Is your English accent letting you down? 

The international world of business and education now requires more than ever effective communication in English. Whilst your English language skills may be excellent, our dependence on the written word in mastering these skills  may cause us to overlook a factor of major importance in the workplace: accuracy of pronunciation. Phone and video conferencing with non-native speakers of English now plays an ever-present role in meetings, and as more and more interactions take place online listeners can no longer rely on body language to aid comprehension. 

If you are frequently asked to repeat yourself, or find that you’re ideas are not being heard or taken seriously, it may be time to check whether your English accent is letting you down. 

Let’s look at some of the ways in which English pronunciation can be tricky for non-native speakers.

 

Phonetics

Unlike many other languages which are largely written phonetically (letters and symbols represent sounds) the written English alphabet is a very unreliable indicator of pronunciation. For Latin based languages like French there are also many pronunciation ‘faux amis’, ie. words spelt the same in English which have a very different pronunciation in English. Training your ears to listen more effectively to recognise the vowel and consonant sounds of English (not spellings) helps to avoid this interference and to overcome habitual errors of pronunciation. 

Articulation

Speech is the product of breath and vibration bouncing between the static and moving parts within the mouth space. The amount of space we give our voice to resonate is governed largely by the jaw, whilst the agility of the tongue to move rapidly within that space shapes the acoustic space to create vowel sounds. Generally speaking consonants are formed by an obstruction (the lips, the teeth etc) the within that space. Your native language may have a very different default mouth setting to that required for English. You will need to adjust this mouth posture and train the muscles required to form these new shapes.  With training a non-native speaker can learn to  articulate individual sounds with precision and in turn to group these sounds into flowing, connected speech. 

Stress and intonation

As well as, and arguably more importantly than, the phonemes (phonetic sounds) of English, effective speakers will need to master the music of the language. English words have distinct rhythm (stress) patterns which aren’t apparent from the written word. Any word of two syllables or more will have a strong or accented syllable (two in longer words). Native speakers will know where to add volume and change pitch (the ‘notes’) to highlight these stressed syllables, which are not marked in written English.  Similarly English phrases have melody patterns which highlight key words, questions and many more subtle meanings. Non-native speakers will need to familiarize themselves with these rhythm and melody patterns and with their inevitable exceptions, in order to focus their audience’s attention. Without them your audience will quickly lose focus and miss your point. 

You may be missing one or all of these important factors to accent clarity, but the good news is that you can do something about it. An evaluation of your speech by a qualified accent coach is a good place to start.  But even without a coach there are a number of things you can do right away to develop  your  accent awareness.

Look out for my upcoming blog Five Things You Can Do Right Now to Improve Your English Accent.

 

 

bold neon sign, confidence

3 key pillars of vocal confidence training

Worrying about that presentation coming up? You know what you want to say, but you’re not confident your audience is getting the message?  It could be your voice that’s letting you down. One thing is for your sure: if your voice is not working with you to reinforce your key ideas your audience may well become bored or distracted. In that case it’s unlikely they will retain information or leave with a positive impression of your pitch. In today’s busy world of relentless information it’s vital to get your presentation across in a dynamic and engaging way.

Before beginning to work on your voice technique  it’s crucial to make your story as compelling as you possibly can. Engage the listener by telling your story in an approachable way: use anecdotes and analogies with comparable, more familiar situations to lighten technical information where appropriate. For each key point be sure to introduce the subject clearly. Repeat a condensed or simpified version to conclude each key point. Use shorter phrases and more familiar language. 
But regardless of the quality of your  presentation writing, a dull and lifeless vocal presence will do nothing to further your cause. Even worse, nerves and lack of confidence can seriously erode your capacity to put across your information convincingly. This is where vocal training can provide practical skills to make sure you don’t undermine your gravitas. 
In what ways can training improve your voice quality? There are 3 key areas to vocal presence which can be developed to significantly boost your vocal impact. Let’s explore them briefly here. For more information get in touch with a qualified voice training professional for a personalised training programme. 

1. Body 

Posture and breath are the foundation of a grounded voice. We are often completely unaware of the impression our posture is making on our audience. But did you know that the way you align your spine can also have a huge impact on the sound of your voice? A hunched spine restricts movement of the diaphragm, the flexible parachute-like muscle which allows us to breathe effectively for speech.  Optimum breathing coordination supports the sound produced  by the vocal folds and enables us to  sustain a clear continuous  sound with which to articulate speech. 

If you are struggling to reach the end of sentences, or your voice cuts in and out as you speak making it difficult to be heard you may benefit from some guided exercises to ground your voice through posture and breathing coordination.

2. Diction 

Clear speech also depends on  the muscles of articulation which shape the speech sounds. Once the voice sound is produced at the vocal folds it resonates within the cavity of the mouth. The articulators, the moving parts of the mouth, ‘play’ the sound by guiding it towards different surfaces to produce the sounds of vowels and consonants. Clear speech begins with accurate position of the tongue and soft palate to channel the voice to the correct ‘sounding board’ ie. the hard palate, lips, teeth or nose cavity. If your diction lacks muscularity, or you are speaking in a non-native language, you may be misheard or misunderstood. Following a professional evaluation of  your speech,  specialized training can improve the precision of targeted speech sounds and allow you to express yourself intelligibly and fluidly.

3. Musicality

What makes a voice engaging? Accents and individuals vary greatly in their use of melody and rhythm to assist meaning. Some speakers may be reticent to vary the highs and lows of their voice as they fear it may sound overly flamboyant. However English in particular uses pitch (notes) and volume to draw attention to key syllables, (unlike French). Effective presenters in English also vary melody (pitch) to highlight the key words in their argument. Indeed listeners of English are so conditioned to hearing these rhythms of speech that they may lose the thread of your argument without them!  Effective presenters in English vary melody (pitch) to highlight the key words in their argument. Pace (speed) of speech also plays a key role in giving your audience enough time to process content and allows your argument to  resonate emotionally for greater impact.  Again, a qualified speech professional will analyse your vocal delivery and provide practical exercises to sensitise your musical ear and learn to ‘play’ your voice to maximum effect.