are also embedded within the more concrete work outlined in the first list above. Explicitly combating prejudice is important work both inside and outside the studio. That said, exploring shapes and sounds also changes our worldview–implicitly and gently from the inside out. And it’s the area where, frankly, I feel most qualified to operate. Is that a cop-out? I hope not entirely–I do facilitate conversations on an inclusive linguistic worldview in longer-format academic contexts with my students. But those sociolinguistic conversations flow out of a trust built from the more concrete aspects of the work. For me, trying to “fix” a student’s linguistic self-concept is just as fraught as trying to “fix” their speech.

When I meet a new client, one who is not sending up red flags about deeply-internalized speech shame but simply wants their smartphone to quit misunderstanding commands (and the client easily acknowledges that poor speech recognition across non-standard accents is a flaw of the device, not the speaker,) I am more than happy to work on the client’s terms, with an eye toward ROI (return on investment, in business-speak.) As an artist who values process over product, I may feel slightly out of sorts typing “ROI,” because that’s not the world I tend to inhabit. But it is a real consideration in the client’s world, and I respect that. I don’t necessarily feel the need to ensure the client’s full buy-in to the principles behind the work, because, as pointed out by another colleague, the principles are for me first and foremost.

That’s my practical side kicking in. I don’t think it makes me a “one-hour schmuck.” At least, I sincerely hope it doesn’t.

I also recognize that not all practitioners will agree with me on that count. We each approach the work in good faith from our own perspective. So the question arises: Do we need to get on the same page about how we conceptualize and apply the principles of the work? I don’t think so. Certainly, we can discuss them, and I think we should. But to nail them down to the point where we ensure agreement amongst ourselves seems a little homogenizing, static, and…well, prescriptive. They’re “principles, perhaps”–and not “rules, definitely”–for that very reason.

 

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2 thoughts on “Practicality

  1. I really appreciate the practical skills you can foster and encourage in clients during a one-hour session. And I certainly agree that the “long-term” projects are just that — long-term, should they enter into the scope of our work with our students and clients.

    I do wonder, post-webinar, how questions of agreement and efficacy (in teachers and in students/clients) lead to an assignment of ideological purity. While your final paragraph comes to a ringing conclusion that rejects intellectual uniformity, I’m not quite sure who is currently advocating that “we ensure agreement amongst ourselves.” I know, in leading the webinar, that I was more curious about what agreement actually exists — what are we using, how are we using it, and where does agreement occur? Far from leading a (completely unexpected) Spanish Inquisition into the calcification of “principles, perhaps” into “rules, definitely,” I was hoping to curate a discussion in which those principles in use could be articulated and related to practicality. The challenge of anything calling itself a discrete entity, whether Knight-Thompson Speechwork or organic, locally-sourced nonfat soy milk, is that its separation from the maelstrom of experience implies certain delineating characteristics. A curiosity as to what those characteristics are on a philosophical level (particularly in a modality whose legacy was staked out in the intellectual discourse of Dudley’s “Standards” article and rejoinders) is not a demand for “homogenizing, static, [or] prescriptive” rules in order to self-declare. Rather, how deeply do our principles permeate our work — and what are those principles we’re using? How much influence do they have on the teacher-student dynamic — or do we continue to follow the pedagogical models we’ve inherited, squeezing our idealism in around the edges? How do our principles respond to differing needs and differing scales — or do they? If “we each approach the work in good faith from our own perspective,” then what is “the work”? what constitutes “good faith”? and are these important questions to explore?

    Practicality is certainly one of our key strengths, as your beautiful entry above articulates so well. And practicality gives birth to some lovely applicable principles we can all agree to (I love a central belief in “helping the client feel the connection between shape and sound”). The very nature of practicality leads to a continual adaptation to circumstances, a dynamical entropy of centralized information that consistently self-organizes into new and different forms. Is there any part of Knight-Thompson Speechwork worth surveying in order to discover the shared parameters in which we operate — in other words, should we be able to explain the work in a way that feels consistent to those we train, those we teach, and those we certify? Or do we acknowledge the strengths of the work in its practical realizations and avoid the much harder work of philosophical coherence, letting KTS mean whatever it needs to mean to whoever needs to practice it? The implications of these questions are vast, affecting everything from how we certify teachers to what our individual time is monetarily worth once certified, so I ask these questions in honest search of response. I do worry that honest questions seeking honest answers can be interpreted as leading down a primrose path to lockstep ideology, so I hope this reply is taken in the spirit of earnest seeking and not interpreted as leading the witness.

    Thank you, Jeremy, for continuing the dialogue, and I look forward to seeing where it leads.

  2. Thank you, Tyler, especially for the question,

    “…should we be able to explain the work in a way that feels consistent to those we train, those we teach, and those we certify? Or do we acknowledge the strengths of the work in its practical realizations and avoid the much harder work of philosophical coherence, letting KTS mean whatever it needs to mean to whoever needs to practice it?”

    …a pithy and engaging query. I’m afraid I don’t have a equally satisfying answer! Intuitively, I want to say yes to all of the above, to have ALL the cake and eat it too, to articulate everything to everyone in some Omnish-inspired version of “yes, and.” But at what point does this become unintelligible? How much sense CAN be conveyed using Omnish, after all?

    Thanks for keeping the conversation going, Tyler, and thanks for indulging my devil’s advocacy!

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