The ‘H-factor’ is a problem common problem among people from Western Nigeria. It cuts across class, as even people who are considered to be among the ‘elites’ sometimes have it. Those who have a tendency to add the ‘H’ sound where it doesn’t belong and take it out where it does, cannot tell when they are making these errors. The only sure indicator is the laughter and the mockery they may get from people. Let’s be honest; it is such a common problem that a lot of people who hear it simply purse their lips so that they can laugh about it later.
So how does a person get rid of the ‘H-factor’, since every problem has a solution? I recently had a mentee who spoke with an H-factor. Yinka is Yoruba, and it was obviously a common speech pattern where she grew up. She would say things like “and” instead of “hand”, and “hax” when she meant to say “ask”. After she had been called out by a particularly vocal broadcaster colleague, Yinka expressed her frustration to me. She made me understand that she couldn’t actually tell when she was messing up the H sound.
I did some research into the problem and I found that there was very little information on this common Nigerian problem, talk less of a solution. I remembered a comment someone once made, to the effect that if Sickle Cell was common among white people then a cure would have been found a long time ago. So I dug deeper and found that this H-factor problem is also common among Spanish people who speak English as a second language. If I was to help Yinka with her problem then perhaps I needed to find out how the Spanish were dealing with the H-factor.
One resource taught Spanish people to speak with a piece of paper held close to their mouths. This simple exercise makes the speaker aware of when they are using the H sound. You see the H sound takes up a considerable amount of air and this causes the paper to move. I asked Yinka to practice at home every day, speaking with the paper held in front of her mouth.
“I would put the piece of paper in front of my mouth and then start making my pronunciations,” says Yinka. “If I pronounce the word “air” and the paper shakes, that means I added the H sound in front of it. But if the paper doesn’t move, that means I pronounced it correctly. I did that for about half an hour every day. I would also read aloud without the paper, practicing what I learnt from the paper exercise.”
For Yinka, being conscious led to being aware. I believe that her determination made all the difference. “I listened to myself more when speaking especially when I started noticing the difference between words with H and those with no H.” Her goal of becoming a respected broadcaster must have helped in motivating her. In less than one month I noticed that her H-factor had miraculously disappeared. She says, “I was very determined because I felt I was going to lose everything.”