Speech pathology is a newly emerging field in the Middle East. According to Baghai-Ravary and Beet (2013), speech disorders among the Arabs have been ignored because of the cultural and language diversity in this region. There are numerous dialects of the Arabic language that is defined by geographic and cultural factors. In the past, a person with speech disorder would be assumed to be affected by a given dialect of the Arabic language. However, recent studies have shown that speech disorder is a reality among the Arabs in the Middle East and North Africa. Just like the speech disorder patients among English speaking people, the Arabs who have speech disorder need therapists who can help in addressing their problems.
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Speech pathology is, therefore, an emerging field in the Middle East as medical and language experts try to find ways of addressing this problem. However, the main problem the speech pathologists in Middle East face is lack of appropriate assessment tools that can be used in diagnosing speech problem. This research will focus on the importance of speech therapists in this region and the existing tools that they can use to address speech problems among the Arabs in the Middle East.
The field of Human Communication Science focuses on the need to enhance effective communication as part of health promotion program. Speech disorders may be caused by psychological problems or underlying health complications such as stroke. According to Melki and Bitar (2013), the disorder is not unique among the English speaking population. Almost all the languages and dialects which are currently in use may register speech disorder. Diagnosis and treatment of this disorder is of critical importance. That is why speech pathology is emerging in this region as a popular concept meant to help the affected individuals.
According to Haynes and Pindzola (2008), a speech therapists working among the Arabs in the Middle East should understand different cultures, language, and dialect of the clients they are dealing with. Most of the Arabs in Middle East and North America speak Arabic language. However, some dialect exists among these people based on their geographic and cultural factors. For instance, the Arabs in East Africa found in countries such as Sudan and Eretria have interacted with people within this region. Their interaction could have led to borrowing some words or developing a dialect that is unique to them. According to Cheng (1997), when a speech therapist fails to understand the existence of the dialects and some of the cultural and linguistic differences, then it is easy to make wrong diagnosis. A therapist will need to understand that speech disorder cannot be diagnosed based on the variation in the dialect. It must be based on the inability of the speaker to bring out clear pronunciation of specific words articulately.
A speech therapist working among the Arabs in the Middle East and North Africa may need a few tips that can help them to address the cultural difference. The first step towards achieving success as a speech therapist in this region is to develop a thorough understanding of the local cultural practices and differences in dialect. This way, the pathologist will be informed about what to expect when dealing with clients from different regions. As Cheng (1997) says, it is common to find a situation where pronunciations of a given word vary among these people. The vowel sound may be prolonged among one group while shortened among the other group. Understanding such tips will enable the therapist to know when distortion of the speech is caused by cultural and linguistic differences or speech disorder (Terrel, Arensberg, & Rosa, 1994).
Currently, the biggest challenge that speech therapists working among the Arabs face is lack of proper tools that can be used to assess speech disorder. Some of the established speech disorder diagnostic tools such as Denver Articulation Exam, Peabody Picture Test, and Early Language Scale may not be applicable when handling Arab-speaking clients. However, there are some fundamental issues that the therapist will need to understand. The first factor is that Arabic speakers have a variety of words to choose from such as Jordanian, Egyptian, Kuwaiti, Yemeni, and Modern Standard Arabic (Khamis-Dakwar & Khattab, 2014). Therapists should appreciate the existence of these dialects and take them into consideration when diagnosing speech disorder. Shaboul (2014) emphasizes on the creation of Arabic phonemic awareness, especially among the medical practitioners to enable them understand the existence of cultural and linguistic diversity in this region.
Speech pathology is an emerging field in the Middle East. It has come at the right time because speech disorder in this region has been ignored for a long time. Speech disorder in the Arab world is just as bad as the same disorder among the English speaking communities around the world. It is important to improve speech pathology services in this region. The pathologists may face a number of problems at the beginning due to lack of clear assessment tools and structures. However, their work can be made simple if they are given adequate support by the locals.
Baghai-Ravary, L., & Beet, S. (2013). Automatic speech signal analysis for clinical diagnosis and assessment of speech disorders. New York: Springer.
Cheng, L. (1997). Diversity: Challenges and Implications for Assessment. Journal of Children’s Communication Development 19(1), 55-62.
Haynes, W., & Pindzola, R. (2008). Diagnosis and evaluation in speech pathology. Boston: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon.
Khamis-Dakwar, R., & Khattab, G. (2014). Cultural and Linguistic Considerations in Language Assessment and Intervention for Levantine Arabic Speaking Children. SIG 14 Perspectives on Communication Disorders and Sciences in Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CLD) Populations 21(3), 78-87.
Melki, A., & Bitar, A. (2013). An Assessment of the Use of the Arabic Language Tools in Knowledge Management. SciVerse Science Direct 73(1), 538-543.
Shaboul, Y. (2014). Arabic Phonemic Awareness (PA): The Need for an Assessment Tool. Asian Social Science 10(1), 200-206.
Terrel, S., Arensberg, K., & Rosa, M. (1994). Parent-Child Comparative Analysis: A Criterion-Referenced Method for the Nondiscriminatory Assessment of a Child Who Spoke Arabic. Language, Speech & Hearing Services in School 23(1), 34-42.