English Pronunciation: Choose Your Voice
We choose our careers, our clothing styles, and our friends. We can also choose our voices. I enjoy studying the pronunciations of different languages. Each one is both liberating and unique. German has many wonderful “sh” combinations. French brings out the throat and nasal passages. Somali combines a heavy use of the throat with more flowing sounds. Every language has differences as to where the sound happens physically–is it mostly on the lips, the tongue, the middle of the mouth, the front of the mouth, the back of the mouth, the throat, or the chest? Does the language stress vowels (a, e, i, o, u) or consonants (all the other letters)? Why do people change their pitches–to express ideas, rhythm, or some combination of these?
To me, learning a new pronunciation is not only about fitting in when you travel or move. It is the learning of new art. If you learn to paint, make music, write or exercise in a new way, you find that a part of yourself is becoming developed. It feels refreshing.
American English has a lot to offer. The vowel patterns combine many languages. The vowels are stressed and yet also spoken in a relaxed way, so we often let the vowel form in our mouths while we are speaking. It is less precise, but also less demanding once you are used to it. Overall, we form our sounds in the middle of the mouth–again, a relaxed way of speaking. On the other hand, our R sound requires more effort than in some other languages. Also, we like to stress important information and pause so that the information is understood. This is much different than languages that are spoken with steady rhythms.
No matter where you are from, you have probably made some choices about your voice, consciously or unconsciously. You may speak with:
- a chest voice
- a throat voice
- a face voice
- a nasal voice
You can think about the place where the sound is centered. Then you can speak clearly, articulate, from that place.
The chest voice is a low, breathy, full voice. You often hear it with people who love to talk! The breath is full, the chest is open, and this leads to that round, developed sound in speech. Actors in the theater often have this voice because they need to speak loudly.
The throat voice is tighter than the chest voice. People who become silent when angry typically have this voice. It is a bit edgy and often used by people when delivering necessary or important information.
The face voice is usually higher. The sound reverberates off the cheekbones. This voice tends to be brighter than the chest voice, and it is also used by people who love to talk. If you sing contemporary music, you may be using this voice. Many modern singers have voices that are more bright than deep.
Sound can also reverberate behind the top of your nose, between your eyes. This is the home of the nasal voice. Some languages/dialects prefer this sound location.
Articulation of Your Voice
It is most healthy to keep all the passages in the body open. This means that if you speak primarily with a chest voice, you still need to move your face (drop your jaw and move your lips) for clear speech. If you speak mostly from your face, you still need to use good breath support. You may need to be careful of the throat and the nasal voice. You do not want to constrict your throat passage. This is a voice to be used when the situation calls for it. If you are living with “a lump in your throat,” work on bringing the sound through your chest and/or face. Also, the nasal voice can be too high and pinched for standard American English. If you come from a place where a nasal voice is appreciated, try imagining the sound through your cheekbones instead of your nose. This will lower your voice a little bit, but not too much.
Enjoy sound and language. Enjoy your voice!