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Speech difficulties and learning online

Gemma Cormican

Gemma Cormican is a Mental Health Adviser & Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist at the University of York

Learning online can feel very different to learning in the classroom and, if you have speech difficulties, you might find it difficult to engage with at first. However, even though you may feel this way, it does not mean you cannot be successful.

You may have a noticeable speech difficulty, or you might hide it so that no-one notices. Either way, you may find your speech difficulty has made it harder to engage in online learning. It can be hard to share your thoughts, ideas, opinions and feelings when there is a barrier in the way.

Some online conversations can be more difficult than others, depending on who is there and how well you know them. You won’t have the reassuring feedback, like eye contact, that you get when talking to others face to face. Because of this some students might feel anxious and avoid these situations.

Please remember, you have the right to express your views, just as much as everyone else. Here are some things you can do to make communicating online easier.

Steps to make learning online work for you

Before the seminar, workshop or tutorial

  1. Set goals: ask yourself what you would like to get out of being there, and set yourself some goals to review afterwards.
  2. Be prepared: it might be useful to do the reading ahead of time and write down a couple of ideas that you would like to share.
  3. Let your tutor know: It can also be very helpful to talk to the tutor ahead of time about how they can help you. For example, they could agree to ask people to raise their hands (there are functions to do this with icons) when they have something to say, or ask that people use the typed comments for questions.

During the seminar, workshop or lecture

  • People will follow your lead – if you don't want to talk about it, they probably won't ask, but it can be very helpful to mention your speech difficulties at the start. Talking about your difficulties gives you a real opportunity to ask for what you need, for example, you can invite people to be patient, and give you the time needed to finish what you are saying.
  • Use ‘speaker view’ instead of ‘grid view,’ this way you will only see the person speaking and not all the people present.
  • It can feel more difficult to speak when we can see ourselves on screen. You might want to consider hiding your video or putting a sticky note over your own image.
  • If it’s hard to get your turn, you could use a gesture to indicate you’d like to speak, or just 'excuse me’.
  • If you're being interrupted when you are struggling to be fluent, ask for more time.
  • It’s OK to say less. It’s the quality of your contribution that counts, not the quantity.
  • We're noticing that the many students are keeping their cameras turned off and are using the chat function to communicate rather than speak, these are also options that you may wish to consider.

Afterwards

  • Follow up: If there was an important point you didn’t manage to make, email your tutor with the information. It’s important to have a voice and be heard in whatever format is possible for you at the time.
  • Reflect on what went well: Finally, try really hard not to focus on everything that didn’t go according to plan. By focussing on and celebrating the things that went well, you can start to build your confidence for the next time.

If your speech difficulties are getting in the way of your studies, or your enjoyment of being a student, you may be eligible for ‘reasonable adjustments.’ It’s important to use the support available at your university or institution, to access the help available.