What is your English language dance?

Designing and delivering effective Accent Softening to people from all around the world is a major part of my professional life.  My clients often speak several languages, including have a good grasp of the English language. They are able to understand complex ideas in English, and work in a British company, using English every day.

Despite this, many of them come to me expressing that they struggle to be understood, that they do not feel confident expressing their own ideas in English, and that they find the language difficult to speak.  How can this be when they can speak the language?

marbels-in-mouth

Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, attempting unsuccessfully to speak English with marbles in her mouth

It often feels to me like my clients are trying to speak with marbles in their mouth.  That their mother tongue is blocking their English tongue.

Learning to speak any new language is not just about getting the vocabulary and grammar right.  You also need to be able to pronounce the sounds, express the rhythm and find the melody. There are many accents of English, and they are all valid. The goal is clarity and ease.

dancing2Speaking is a physical act.  Much like dancing, It requires that you move muscles in a particular way with accuracy and speed.

If you imagine that each language, or even each accent, is its own dance then can you see how you will need new steps and even to use slightly different muscles to achieve the new moves.

Moving from one speaking ‘style’ to another is known as code-switching.  It happens when we move between languages, and it also needs to happen when we move between accents.

Successful code-switching is the art of moving from speaking English with your mother-tongue accent to speaking English with your English accent.

It is important to note that you do not need to speak English with an English accent to be a successful communicator. You just need to able to code-switch enough and with ease so that your mother tongue dance is not blocking your English tongue dance.

This would be like Fred Astaire learning to dance Hip Hop!! He could, but he’d have to learn how, and practice lots.

So how can you learn to code-switch?

There are three main things needed for this process to succeed.

  1. The environment
    Surround yourself with an English speaking environment whenever possible.  This can be at work, at home or through technology such as TV, radio or audio books.  Emersion is the key. Even when speaking to people from your own country, try and both converse in English.
  2. Curiosity
    Become curious about English. Notice how different people (especially native speakers) pronounce things.  Watch films and look at the shape of the mouth.  Listen to conversations or radio and mimic the melody and shapes as best as you can. Notice what is different about the way you speak now and English spoken around you. How does it feel different in your mouth?  How does it sound different to your ear? Play with it and mimmic it as often as you can, noticing the details.
  3. Repetition and focus
    The way you speak now is your current speaking habit.  In order to create any new habit all you need to do is repeat a new action regularly enough until you don’t have to think about it any more. Do focused and and detailed practice.  Practicing particular consonants or vowels you find difficult on their own, then putting them into words and phrases. Helping your mouth learn the new steps so you can speak them at speaking speed with accuracy.  Read something out loud, record it and listen back. Notice which sounds you find difficult and practice them.

    You only need to do a little bit each day, but do it in a focused way.

Useful resources

What is your English dance?

The Body Speaks

Politicians and public figures know all too well the power of body language and gesture. Often trained in the language of the body, but not always successful in the delivery. I wrote an blog during the recent UK election priod looking at the leading parties communication styles.

 

The UK's political leaders pre election 2015

The UK’s political leaders pre election 2015

These are people whose professional lives are governed by public speaking. It is therefore essential that they speak not only the language of the mind, but also the language of the body.

 

 

In the blog I wrote for City Academy I analyse each leaders individual speaking style, and then give a breakdown on what sort of body language works and how to integrate it into your own communication.

To find out more read the Blog on the City Academy webite here

Changing Your Communication Habits

I have been reading a lot about the neuroscience of changing habits. It is an utterly fascinating topic and at the heart of all my teaching.

habit (1)

 

Something old

Something new

Change a habit

And you change you

 

 

When I am working with clients on their communication skills the main thing we are doing is swapping current communication habits, which are not effective, for more effective ones. As human we need to function by habit otherwise our brain gets overwhelmed.

The key to habit changing is motivation coupled with repetition, repetition, repetition!

To find out more read the Blog I recently did for City Academy here

Vocal creak. Why is it ‘bad’?

So.  There is a vocal phenomenon going on that is garnering a lot of negative press. It is known as ‘vocal creak’, ‘vocal fry’ or ‘creaky phonation’.  It is most often heard at the end of people’s phrases when they are speaking, and predominantly in young women. A major example of this style of speaking is Kim Kardashian and her sisters.

kim

Example of vocal creak:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02rcmb6

It has a few major disadvantages, mainly on how you are perceived by others. When we speak, the listener subconsciously forms a range of judgements about us. This is instantaneous and has a big impact on how they receive our words, therefore our ideas.

