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Positive Voice Blog

Positive Voice: Pronunciation Tricks

Posted on Monday, August 21, 2017 by Positivevoice

The above photograph demonstrates the mouth position for the consonant sound 'w'. It demonstrates very well how to position the lips to produce this sound. What it doesn't teach is what to do next and how to move from this consonant and through the rest of the word... All is revealed in my recent video for Instagram:

Pronunciation of the consonant sound 'w' #BritishAccentCoaching www.positivevoice.co.uk.

A post shared by Francesca Gordon-Smith (@fgordonsmith) on



The British accent and common mistakes : Part 1

Posted on Wednesday, July 19, 2017 by Positivevoice

As helpful as it is to know what you should do in order to speak English well, it is also important to be aware of the common mistakes made by native, British speakers. Throughout the UK, there are a range of different dialects and regional accents. In areas such as Essex and London, many people confuse ‘l’ and ‘w’ in words such as still, middle and well, so don’t be surprised if you hear someone saying ‘I’m very wew, thank you’ when they mean ‘Very well’. This may sound unlikely to you, but it is becoming more and more prevalent. I have also worked with clients from the West country and Birmingham who make the same mistake.

Sometimes this mistake is just a habit that has been picked up, and other times it is due to a lack of strength in the tongue. If this is the case, there is a great exercise for strengthening the tongue. All you need to do is take a soft sweet, or something similar and hold it up against the middle of the palate with the tip of the tongue for as long as you can. Ideally, this should be repeated three times per day until you are able to make the movement without any difficulty.

So, now that you know what not to do when it comes to the pronunciation of the consonant sound ‘l’, here is what you should be doing :

In the photograph, below, i demonstrate the mouth positioning for 'l':

This sound differs slightly depending on where in the word it is positioned. It is a voiced sound, which means that air passes over the vocal chords creating a sound.

There is one IPA symbol for this sound, ‘l’, even though it varies slightly depending on whether it is positioned before or after the vowel (or diphthong): let vs tell, for instance. When the ‘l’ sound comes before the vowel, it is fairly straight forward: To produce this sound, maintain a neutral mouth positioning (the lips rest gently apart), place the tip of your tongue on the palate just before the front teeth, without actually touching the front teeth, create a little pressure as you begin the vowel that follows and then release to continue with your word. At this point, the middle of the tongue should be slightly raised. If you slow down the sound, you will notice there is a little extra sound that is not represented by an ipa symbol, it is similar to the vowel sound ʊ, as in the word ‘could’.

This extra sound is more apparent when the vowel or diphthong comes before the ‘l’, as in words such as ‘meal’. Even without slowing down my speech, that is to say, in normal speech, this extra sound is very much apparent and if you do not pronounce it, the word won’t sound the same. If you’re still a little confused, please do watch my video on this subject. This is an extract from my Digital course in British accent coaching.

This sound differs slightly depending on where in the word it is positioned. It is a voiced sound, which means that air passes over the vocal chords creating a sound.

There is one IPA symbol for this sound, ‘l’, even though it varies slightly depending on whether it is positioned before or after the vowel (or diphthong): let vs tell, for instance. When the ‘l’ sound comes before the vowel, it is fairly straight forward: To produce this sound, maintain a neutral mouth positioning (the lips rest gently apart), place the tip of your tongue on the palate just before the front teeth, without actually touching the front teeth, create a little pressure as you begin the vowel that follows and then release to continue with your word. At this point, the middle of the tongue should be slightly raised. If you slow down the sound, you will notice there is a little extra sound that is not represented by an ipa symbol, it is similar to the vowel sound ʊ, as in the word ‘could’.

This extra sound is more apparent when the vowel or diphthong comes before the ‘l’, as in words such as ‘meal’. Even without slowing down my speech, that is to say, in normal speech, this extra sound is very much apparent and if you do not pronounce it, the word won’t sound the same. If you’re still a little confused, please do watch my video on this subject. This is an extract from my Digital course in British accent coaching.

l from Francesca Gordon-Smith on Vimeo.



How to make your voice stronger and more attractive

Posted on Wednesday, May 31, 2017 by Positivevoice

Last week, we considered whether your voice attracts or repels others. This week, i am going to focus on how to make your voice more attractive.

I clearly remember the first time i heard an audio recording of my voice, i was at primary school. I was shocked; it didn't sound at all like the voice in my head; i had a nasal voice! It took hearing my voice to motivate me to change it. It didn't help that i suffered from hayfever and asthma. It wasn't until i was at college that i managed to improve the quality of my voice and it wasn't until my mid- late 20s that i finally understood how to do so without losing my voice every time i delivered group lessons or workshops.

