The Linguist

The Linguist 56,6 – December 2017/January 2018

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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DECEMBER 2017/JANUARY 2018 The Linguist 7 FEATURES Thebig idea Q How did you develop the Gemiini system for teaching non-verbal children to speak? A When my twins were diagnosed with autism, my daughter responded to therapy but her brother did not. I looked at the way he interacted with video, with television, and I knew that we had to get what we wanted to teach him onto a two-dimensional screen. When I was learning languages, I had to see the speaker's mouth move, but because of his autism my son has terrible eye contact and he was not looking at the shape of our mouths. So my husband and I created videos where the camera would focus on my mouth and the object I was holding. The first day my son saw those videos he said his first word, and it just blossomed from there. My twins are now 20: my daughter's about to finish her studies in German, and my son is a polyglot. Q When did you decide to turn Gemiini into a global business? A My mentor, Dr Bernard Rimland [founder of the Autism Society of America], kept pushing me to take the system further but I was busy raising a family. Then I got an email from a friend in Paris whose nephew had been diagnosed with autism; they were told to lock him in a closet for 3-4 hours a day! I realised I had to do something. I put a post on social media and within 24 hours I had a ticket to London. I travelled all over the world to teach parents how to create the videos, but it takes tremendous dedication, and most parents did not continue when I left, so I decided to make the videos myself. Q How big is the Gemiini team today? A It changes from month to month, depending on how many actors and scriptwriters we need. Our headquarters are in Washington state and we have an office in southern California, a satellite office in Aman, Jordan, partners in Mexico City and employees all over the world. It's grown organically. We collaborate with people who have expertise in their fields. Q You went to university in France and learnt Spanish as an adult. How helpful have languages been to the business? A It's been absolutely crucial. Gemiini is different from other speech programmes because I have a linguistic background. Now that we are a global business it is very useful. A couple of months ago I spoke in Spanish for 20 minutes in front of the Mexican congress because we're about to launch our Spanish programme there. My Spanish is usually very colloquial so that was rather challenging. Q Gemiini is available in English, French, Chinese and Spanish. How do you decide which accent to use for each language? A In English, Gemiini is in the West Coast American accent. Our initial goal was to have a British English version but every accent has a social implication in the UK and the West Coast accent seemed the most socially neutral. People are a little bit more forgiving in our industry, because if your child is not Laura Kasbar on turning the speech and language system she created for her autistic twins into a global business speaking you don't care what accent they have, you just want them to talk. With Arabic there are many different dialects, so it's challenging to find the one that has the broadest appeal. We're about to trial our Spanish programme in Chiapas, Mexico. We tried to stay away from a heavy Mexican accent, but there's a region near Mexico City that has a more European accent. Q How do you select actors for the videos? A We try to find someone who has big lips, because we are focusing on the mouth, has facial expression when they are speaking, and is as racially 'neutral' as possible. For child actors we rely on our language experts to tell us how clearly they speak. Sometimes we have a linguistic professional when we're filming in a foreign language, so they can tell us if we need to reshoot something. Q What are your aims for the future? A We plan to expand our French and Chinese programmes and then add Brazilian Portuguese and Russian. Autistic children need 25-40 hours of therapy a week but the majority are getting an hour or less. Gemiini is best delivered through schools, and should be covered by insurance. So that's our aim.

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