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Separate from Reading
In the very beginning, let us understand that any work on this subject should be separated as far as possible from the regular reading lesson. It is not reading: it is preparing some tools for that work. If a short period cannot be had at a different time of the day, concentrate such work at the beginning of the reading lesson, and then leave it entirely when reading is begun. In this case, spur the drill up to such briskness that the children are in a fine glow when they enter upon the reading lesson. At no time should the drill be continued long enough to tire the children, nor should they be permitted to dawdle through it. It is marvelous what results can be secured if work similar to that outlined below is followed regularly for a few minutes each day.
Each teacher should carefully listen to the children as they talk or. read, to decide wherein lie their greatest faults. In children there will of course be differences, but in each locality there are apt to be glaring faults common to most of them. These consist in dropping the final consonant or “clipping" a word, as drinkin' for drinking; in dropping an intermediate syllable or letter, as gov'ment for government, w'at for what; and in a thickness of speech or “mouthing," that is for the most part due to mere carelessness. The pronunciation of unusual words or of proper names offers no serious difficulty. The first, children are apt to get immediately by imitation; the second, they get likewise if drill enough is given, so that Orpheus and Proserpine seem no more uncommon than Dillingham, Laughlin, or some other local name.
The Beginning of Improvement Having decided which fault to attack first, the teacher should try to put the children under conviction of sin. A splendid enunciation on the part of the teacher himself is the best start in the crusade; but, at the worst, his enunciation probably is better than the children's. It does not require much exaggeration and mimicry to call attention to the fault and to make it ridiculous. If the teacher has bad habits, he may even offer himself up as a horrible example by which the children may learn to avoid a similar end before it is too late! (For his comfort, however, be it said that a person under thirty-odd years can, by the exercise of will power and by practice, make as much improvement as a child. This is repeatedly shown by men and women who are studying elocution or for stage careers, a few months of hard work bringing almost miraculous changes. This is equally true, too, in developing a fine voice. Dr. Mackenzie writes of the greatest English actor of the present day," who had a voice weak and rather monotonous. "He has shown,” says Dr. Mackenzie, “how much may be done by perseverance to develop the powers of an organ naturally wanting in flexibility. By a labor improbus worthy of Demosthenes, his voice * has been so perfected that on the stage it is rich
and sonorous and becomes harsh and strident or exquisitely tender at the will of the speaker.” One's accomplishment is limited by nothing more than his own will to persevere in practice.)
But better still is the good example of some one whom the children admire. If this model can be heard frequently, so much the better; if not, the teacher should describe the beauty of perfect enunciation and emphasize its importance. Words, some one has said, should fall from the lips as clean-cut as freshly minted coins. This beauty of utterance has given almost incredible power to more than one orator who, without it, would have seemed but mediocre, and almost every great orator had naturally or acquired the power, some of them over natural obstacles that seemed insuperable. The stories of Demosthenes rise in every one's mind as illustrative. But few of us are orators; all of us, however, need to make ourselves understood in social or business ways. A young man or woman among strangers is estimated first of all by the enunciation used, and, unless a man makes himself understood in business talk, he is restricted to more or less mechanical or manual labor.
Causes of the Faults The teacher must try to decide, too, what is the cause of the fault. Is it due to defect in hearing? If
So, is that caused by deafness or by carelessness on the part of the child, which is a sort of mental deafness? Parents should be informed of any physical defect, as oftentimes it comes on the child so gradually that they are not aware of it. But a child who remains in school can be helped privately, or even in class if his seat is moved so that he can hear the teacher's voice more distinctly.
Some children, especially those of foreign-born parents, seem unable to distinguish certain sounds - for instance, v and w, h, or d and th. And others still get into slovenly habits, apparently not caring about hearing all of the word, even if it be spoken, so long as they get the sense. Children of these two classes need careful and patient instruction. Their attention must be called to each detailed element of the word, largely by pronouncing it, exaggerating the part that they fail to get. This model for imitation may be augmented, if necessary, by calling attention to the way the lips, tongue, throat, and teeth are used in pronouncing the element. It is well known that people who are totally deaf learn to speak words in this way.
The child should be aided personally to get the correct sound; but then the teacher's work is not
as too often he seems to think. He must encourage the child to repeat the sound again and again, introducing it in different words, until it is fairly easy. Then he must take pains to remember to call upon the child for a little practice now and then as long as help is needed. This requires time, of course, but in the long run it is economical. For
process once perfected will not have to be repeated every time the sound is met. In school this
is a task for the teacher alone. To summon the class to aid by calling attention to the error whenever it is repeated is often a form of cruelty that results in such embarrassment on the part of the pupil that he is seriously retarded in correcting his bad habit and in learning to read well. It is rarely the case when such aid is advisable to stimulate the memory of some lazy pupil.
Lisping, Stammering, and Stuttering Not infrequently teachers have in their rooms children who lisp, stammer, or stutter. The authori. ties are pretty well agreed that lisping is only a bad habit, sometimes a silly affectation, that can be easily cured. Let the teacher show the lisping child how the tongue is placed in uttering the sound of s, and then aid him privately to utter the simple sound again and again. Practice should then be given in pronouncing such words as these, those, thus; nets, pins, ends; saints, sue; baseless, passages, possessors; and finally the most difficult combination, when s is preceded by th, withstand, loathsome.*
Stammering, which manifests itself in the difficulty of uttering sounds of any kind, and stuttering, which causes the victim painfully to repeat a stubborn syllable, are hardly matters for which the teacher should assume responsibility. However, both are aggravated by excitement, nervousness, and
* Kofler in his “Art of Breathing,” pp. 250-252, gives detailed directions and a long list of words, from which the above are taken, for practice.