February 1, 2018

Speech Entrainment: A Promising Approach for Aphasia


by Richelle Weese, M.S. CCC-SLP, University of Central Arkansas, Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders


Conversational partners naturally adapt their verbal and nonverbal communicative actions to mimic, or more closely resemble each other. This is called speech, or rhythmic, entrainment (Borrie & Liss, 2014).  Speech entrainment (SE) is important for understanding normal speech production, but can also be used as a rehabilitative technique for those individuals who need help with their communicative functions.  Speech Entrainment (SE), is a therapeutic technique being utilized to improve communication with patients suffering from aphasia and is showing promise in other neurologic conditions.

The premise of SE is an audiovisual speech model, in which patients are exposed to audio-visual speech stimuli and instructed to mimic the stimuli, enabling them to produce fluent speech in real time (Fridriksson, J., Hubbard, H. I., Hudspeth, S. G., Holland, A. L., Bonilha, L., Fromm, D., & Rorden, C., 2012).  Entrainment is evident in various aspects of speech, including speaking rate, utterance durations, pitch properties, voice intensity, voice quality, and dialectal features (Borrie & Liss, 2014).

With entrainment being a natural feature of human communication, the question is being raised regarding the likelihood that SE would be successful if used as a therapeutic tool in other neurologic communicative disorders. UCA Speech-Language Hearing Center is conducting a study in SE.  Currently four clients have undergone therapy sessions utilizing SE.  Although results are in the early stages of analyzation for specifics, preliminary findings are promising.  Two patients with both expressive aphasia and verbal apraxia have increased their overall phrase length, reduced “robotic” prosody features, and improved articulatory precision.  Two clients completed SE that focused on improving cognitive-linguistic skills for memory, targeting recall of family and friend names, with one client showing an improved ability to now recall all five children, their spouses, and grandchildren names.

The applications for SE are encouraging. Socializing and independence are deeply rooted in successful communication.  We are seeing some of those results in our participants as they engage in group activities with other participants, play games with their grandchildren, or independently order a meal at a restaurant.  SE tasks have been personally chosen to target goals chosen by each participant.  Speech entrainment, regardless of the precipitating event leading to the communication issue, is a promising tool that is leading to communication effectiveness and improved quality of life.


Borrie, S.A., Liss, J.M. (2014). Rhythm as a Coordinating Device: Entrainment With Disordered Speech Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, June 2014, Vol. 57, 815-824. doi:10.1044/2014_JSLHR-S-13-0149

Fridriksson, J., Hubbard, H.I., Hudspeth, S.G., Holland, A.L., Bonilha, L., Fromm, D., & Rorden, C. (2012). Speech entrainment enables patients with Broca’s aphasia to produce fluent speech. Brain, 135 (12), 3815-2829.