Innovation Spotlight: Adastra Speech
This is the second article for the new Innovation Spotlight series for the DCD Blog, where we interview some of the newest and most creative companies popping up in the Boston area. If you would like to be featured in our series, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
One of the most important aspects of any business is communication. All day long, humans spend time communicating with each other, whether they’re sharing statistics and numbers for the daily books, chatting at the water cooler, or sharing a presentation at a meeting. Different industries may have different vocabulary, and information may be shared through different means, but in the end, everything comes back to vocal human interaction. And when that communication breaks down due to a difference in speech patterns, trouble rears its ugly head.
Dr. Christi Barb has dedicated herself to breaking down barriers that can cause miscommunication with her business, Adastra speech. She works with foreign English speakers to adjust their intonation and speech patterns to maximize their clarity.
The English language is extremely complex in regards to how people express intent. Think of how many ways there are to say the word “dude,” and how each variation conveys a completely different meaning. This is caused by intonation, which is the way your voice rises and falls as you speak.
Intonation can affect the way your words are interpreted, and some accents are better at conveying meaning to native English speakers than others. Mandarin accents, for example, can sound harsh and abrupt, making it seem to others as if the speaker is angry or annoyed, no matter how positive their inflection may seem to themselves. Learning how to raise and lower your voice as you speak can help speakers match their words to their true meaning, which can help avoid a lot of miscommunication.
Dr. Christi Barb, Speech-Language Pathologist
But accent modification isn’t for people who are still learning English, Dr. Barb says. People who are still learning need to focus on grammar, syntax, and pronunciation, and adding on the mental processes it takes to learn things like intonation and emphasis would becoming overwhelming for people who had not yet become fluent. She says that a lot of her clients feel like they’re building a house on a weak foundation, and they’d like to make that foundation stronger.
The desire to help people build that stronger foundation is what inspired Dr. Barb to start Adastra in the first place. In fact, her business’s name, Adastra, is inspired by the Kansas state motto, “Ad astra per aspera,” which means “to the stars through difficulty.” Her mission is to help people reach their goals through communication, and she believes the motto shows people that they can work through their difficulties to achieve their dreams.
Dr. Barb uses a program called WASP, which was created by the University of London to record, analyze, and display speech patterns. She uses it to show her clients the pitch and rhythm of their words so that they can see how they are speaking and compare it to how they’d like to sound. One of her favorite exercises is to have her clients upload a .wav of file of one of their favorite public speakers to WASP so that they can see the cadence of their speech and how they emphasize their words. This helps them develop communication goals and gives them a clear idea of how they’d like to sound.
This is how Elle Woods’ graduation speech from the movie Legally Blonde looks in WASP. Dr. Barb likes to use this speech with her clients because it has two distinct styles of speaking: one from the professor, and one from Elle.
Once a client has defined their goals, Dr. Barb works with them to develop personalized lesson plans and exercises in order to help them reach those goals. She assigns homework in the form of vocal recordings and personal interactions, as well as written observations about how their interactions are going and the progress they’ve made.
Then her clients are off to practice on their own, working at their own pace through lessons. They can choose between meeting for lessons and evaluations once or twice a week, or even only twice a month. She’s even available nights and weekends, so clients can also choose when and how they meet with Dr. Barb. She offers flexible scheduling for her lessons, and is willing to meet her clients in person (provided it’s within the Boston area, of course!) or hold lessons over Skype. This gives her clients the flexibility to suit their schedules, unlike taking a course from a university or attending a workshop.
While Dr. Barb believes there is no one right way to speak English, being able to communicate effectively is empowering, not just for getting that highly coveted promotion at work, but on an individual level as well. Being comfortable in your ability to communicate can open doors and give you the confidence to try things you might not have otherwise tried.
She makes a point of saying that she is in this to help raise the confidence of brilliant people who want their thoughts to be understood, rather than tell them their cultural accent is somehow wrong. By working with people and talking about how to improve their communication and speaking skills, she can open native English speakers’ eyes to the environment they’re communicating in and who they’re communicating with, giving her clients a chance to fully express their capabilities.
If you are looking to improve your standing and understandability, Dr. Barb and Adastra Speech will work hard to give you the chance to fly to the stars.