in the news


Here’s an article recently published in the Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly in the Career Paths column.

  • Name:  Holly Niner
  • Company:  Easily Understood LLC
  • Title:  Speech Therapist

A Clearer Approach to Communicating

What led you to a career in speech therapy? What is it you find rewarding about the work? How long have you been doing it?

I’ve been a speech therapist for 35 years.  When I was contemplating a course of study in college, a family friend who was a kindergarten teacher suggested I spend the day with the speech therapist at her school. I liked the children, the ability to work with them in smaller groups and the possibility of having an impact on something as important as communication.

I did an undergraduate degree at the State University of New York at Albany where the clinical experience was with children. I went on for a master’s degree at the University of Connecticut because a higher degree was required for any setting other than schools. At UConn I discovered I preferred the adult population in a medical setting. I was intrigued by the impact strokes and closed head injuries had on the brain. I appreciated that with adults, therapy could be more straight-forward.

For the majority of my career I have worked in skilled nursing facilities. In this setting we work with patients who have communication, cognitive and swallowing deficits due to strokes, head injuries, neurological disorders, Alzheimer’s and other medical conditions. The ability to eat and to communicate our wants, needs and feelings are both very important in a person’s life. As a speech therapist, I find it rewarding to make a difference in a person’s quality of life.

What prompted you to start your own business? Are there other businesses you modeled your services on?

My husband is also a speech therapist and we’ve both worked in medical settings during our careers. After we had children I began working on an as-needed basis for several companies that provide therapy services to skilled nursing facilities. This allowed me flexibility in my schedule when our children were young and time to pursue other interests. I have been published in the children’s book and magazine markets. Our state licensure requires continuing education hours and I listened with interest to presentations on accent modification at several conferences in recent years. I’ve witnessed many communication break-downs in work settings or myself on the phone with someone who spoke English as a second language, and realized that being easily understood is essential to personal and professional relationships.

About two years ago, we decided that I would pursue the additional training to be certified in one method of accent modification so that we could begin a business that we might eventually work at together – a business that would allow flexibility, could be done in any location if retirement led to a move and was not dependent on doctor referrals or third party payers.

In preparation, I took the Compton Pronouncing English as a Second Language course, as well as an online course offered in setting up a business. I looked at the websites of other companies offering accent modification. I also met with a professor at Purdue. Purdue has a speech pathology course of study and its clinic, staffed by student clinicians, has offered accent modification for many years. The clients are primarily professors and graduate students who speak English as a second language. The professor provided some insight into ways they tailored materials and adjusted time frames to meet the needs of clients. She also confirmed the efficacy of accent modification.

Explain briefly the process of speech modification. How do you accomplish that and still be sensitive to a person’s native language and culture?

In the medical, school or clinic setting speech therapy services are generally considered clinical and we are treating disorders. The presence of an accent is not due to a delay or disorder. It is the result of speaking English after learning the sounds or phonology of another language or even of English that is spoken outside of the United States.

We all know actors or other public figures that we can understand, but they still retain an accent that tells us they are from another country. That is the goal of accent modification – to maintain a person’s cultural heritage while helping him or her to be easily understood by any listener. So how do we accomplish that?

A baby babbles all sounds but, over time, learns to hear and say the sounds of its own language and the sounds of other languages are lost. So it is difficult to “pick up” the sounds of a new language because an ESL speaker may not even hear the sounds. You may have had the same thing occur when you try to repeat a foreign speaker’s name. You may never get it quite right because you really aren’t “hearing” the correct pronunciation. So, an ESL speaker must learn to hear the correct sounds, produce them at the word and sentence level and finally turn them into a normal speaking pattern.

To do this, a speech assessment looking at sounds at the word, phrase and sentence levels in both reading and spontaneous speech, is preformed and analyzed. During weekly sessions, target sounds are taught. In between sessions, clients are given homework assignments done online to practice targeted sounds. They are encouraged to keep a journal of words they use in their personal or professional life that they have difficulty pronouncing and these are also addressed at each session. Other components of speech are addressed such as voice projection, intonation, rhythm and rate of speech. Common phrases we use in daily life (ordering at a restaurant, shopping, etc.) are practiced.

Who might benefit from speech modification?

A traditional ESL class focuses on vocabulary and grammar. Because accent modification focuses on pronunciation, a speaker needs to have a fair ability to understand English. ESL speakers who would like to improve their communication skills, gain confidence speaking personally and professionally, speak more effectively over the phone and increase their value to their employer would benefit from accent modification. Typical clients include: college professors, graduate students, teachers, court interpreters, clergy, executives and healthcare professionals. Since communication is essential to positive clinical outcomes and corporations recognize the impact communication has on their bottom line, they may provide these services for their employees.

 What challenges have you encountered in marketing your services?

When I tell people about accent modification, they invariably have a story to tell about a medical professional or call center employee they had difficulty understanding. This communication break-down leads to frustration and dissatisfaction on both sides of the equation and yet many ESL speakers are unaware of the impact their accent has or that it can be reduced. This is the marketing challenge – helping ESL speakers, and in some cases their employers, realize the satisfaction in and importance of clear communication. Studies have shown that our level of trust decreases when someone has a foreign accent and that ESL speakers may be passed over for advancement, particularly if the position requires good communication and political skills.


How much time does speech modification typically take?

With weekly instruction and daily practice, an increase in pronunciation accuracy of 50-70 percent is seen after 13 weekly sessions. Sessions done individually generally last about 60 minutes. Group sessions, with up to five individuals who do not need to speak the same native language, are 90 minutes. The online homework program continues to be available to clients after weekly sessions have ended so that they may review or practice at any time.

By Linda Lipp

Posted online at Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly on Thursday, August 6, 2015 11:00 pm

Published August 7, 2015 in print addition

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