"Many students who start their teacher training programme wonder what the deal is with speech training," explains Sophie Hohlbein from the Language Centre. "At first, they have no idea how important their voice is as a tool for the profession, but then they realise that pretty quickly and sometimes also come up against limits that they didn't even know before. That's why in our speech training, we first test the students' basic skills and then, of course, train them." Unlike at other universities, first-year students do not have to provide a phoniatrics certificate to prove whether they are vocally and phonetically suitable for the teaching profession before they begin their teacher training in Erfurt. And so it is not uncommon for students to start their studies with voice problems such as a voice that is too high-pitched, a speaking tempo that is too hasty, a stutter or a lisp. "These abnormalities must be recognised within the course, modified and/or treated in cooperation with therapeutic practices," says Sophie Hohlbein, "so that the voice is able to cope with the constant strain in the future profession. If we didn't address this, it would result in fears for the future or even a change of studies. And of course we want to prevent that if possible."
In the course of the data collection that has now taken place, the vocal-speech performance of a total of 176 students was examined. In addition to their own vocal reflection, two voice samples were collected. The students were asked to record the text "North Wind and Sun", which serves as the "gold standard" text in voice diagnostics. The sound recordings were made both at the beginning and at the end of the semester. The focus was on the following questions:
- In which areas of vocal-speech performance do students show the most frequent abnormalities before starting the speech training course?
- How high is the rate of vocal abnormalities and is this in line with current studies?
- Does a 15-week speech training course show improvements in the students' vocal-speech performance?
The voice samples were analysed using selected factors of voice assessment. Thus, roughness, breathlessness and hoarseness (RBH) as the degree of voice tone, the average speaking voice pitch, nasality and articulation in terms of regiolectality/dialectality were tested. In addition, factors of individual effect style were included. The analysis was carried out by three experts from the field of speech science/speech education, whereby the assessment was carried out individually and the results were then statistically evaluated.
It was shown that speech education as a study content has a fundamentally positive effect on the quality and functionality of the voice, especially for student teachers. The students showed clear improvements in the area of voice tone and pitch after speech training intervention. Sophie Hohlbein: "For us, this is a clear sign that speech education paves the way for responsible and physiological use of the voice in the speaking profession already during studies." However, it has also been shown that for about 20 to 30% of the students, the compulsory course on speech education is not sufficient to alleviate vocal-speech abnormalities, as these are in the pathological range. Here, additional individual counselling as well as medical and speech therapy interventions are needed to prepare students for the vocal-speech stresses of everyday work. And unfortunately, within the semester, about 1% of the students also find that their voices cannot withstand the high stresses of a speaking profession - which often results in a change of subject.
While the before/after comparison showed a clear vocal improvement, there was little or no change in the area of articulation. Hohlbein: "It can be assumed that this is due on the one hand to the comparatively short duration of the course and on the other hand to the Corona-related digital implementation in the winter semester 2020/21. Thus, in a semester-long course, not all areas relevant to speech education can be worked on so intensively that the students can transfer them optimally." In addition, the audio- or video-based transmissions may have distorted articulatory realisations and any deficits in the course setting were perceived only slightly or not at all, so that they could not be modified within the course. In addition, most of the students were at home during the survey period, where regiolectic pronunciation is usually part of everyday life, making it more difficult to change to "standard pronunciation".
The study also examined the extent to which the students' vocal self-assessment correlated with their actual individual vocal performance. In individual interviews, it became apparent that the students did not clearly distinguish between vocal performance and spoken language performance when answering the questionnaire. They regarded the voice as an instrument and the individual speech-thought process (filler words, sentence structure, word finding) as the unit "voice". Comparability was therefore difficult. Sophie Hohlbein: "Against this background, we would also compare self-assessment and actual individual voice performance in the future, but then we would have to define the 'voice' and its performance more clearly beforehand."