Sounds-based program teaches speaking, reading

Julie Young

Former Ames Lab engineer George E. Holland humbly volunteers his time, in an incredibly vocal way.

Holland, 78, is the creator and teacher of VoiceTown, a program helping hearing-impaired individuals and English as a Second Language students learn proper speaking, reading and writing.

“VoiceTown is a fun place to learn about reading, writing and talking,” Holland said.

Holland gave an interactive VoiceTown presentation Monday at the Ames Public Library, 515 Douglas Ave. All of his work for the VoiceTown program is on a volunteer basis.

“I enjoy this so much because it makes it fun to learn; [VoiceTown] is more than a program, it’s fun for the users,” Holland said.

The VoiceTown program uses a speech analyzer created by Holland, Walter Struve and John Homer, according to Holland’s promotional book, “VoiceTown, A Small Town with a Big Purpose.”

Holland first used the speech analyzer, which reveals the frequencies of vocal sounds through a series of lights, to help a 2-year-old boy with hearing loss.

After this experiment proved successful, Holland expanded VoiceTown participants to include ESL students.

“I would much rather have a class of students [than a single individual] because they can help teach and learn along with each other,” Holland said.

Holland uses a “street-map” of 35 different letters and sounds to help students learn to correctly pronounce the English language.

The streets begin with “O Street,” which encompasses the sounds for “b,” “m,” “oo,” “o,” “aw” and “oh.” When said aloud, each sound on the street incorporates the same mouth region.

“If a student can only make one or two of these sounds, that’s a start, and I can work from there,” Holland said.

For example, in order to teach the word “now” to a student, Holland would use the symbols “n,” “ah” and “oo” together. For the word “cute,” “k” “e,” “oo” and “t.”

“When you write it out [in traditional English,] you have ‘one’ and ‘won’ and then you have 1; there’s no reason a child isn’t going to be confused with that,” Holland said.

Holland also does not incorporate ambiguous letters such as “C,” “Q” and “Y,” because they may lead to increased confusion.

Attendees of the event related personal experiences while speaking through VoiceTown symbols.

“I know a lot of people who have been tutors for English as a Second Language and I thought this event would be interesting,” said Shawn Carbrey, of Ames.