If you have a habit of trailing off when you speak into ‘vocal creak’, the danger is that it can be perceived as any of the following;

You don’t really care about what you are saying
You have little or no authority
You have little or no integrity
Your ideas are not important
You don’t value the listener and their time
You are not mature (as it is associated with young women, especially teenagers)

So, you can see how that may have a negative impact on your professional life, especially as a woman.

The good news is that you already know how to speak without vocal creak, as most of your speech will be without creak.  All you have to do is keep the vocal energy going till the end of your phrase.

EXERCISE:  Try recording yourself free-speaking on a subject such as what you did last weekend, and listen back. Notice if you vocal creak at the end.  Now try a few of the same phrases again but this time aiming for the last word. By that I mean, make the last word stand out a little bit.  It is partly a psychological commitment of being present with your speech while speaking. Experiment with it. and you will be able to reduce or even remove vocal creak from your speech.

Women in Business

I was invited to speak at a wonderful event recently called Show Up; Sparkle & Be Heard run by the charismatic Kay White.  Kay and I met at a day of training I was running on Voice for Business.  She invited me to speak at here 3-day event for Women in the corporate world.  The governing ethos at the heart of the event is to be true to yourself.  That you are your most powerful, most memorable and most effective when you are in your true self. This ethos is so in keeping with my own coaching ethos that I accepted the invite with delight.

Working With Voice

Working With Voice speaking at the Show Up; Sparkle & Be Heard Live event. March 2015

I gave a practical talk on the value and power of breathing when using your voice. On how freeing the breath gives your voice more vocal power and grounds you.

The women in the audience are ambitious career women, often working in sustained stressful, and often predominantly male environments.

Through the brief talk I shared with them some simple yet effective breathing techniques and linked it to using their voices and feeling strong.  Many women approached me afterwards to tell me that they found the exercise really powerful, reporting that they really did feel different afterwards.  For some there was genuine release! For some it was as though they were breathing again for the first time in a long time.

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Participant doing a breathing and centring exercise

The work I do is holistic in nature, and its objective is to allow the real you to flourish with courage and ease.

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No more pretending. No more holding your breath. No more feeling small and intimidated.  Through body, breath and voice work lies the path to the Real You! 

Let your voice be heard! 

Surviving Actors: Our first trade show!

Well, Working With Voice has now done her first trade show!

Our stand at Surviving Actors

Our stand looked great with our new banner and flyers.  Thanks to Robin Grey for all his hard work on the design and to First Edition printers.

It was a great day full of conversations and demonstrations. There were all sorts of stalls ranging from casting agencies to temp-teaching agencies, photographers to accountants for the arts.

Surviving Actors know how to put on a well rounded event and the venue was gorgeous!

 

Voice Workshop at Surviving Actors

Voice Workshop at Surviving Actors

Working With Voice ran a fun and dynamic voice workshop for many of the actors present.  Warming up the voice both in range, resonance and volume.

Voice Workshop at Surviving Actors

Voice Workshop at Surviving Actors

 

 

 

Actors have a hard job, and the voice is at the heart of their work. It’s therefore essential to keep those vocal cords limber lubricated ready for character and the stage.

Find out more vocal warmup tips by following us on Twitter or joining our Facebook group.

Exhibiting at Surviving Actors

Exciting news.  Working With Voice is attending its first trade-show.  We will have a dedicated stand at the Surviving Actors event in London on the 7th Feb 2015.

Dolly May will be there to greet you at the stand and answer all your question about Working With Voice and vocal training.

Find out more about this wonderful free event here

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We are also delighted to announce that we are running a 45 min Vocal Warmup Toolkit workshop at the event at 4.45pm on that day

Book onto the workshop it here

Quote


“Whatever other speech you grow into….your dialect stays alive in a sort of inner freedom, a separate little self.”
Ted Hughes, Poet, cited in Corcoran 1993:114

Accent Tip #2


Connect your words together when speaking, as though like train carriages.  This helps the listener to hear your ideas rather than your words.

Imagine that each sentence is almost like one long word, a ‘train of thought’.

If you speak in separate words then your meaning becomes broken up, and harder to follow. This dilutes the power of your ideas.

Accent Tip #1

 Rhythm

Listen to the rhythm of the way people speak. Whatever the language or the accent, tune your ear into their overall rhythm.  Imagine it like a drum beat. Where are the strong beats and where are the weak beats?  Then mimic what you hear using a pattern of made up sounds, tapping the finger on the table to emphasise the strong beats 

Strong beat – “Dum”
Weak beat –   “di” 

Standard British Example:  John Keats  –  To Autumn
To swell the gourd, and plump the  hazel  shells
di Dum  di   Dum     di    Dum   di  Dum di  Dum

More info here: