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Petar Guberina and his Verbotonal method described by Dr. Carl Asp in Zagreb
By Darko Žubrinić | Published  11/23/2014 | People , Education , Science | Unrated
Petar Guberina is the founder of the SUVAG network of institutions operating in 70 countries

Professor Petar Guberina (on the right), the father of the verbotonal method, founder of the SUVAG center in Zagreb.
On the left, professor John Black.

Summary. So, what is Verbotonal? It‘s an auditory-based strategy that maximizes the listening skills of children and adults with hearing impairment and possibly other communications disorders, while simultaneously developing intelligible spoken language through binaural listening.  Originally developed by Professor Petar Guberina of Zagreb University for teaching normal hearing people to speak before reading a foreign language, it has been more popularly used in Europe.  However, Dr. Carl W. Asp, Professor Emeritus of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) has developed both academic and research programs for its applications through the acquisition of a Federal grant since 1967.


SUVAG = Systeme Universel Verbotonal d'Audition Guberina


Doctorate University of Paris (1939)
Honorary Head Department of Romance Language Studies
Tenured professor of French and Phonetics, University of Zagreb
Member of the Academy of Arts and Science of Croatia
Scientific Advisor SUVAG Centre of Zagreb

Born on 22 May 1913 in Sibinek, Dalmatia, and died on 22 January 2005 in Zagreb, Croatia.
Professor Petar GUBERINA completed his classic secondary studies at Sibinek high school.

He graduated from the University of Zagreb with a degree in French and Latin (1935), then continued his studies at the Sorbonne in France, where he earned his doctorate in 1939.

His thesis, prepared under the supervision of Professor P. Fouche, and in particular Professor Marouzeau, was entitled " Logic and stylistic values in complex propositions ". This work paved the way for genuine linguistic analysis of the speech, with particular emphasis at the outset on the importance of rhythm, intonation and gestures as optimal factors in the structuring, and consequently the acquisition, of languages. The work provided him contact, which proved to be significant, with the Geneva School (F. de Saussure – Piaget).

He was a Professor at the College of Arts and Literature at the University of Zagreb from 1951 to 1983. He then began as Professor of French and Head of the Romance Languages Department (1951 – 1965). In 1954 he founded the Phonetics Institute and in 1965, the Phonetics Department of which he became the Head at the time of his retirement in 1983, and where he devoted his time to research.

Professor Petar Guberina’s research on " the Linguistics of the Speech " revolutionised the learning of modern languages and resulted in the Global-Structural Audiovisual Method (SGAV) developed with P. Rivenc of CREDIF.

From then on, he was presented to scientists of worldwide acclaim in the area of Biomedical and Social Sciences. The Verbo-tonal method was developed on every continent in the world. A substantial number of establishments around the globe (several hundred in all) apply the verbo-tonal principles and procedures and use specific electro-acoustical equipment in the area of therapy and training for persons with impaired hearing, children with altered speech and in the treatment of speech disorders.

The basic principles of the verbo-tonal system can be found as components in all modern foreign language teaching methods, and are generally acknowledged starting points applied by manufacturers of electro-acoustic equipment for use in audiological diagnosis and hearing aids.

The bibliography of the verbo-tonal system contains over 1,000 titles published in 10 languages.

Professor Guberina has been a member of the Croatian Academy of Arts and Science since 1963. He was Director of SUVAG Policlinic (formerly the SUVAG Centre) founded by the Croatian government in 1961. Today, he is a Scientific Advisor for the Centre.

Since 1982, the SUVAG Centre has been a world core of development and training for the Verbo-tonal system. The Centre has conducted research and scientific investigation into several international research projects, in particular four American government-funded projects, the most important of which (1961) was entitled " Restricted Bands of Frequencies in Auditory Rehabilitation of the Deaf ", and other more recent work in 1991.

As experts and researchers, the Centre took part (in 1989) in a European Union project called " COST 219 " targeting improvement in the operation of a telephone designed for the hearing impaired.

In 1992, as part of the TEMPUS programme, a project was accepted in the area of verbo-tonal education (Hearing and Speech Pathology ; foreign language teaching) and the organisation of international post-graduate university studies (Masters). The programme included collaboration with the Zagreb School of Medicine and universities from four European countries : Belgium, France, Italy and Spain.

Professor Guberina was also a scientific investigator for several years for UNICEF, UNESCO and the UN as part of their activities in the World Health Organisation.

In France, he was awarded the Legion of Honour :
- Knighthood in 1968.
- the Officer’s Cross in 1989, which he was awarded in main quadrangle of the Sorbonne in Paris.


Verbotonal Speech Treatement, a monograph by Dr. Carl W. Asp,
 dealing with the method due to Dr. Petar Guberina.

History of the Verbotonal System

"The Deaf Learn to Speak" by Harry Smith (Columbus Dispatch Magazine, 26 September 1965, pp. 6-8)

While one of the children waits outside the closed door, the other sits on a yellow desk chair inside, his small hand clamped over a black metal object near his ear. The object is secured by a white elastic band around his head and wired to a gray dial-studded grey metal box sprouting a network of wires. Towering above the little fellow is a huge man wearing dark horn-rimmed glasses. He covers his mouth with a sheaf of papers and says into a silver microphone, "Shotgun." Then he places the mike in front of the little guy. "Shotgun!" is the reply. Smiling the boy then picks a "Shotgun"-labeled card from the several he is holding and places it on the arm of the chair.

This procedure is continued for many minutes with different words. Sometimes the little fellow tries several words before getting the right one, never complaining— just fidgeting , moving arms and legs from restlessness, heat, and the terrific effort of concentration. Finally he leaves and the little blue-eyed boy with the crew-cut brown hair who was waiting outside the door takes his place.

This is a hearing and speech therapy room at Ohio State University's Derby Hall. Eleven-year-old Kenny Joyce and 10-year-old Tommy Bachtel were students at Columbus' Kenwood Public School during the last school term. Before that, they attended public school for the deaf. They show phenomenal determination and ability to concentrate, for children. But these are vital lessons for boys who are almost totally deaf and wear hearing aids most of the time.

Carl Asp, a patient, dedicated research assistant works with several others under the direction of OSU's Dr. Courtney Stromsta and Dr. John W. Black on a five-year, $75,000 U.S. government-financed hearing-speech research project. Asp says, "We're working on 10 Congenitally deaf children between 4 1/5 and 13 years of age (the congenitally deaf lost their hearing before they developed language and speech). We also have seven subjects with adventitious deafness, in the age range of 8 to about 60 years (these people developed language and then became deaf). Tommy and Kenny are on the borderline between congenital and adventitious deafness." When the boys started in therapy last December, Asp says, they could not hear a word you said if you talked in a normal tone six or seven inches away from their ears. With his mouth some seven inches away from Tommy's ear Asp says in a conversational tone, "Baseball." Tommy repeats the word. The demonstration is successfully repeated with Kenny. Before Asp's word repetition therapy, two attractive brunettes, Sally Ann Plummer and Mrs. Patricia Kramer, trained the boys in rhythm and song identification. Mrs. Kramer played piano while the boys beat time to the music with their hands on a brown table top.

Dr. Courtney Stromsta, associate professor of the department of speech, says, "This (project) is a research grant given to us by the Vocational Rehabilitation Agency (VRA) in Washington. Both Dr. John W. Black, professor of speech, and I are involved in running it." "The VRA gave us this research grant," Dr. Stromsta continues, "so we could define and evaluate the verbo-tonal system devised by an European professor. Dr. Petar Guberina. He thinks we do not use the residual hearing of the hard-of hearing and the deaf as well as it can be used. In the United States, we think we can put a hearing aid on these acoustically handicapped people and if we can make it loud enough -- a pathological ear will respond somewhat similarly to a non-pathological ear. In certain cases this holds true, mainly if the person's hearing problem is the kind that can be helped by middle ear surgery. But they do not do such a good job for someone who has a hearing loss that cannot be helped by surgery." Our commercial hearing-aids are built around specifications of the telephone system developed for normal ears in frequencies from 300 to 3000 cycles per second. But according to Dr. Stromsta it is a different problem with the congenitally deaf."Most of these people have their residual of hearing beneath 300 cycles per second," Or. Stromsta explains. "One of Guberina's ideas is to use equipment that will present signals into this lower frequency residuum of hearing. Guberina advocates using only that part of the pathological ear that is working somewhat similarly to the normal ear, so that through the use of electronic filters he minimizes, at least at the beginning of therapy, those frequencies that are to be correlated with the pathological portion, allowing less auditory distortion and providing better clues that can be associated with speech movements, spoken Sounds and words. As the subject progresses, Guberina would attempt to use more of the frequency range, conditioning the subject to accept more realistic sound. His main idea, then. is to use all the residuum of hearing -- as compared 10 what others in the United States are doing conventionally."

According to Dr. Stromsta, Dr. Guberina has his own system of testing the sensitivity of the ear -- so that he knows where to begin working with a person. This is called verba-tonal audiometry. "To use an analogy," said Dr. Stromsta, "the way we test hearing would be as if we would strike one key on the piano and see how hard we have to hit the key before the person says he hears it. Guberina uses simple speech sounds, and passes them through a narrow frequency band filter, so that he is really using verbal materials, but presenting it at a somewhat tonal fashion."

Much time has been spent getting information about special equipment and building it. Dr. Guberina was at OSU for a while last year to approve their equipment and to show them how to use it. Asp says, "Our main problems are insufficient space and lack of an ideal therapy situation, but we do have the best possible equipment." Some of their most important equipment looks like grey metal boxes with knobs and wires-SUVA {System Universal Verbo-Tonal Audition} 1 and SUVA 2. SUVA 1 is a linear amplifier which amplifies all frequencies equally with a range of 1 to 50,000 cycles per second. SUVA 2 "enables us to shape the speech signal," says Asp. "We can cut out certain frequency areas and shape the signal to the sensitivity of the ear."

How much progress will Kenny and Tommy and their fellow subjects make toward living normal lives? Dr. Stromsta and Mr. Asp say their results are not sensational. The OSU researchers have started their third year of the Guberina-type hearing— shouts Tommy; "You bet' explodes Kenny, speech therapy. Asp, who is studying for a Ph.D., says that it is "a new technique, hopefully showing better results," but that they won't know for several years if it is better than any other technique. "We're making progress," Asp admits, "but we don't want to say how much."

Kenny Joyce and Tommy Bachtel enrolled in therapy December 5, 1964. Asp says, "I think we've improved their hearing considerably, and improved their speech also." The clinicians know how to get the most out of their subjects, As Asp explains: "We try to make them successful. It encourages them and they try harder and do better."He moves within six or seven inches of Tommy's right ear and says,"Tommy, I'm going to say baseball, basketball, then football."

Asp repeats the three words and Tommy says them correctly. "Very good!" is Asp's response, and Tommy flashes a proud smile.

A small portion of the reason for Asp's popularity with the boys and their strong motivation is revealed in this parting conversation after the hot therapy session: "Are we going to play baseball Saturday?" Asp inquires. The sun-kissed faces of Tommy and Kenny glow with joyous grins. "Yeah!"


The above monograph, published in Zagreb in 2013, has been edited by Professor Claude Roberge,
of the University of Sophia, Tokyo, Japan.

The above monograph, published in 2003 in Croatia's capital Zagreb, but in French,
is a collection of published works of Petar Guberina in the span of 45 years.
The book has been edited by Professor Claude Roberge, of the University of Sophia, Tokyo. Japan.
The monograph has been translated into Japanese in 2012.

Japanese edition of the monograph Retrospection dealing with Guberina's verbotonal method, published in 2012.
Its translation into Japanese has been initiated by Professor Claude Roberge (Tokyo),
another distinguished expert for Guberina's verbotonal method, who introduced it to Japan already in 1960s.

Professor Claude Roberge, Sophia University, Tokyo.

Petar GUBERINA and Carl W. ASP (1981)

    … ] The Verbo-tonal method of rehabilitation for people who have severe communication problems was developed in the 1950s by Professor Petar GUBERINA, a linguist who was particularly interested in speech perception.

    Underlying the method is the conviction that language evolved from spoken language and that speech (which is used interchangeably with spoken language) is a social event. We speak (i.e., we use spoken language) when we want to express something or when we react to an event. In this sense, the " meaning " of speech is transmitted not only by linguistic elements but also by the auditory and visual information present in the rhythm, the intonation, the loudness, the tempo, the pauses, the tension, and the gestures of the speaker. Thus the individual speaker is both a producer and a perceiver of speech. Most important, the auditory and visual information in his production reflects how he perceives speech. If his perception changes, his speech will also change. If we have corrected his speech, we have corrected his perception.

    The verbo-tonal procedures follow the pattern of language development observed in babies who have normal hearing. Before a baby learns to speak, he cries, babbles, and coos – he produces sound. His whole body participates in producing and receiving sounds. This vocal activity is not a response to his sense of hearing ; rather, it is a response to his proprioceptive sense.

    As the baby matures, his vocal play becomes more sophisticated. During this time, rhythm and intonation patterns and rhythmic motor activities, as well as his vestibular, tactile and proprioceptive senses, contribute to his speech / language development. By the time he utters his first meaningful word at 9 to 12 months of age, he has already learned how to manipulate rhythm and intonation to assign different meanings to the word. For example, when he says " mama " he may mean " mama, come here " or " mama, I’m getting impatient if you don’t hurry with my food, I’m going to scream ". And Mama learns quickly to understand these patterns.

    Rhythm and intonation transmit meaning not only in infant speech but in adult spoken language as well. If we say " Mary came home yesterday ", and emphasize the first word, no more words are needed to convey the meaning that Mary came, as opposed to anyone else. If we emphasize the last word, we mean that she came yesterday and not on another day.

    As early as 1938 GUBERINA stressed the importance of rhythm and intonation in producing and perceiving speech ; moreover, as a result of his research and experience, he proposed that the low frequencies transmit the rhythm and intonation patterns of language. In the early 1950s he began to apply these two principles to the habilitation of deaf children who have hearing only in the low frequencies (GUBERINA 1954). He reasoned that the brain would function best if it were to receive the auditory stimuli for which the ear is most sensitive ; moreover, it would be enriched (in Piaget’s terms) by these optimal stimuli ; and with time and training, it would be prepared to respond to more difficult tasks, i.e., less favorable stimuli.

    It wasn’t until the late 1950s and early 60s that other researchers began to use low-frequency amplification with deaf children. Henk, Huizing and Taselaar (1958) concluded that the main contribution to intelligibility is given by that part of the " tone scale " where the hearing is most sensitive. Later they said : " These results correspond closely to the experiments of GUBERINA " (Huizing & Taselaar 1959).

    In North America, Daniel Ling (1693, 64, 65) was one of the early advocates of using the child’s residual hearing in the low frequencies. After he visited the Center for the Verbo-Tonal Method in Marseilles in 1960, he reported that deaf children had excellent speech because the Verbo-Tonal instruments transmitted the low frequencies without distortion.

    As a result of Ling’s research, Zenith developed the first commercial hearing aid that had an extended low-frequency response. Since that time many other manufacturers have developed similar hearing aids. Despite the wide availability of low-frequency and/or " high gain " hearing aids, the goal of intelligible rhythmical, spoken language for most deaf children has not been realized.

    Amplification alone will not guarantee good speech. Amplification must be accompanied by " appropriate auditory training " (Rosenthal, Lang & Levitt 1975). During Verbo-Tonal training, deaf children are taught to speak and to perceive speech simultaneously. The speech stimulation procedures follow the developmental patterns which have been observed in normal-hearing children. The hearing-impaired children receive speech through vibrators that stimulate their vestibular, tactile and proprioceptive senses and through headphones. The children learn to produce normal rhythm and intonation patterns (suprasegmentals) and normal voice quality by imitating bodily movements and rhythmic patterns. They learn to develop meaningful speech by participating in simulated communication situations.

    Our goals are to help them develop good communication skills and to integrate them into a normal educational system. Thus the Verbo-Tonal method stresses the importance of simultaneously developing all the senses ; it does not advocate isolating any sense, exaggerating any stimuli, or substituting an alternative linguistic code. In short, it is not a " Total Communication " approach to rehabilitating hearing impaired individuals ; if it is anything, it is a " unified sensory " approach which emphasizes the importance of spoken language.

