Helen had long had a desire to speak. She communicated by fingerspelling, but longed to use her voice as others did. She knew other people communicated by speaking.
As a young girl, Helen "used to make noises, keeping one hand on [her] throat while the other hand felt the movements of [her] lips" (Chapter XIII). Though Helen could not hear, she knew others spoke with their mouths by using her sense of touch. She pressed her fingers against the mouths of family members and close friends to feel their lips moving in speech. She also enjoyed the feeling of a cat purring or a dog barking. After Helen lost her hearing and eyesight, she remembered her word for water. She repeated the word "wa-wa" even though she could not hear.
Helen learned about a deaf and blind girl from Norway who learned to speak. This inspired Helen, and she sought assistance from Miss Sarah Fuller in learning how to speak herself.