In the following video, i teach a series of vocal warm up exercises to improve your voice.

Here are some more precise recommendations to solve specific issues:

Nasal voice: lower your bottom jaw and hum. Move your lower jaw backwards and forwards to shift the resonance into the throat. When speaking, remember to activate the muscles in your lower jaw in order to stop the air passing too harshly over your vocal chords- in the warm up, i call this exercise 'stifling a smile'. 

A soft voice: this can be of particular concern to men. Focusing on expansion and stifling a smile will improve the instrument that is your voice. If you think about the casing of a guitar, for instance, it is hard and thus produces a strong sound. Imagine what a rubber guitar would sound like... Be careful to expand the throat and cavities at the back of the mouth rather than tensing them because tensing will mean that there is less space for the sound to resonate in.

Remember that the warm up is an exaggerated version of what is required. Just practicing the exercises before speaking will improve your voice because once you are more aware of your physiology, you will find it easier to control where the sound resonates.

Finally, remember that these exercises are about making the best of your voice. Your physiology will impact the final result. For instance, if you have an overbite, your teeth aren't correctly aligned, which means that you don't have enough space in your mouth for your tongue, which makes it hard to pronounce consonant sounds, such as 't'. Making a conscious effort to somewhat re-align your top and lower jaw when talking can make a big impact here.

For best results, practice the warm up exercises in this video daily:

Short vocal warm up for clear speech and strong resonance from Francesca Gordon-Smith on Vimeo.



Learn How to Speak with a Clear British Accent

Posted on Tuesday, May 09, 2017 by Positivevoice

the above picture shows me forming the mouth position for the pronunciation of the British consonant sound w.

Whilst the mouth position is important, there are some other tips that i would like to share with you that will make a huge difference to your pronunciation of this sound and to your ability to correctly pronounce words containing w.

In British English, vowels are more important than consonants. What does this mean?

Vowels are voiced sounds, which means that when you pronounce a vowel sound air passes over the vocal chords, so your focus should be on this area rather than the front of the mouth and the lips.  however, when we pronounce a 'w', the lips become the most obvious thing about our speech because we push them forwards in a pout (or kiss) like movement. Essentially, wherever you focus, the sound travels, so your challenge is to focus on the cavities in the head, back of the mouth and throat in order to allow voiced sounds (particularly vowels) to resonate fully here. If you find your focus is more on the consonants, this may mean that you are not enlarging the space at the back of the mouth enough to produce strong, long and full vowels. The best example of this is the Indian accent, which is very consonant heavy and resonates mostly at the front of the mouth.

Today's blog is all about how to focus more on vowel sounds in order to encourage the sounds to resonate at the back of the mouth (even when there is a consonant as obvious as 'w' in the word). If you succeed in focusing on your vowels, your speech will become fluid, clear and smooth, rather than short, sharp and staccato. It is no coincidence that speakers of English as a foreign language often find it easier to sing with a British accent than they do when speaking. This has a lot to do with resonance. When we sing, vowels are full and long and resonate in the cavities in the throat, head and back of the mouth; this is exactly where you need to resonate British vowel sounds. Obviously, when we sing, everything is exaggerated; longer, fuller and a wider range of pitches, but the concept is similar.

I integrate humming and chanting into warm up exercises for my clients in order to allow them to feel where the sounds need to resonate. The IPA symbols and guidance on how to position the mouth are useful, but the only way to develop a clear British accent is by transforming your resonance.

For further information about British accent coaching or to book a session, please contact Francesca directly: fran@positivevoice.co.uk or 07903 954 550.





British Accent Coaching and Consonant Pairs

Posted on Thursday, April 06, 2017 by Positivevoice

Today's blog post is an extract from my digital course in British accent coaching.

33

 

IPA Symbol

ʃ (aspirated)

ʒ (voiced)

Sound

‘sh’ ‘zh’

Spelling

Variations

sh shout

s sugar

ch machine

 

sure pleasure

ge prestige

zure seizure

These two sounds are studied as a pair, as they take the same mouth movements. The lips are pushed forwards in a rounded, flared shape. The edges of the tongue (from mid-back) widen, touching both the top and bottom set of teeth. The tip of the tongue comes down, touching the inside of the bottom teeth.

The differences between these two sounds are as follows:

ʃ: The air passes between the palate and tongue (the mouth positioning forms a tunnel) creating an aspirated sound (we often use this sound to tell people to be quite or to comfort a baby).

ʒ the air passes over the vocal chords creating a voiced sound (this sound is like a vibration).