    Although we receive information from the low frequencies, we must also discriminate speech sound. Normal listeners can discriminate low-pitched words and sounds through a low-frequency band, but they do not comprehend high-pitched words. They can comprehend high-pitched phonemes (e.g./i/), however, if we pass one low-frequency band (0,5 Hz to 300, 600 or 1000 Hz) and one high band (3200 to 6400 Hz). The intensity level for the low band can be at the person’s threshold level or slightly above (0 to 20 dB S.L.), while the high band need be only near the person’s threshold level. This GUBERINA calls " discontinuous hearing ".

    Others researchers have confirmed that we can perceive speech through discontinuous frequency bands. Palva’s results (1965) show that listeners comprehend 18 % of the words when speech is passed through 480-660 Hz ; they comprehend 25 % when it is passed through 1800-2400 Hz ; but when sound is passed through both bands simultaneously, they comprehend 70 % of the words. For other results see Matzker (1956), Linden (1964), Ticinovic & Sonic (1971).

    When Rosenthal, Lang and Levitt (1975) discussed the importance of low frequencies for hearing-impaired individuals, they also mentioned that the addition of one band of high frequencies improves comprehension significantly. Barbara Franklin’s results (1969, 1973, 1975, 1979) confirmed that both normal and hearing-impaired listeners comprehend speech better through discontinuous transmission than through a broad frequency band. Furthermore, the previous studies support our own investigations and observations that speech discrimination percentages are greater during discontinuous transmission than the sum of the percentages for the individual bands.

    Thus far we have discussed the significance of speech production, of the low frequencies, and of discontinuous frequency-band transmission in speech perception. The hearing-impaired individual has yet another perceptual process which helps him discriminate and acquire speech. When he is given the opportunity to practice listening through his most perceptive frequency bands (his optimal field of hearing), he perceptually discovers in the speech signal the clues he needs to distinguish one sound from another. In other words, when he receives speech through his optimal field of hearing, he can learn to discriminate all speech sounds even though some acoustic information is diminished.

    The central nervous system receives information from all the senses. It is responsible for organizing this information by eliminating those stimuli which create cybernetic noise (von Bekesy’s sensory inhibition 1967) and by selecting those stimuli which are optimal for it to function. According to Verbo-Tonal theory, sensory information is subordinate to the function of language. The brain can be taught to structure the information through functional rehabilitation.

    For hearing-impaired children and adults, the goal of Verbo-Tonal therapy is to help them develop good oral communication skills which allow them to freely interact with noraml-hearing people. Young hearing-impaired children should be integrated into regular classrooms as soon as possible. In this chapter, we will attempt to assess how Verbo-Tonal Centers inNorth America and in Europe achieve this goal by reviewing the evaluations of their patients’ communication skills and integration rates.

    The University of Tennessee Verbo-Tonal program provides regular training for young hearing-impaired children. Evaluators of this program have reported that the children showed significant improvement in oral communication skills as a function of therapy (Asp 1969, Bradbury 1970, Asp French & Lawson 1970, Asp 1973a, Asp, Archer & Kline 1979, Asp 1981). Pre-school children who had the most therapy talked more frequently with normal-hearing pre-schoolers than those who had less V-T therapy (Shirley 1972).

    When the Verbo-Tonal program was compared to other programs, our children had better listening and speaking skills than those who were enrolled in a comparable oral day program (Woodfin 1971, Woodfin & Asp 1971) and they had better articulation and oral reading skills than children who were in a signed English (Total Communication) program at a residential school for the deaf (Duncan 1976).

    Between 1972 and 1978, 53 % of the hearing-impaired children at the University (average los 90 dB in the better ear) were integrated into publis school classrooms (Asp, Archer & Klin 1979). For the years 1976 to 1978, the percentages were 60, 62 and 71 % respectively. More of thesehildren could have been integrated if they could have continued in therapy beyond six years of age ‘Asp, Archer & Kline 1979).

    If the frequency response for the auditory training and the hearing aid is carefully chosen, the rehabilitation time for adults and children who developed hearing losses after they had developed language will be shorter than for young congenitally deaf children (Asp & Berry 1975c). To ensure that the test scores agree with the patient’s personal evaluation of his " handicap ", it is necessary to include a noise and reverberation background with the speech stimulus (Mason 1977). When tested appropriately, most patients show a 20 % improvement in discrimination within 3 months of regular training (Asp & Berry 1975c). Some patients improve their speech reception thresholds even though pure-tone thresholds remain the same (Vertes et al. 1972). Generally, Verbo-Tonal training helps the patients adjust to amplification and it improves their communication ability in everyday listening situations.

