New App for a Healthy Voice

New App for a Healthy Voice

A teacher using the App
Professor Edwin Yiu (4th from left, standing) and Voice Research Lab Team members

Anyone who has had to talk for a prolonged period will know the problem of voice fatigue, especially teachers and others whose voices are central to their professional life. A new app developed at HKU aims to help them prevent problems and develop a healthy voice.

The YourVoice app offers advice and exercises for nipping voice problems in the bud, such as a long-term sore throat, dry throat or hoarse throat. Without action, these problems may impact on job effectiveness and quality of life.

Professor Edwin Yiu of the Division of Speech and Hearing Sciences in the Faculty of Education developed the app with his team based on their research and experience in treating people with voice problems. They surveyed teachers between 2007 and 2010, for instance, and found well over half of them had voice problems.

"A healthy voice should require minimal effort to produce maximum output, without straining or running out of breath," Professor Yiu said.

"When you have an unhealthy voice, people might find it difficult to understand you because your voice and speech are not intelligible enough. Studies have also shown that poor voice quality is associated with negative connotations, for instance if it is harsh or the pitch does not match the gender of the person."

Risk factors for developing voice problems include inappropriate vocal habits (such as forceful speech, throat clearing and speaking with too high or low a pitch), inexperience in using the voice for prolonged periods and using a loud voice.

The app provides a voice test, exercises on proper voice usage, advice on posture and muscle relaxation, and a quality-of-life questionnaire related to voice that was developed at HKU. Those with problems or concerns are encouraged to see a speech therapist.

"We see the app as complementary to seeing a speech therapist. It provides some aids that people can do at home or at their own convenience," Professor Yiu said.

The app has had more than 2,400 downloads and been updated twice since its launch in 2011. Recently, an element of traditional Chinese medicine was introduced with users asked to identify their body type. 'Most people with voice problems classified themselves as yin deficient,' he said, although they need to visit a TCM doctor for a proper diagnosis.

The app is part of the Green Voice project which, among other things, provides in-person training to teacher trainees in HKU's BEd programme.