    The New York League for the Hard-of-Hearing provides aural rehabilitation for hearing-impaired adults and some children. Santore reported that the Verbo-Tonal method satisfied the diagnostic and therapeutic needs of the hearing-impaired population better than other auditory training programs previously used at the League. The procedures identified auditory functions that are not ordinarily diagnosed with standard audiometric procedures. Therefore, the therapy was particularly beneficial for people who did not function well in daily situations even though thay had good speech discrimination scores or for people who were not able to adjust to amplification. In a five-year study of 80 adults, 71 % of the patients had a significant improvement in auditory perception (Santore 1978b).

    Eisenberg & Santore (1976) presented a case study of a 12-year-old child who had a congenital, profound bilateral sesori-neural hearing loss. Despite substancial auditory training, he was unable to comprehend any speech material through his binaural amplification or through the audiometer prior to Verbo-Tonal therapy. Following two and one-half years of V-T therapy, he was able to use his residual hearing to perceive speech. His aided speech discrimination scores improved from 0 % (prior to therapy) to 56 %. The authors suggested that this method should be tried with other children who have not benefitted from standard procedures.

    The Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf, a residential school, has adopted the Verbo-Tonal Method for all grades. All of the children, from those in the nursery school to those in the upper school, improved in receptive and expressive communication skills. The professionals have developed and interesting integration program inwhich the deaf children andnormal-hearing children are brought together either in the regular public school classroom or at the residential school. Generally, the results have been positive ; however, the investigators have cautioned that such a program must be carefully organized and frequently reviewed if it is to be successful (Craig, Douglas & Burke 1979).

    Over the years a number of other programs in North America have reported results. Investigators who evaluated the program at the Alexander Graham Bell School for the Deaf in Colombus, Ohio, reported that the method had advantages that traditional systems lacked (Black 1971). The children improved their speech intelligibility and their rhythm and intonation patterns (Card, Jones, Prillerman 1972). The Metropolitan School for the Deaf in Toronto, Ontario, reported that the deaf children in all the Vervo-Tonal classes progressed at least as much as the children in the regular program, and in some cases their progress was exceptional (Roberts 1969).

    Through two independant fellowships from the World Rehabilitation Fund, Santore (1980) and Asp (1981) were able to observe and evaluate major Verbo-Tonal Centers in Europe where the method is used in different languages and cultures. In the following review, we will combine information from the fellowship reports with results of studies which were completed at the various centers.

    The SUVAG Center in Zagreb, Croatia, has grown over the past 25 years, and currently is the most comprehensive Verbo-Tonal Center in the world. It provides services for people who have many kinds of communication problems. In an early study sponsored by the United States Government, the SUVAG Center evaluated the progress of 100 hearing-impaired children over a five-year period (GUBERINA et al. 1972). The results showed that 44 % of the children were integrated into regular public school classrooms, where they performed at the appropriate gradelevel. (The number increased after the rporting period, December 1966, because some of the children were still in training at that time). Thirty percent of the children improved significantly in speech discrimination ; 97 % improved when speech was presented through their optimal field of hearing ; 92 ů improved in their ability to understand speech in a free field presentation ; and 23 % achieve 100 % intelligibility through a hearing aid at a distance of ten feet. More recent statistics showed that 75 to 90 % of the haring-impaired children from this center are integrated (Asp 1981).

    Santore (1980) reported that the Zagreb pre-school children who had moderate-to-severe hearing losses had unifomly excellent speech, language, auditory skills, voice qualities, rhythm and intonation paterns. She attributed this result to the fact that they used body movement activities and musical rhythm exercises to develop the auditory system for speech and language acquisition. The children who had profound hearing losses had good voice quality, rhythm and speech patterns, and they were able to communicate orally. In general, she was impressed with the speech intelligibility and the spontaneous language skills of these children. Most deaf children can develop good oral communication skills and they can enter a " hearing society " …[

    Monograph sponsored by the " WORLD REHABILITATION FUND INC. USA " International Exchange of information in rehabilitation 1981.


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