There are 8 other pairs of sounds in the International Phonetic Index for British English. Each pair is comprised of one voiced sound and one unvoiced, or aspirated sound. For instance, b (voiced) is paired with p (aspirated), d (voiced) is paired with t (aspirated) etc. You will be able to tell if a sound is voiced or aspirated by placing your hand in front of your mouth; the aspirated sounds create a slight rush of air that can be felt on your hand.

voiced

b

d

v

g

z

ʒ

ð

example

be

do

vet

got

is

pleasure

journey

this

aspirated

p

t

f

k

s

ʃ

θ

example

pea

too

fetch

cot

hiss

push

church

thought



British Accent Coaching Online

Posted on Thursday, February 02, 2017 by Positivevoice

When developing a British accent, in addition to working on your resonance and general technique (I will cover this in more depth in future blogs), it is important to work your way through all the sounds in the International Phonetic Index. All these elements represent pieces of a puzzle and it is our job to put all these pieces together in order to achieve the final result. If you miss a piece of the puzzle, this will be reflected in the way you speak. Here is an extract from my digital course in British accent coaching. I often look at the following two sounds together, as the mouth position required is similar.

6

 

IPA Symbol

æ and e

Sound

‘a’ ‘e’

Spelling

Variations

a cat (æ)

 

e bed (e)

ea bread (e)

ai said (e)

ie friend (e)

eo leopard (e)

æ Vowel
This vowel resonates far back in the mouth, just above the back of the tongue. The back of the tongue comes down in the back of the mouth- this is what creates the short, sharp æ sound. The tip of the tongue rests either in the bottom of the mouth, below the bottom teeth or against the inside of the bottom teeth.  The mouth is wide open; the bottom jaw is lowered and the corners of the mouth are pulled right back. See the image below for the mouth positioning. Please check in a mirror to make sure your mouth takes the same position when pronouncing this sound:

e Vowel

The mouth positioning is very similar to that of the æ vowel; It is just a less exaggerated movement. The differences: the lower jaw is not positioned as low as it is with the æ vowel- the tongue is therefore slightly higher in the mouth. If you position your tongue too low, you may pronounce the æ vowel by mistake, if you position the tongue too high, you may pronounce the ɪ vowel by mistake.

A good way to practice these two vowels is to say æ followed by e, whilst looking in a mirror. You can then monitor your mouth positioning. Also try recording yourself to make sure that you are pronouncing the two sounds accurately.

Please see the mouth position in the image, below:

If you would like to see more, you can purchase my video course via my website: Digital course in British accent coaching



Find Your English Voice: Vital Vocal Improvement Exercises

Posted on Monday, January 23, 2017 by Positivevoice

When it comes to improving language skills, many people are at a loss as to where to start. Having an understanding of your strengths and weaknesses is integral to your success. However, contrary to popular belief, not everyone improves as a direct result of their intellectual understanding of a language. Please remember that children in England learn the English language largely without theory and grammar and mostly through interaction with others, particularly their parents- this explains why we have so many regional accents throughout the UK. There is no denying that this method works, but it does take years for a child to gain a strong grasp of their native language. Additionally, a child's level of English is largely dependent on that of their parents; thus children with parents who have a strong command of the English language, also tend to speak and write better than those who do not have this advantage.

So, how can this process be improved upon and accelerated?

Back in 2012, i decided that i wanted to improve my French, as i was about to move to France. I decided to follow a method that i had heard about from a client. He had managed to take his English to a high level through this method alone. He quite simply listened to an audio book, whilst simultaneously reading the text. In this way, he replaced his voice in his head (that constantly confirmed his mistakes) with the voice of the narrator. This simple technique not only improved my pronunciation, but also the flow of my speech and my use of correct grammar when speaking in French.

In last week's blog, i mentioned a new programme that I have been working on to improve spoken English. The technique i just mentioned, very much forms the basis of this course.

If you would like to give it a go, simply download the audio and pdf in this blog and follow the steps, below. The more thoroughly you follow the process, the better the results will be.

If possible, please print off the following document before beginning this exercise (the audio can also be downloaded, if you wish):

Simple Past downloadSimple Past pdf

1. Read and listen at the same time the whole way through twice

2. Listen and read again, circling any words you don't understand

3. Look up any words you have circled and write their meanings in the margin of the text

4. Take out some coloured pens and highlight anything you consider to be important

5. Listen again, following the, now annotated, text simultaneously

Please do let me know how it goes. If you enjoy the process, i will post more blogs like this.



A Simpler Way to Reduce Your Accent

Posted on Friday, September 02, 2016 by Positivevoice

For sometime now, i have intended to provide an alternative to face-to-face or skype lessons in accent reduction. My 6 month one-to-one course in accent reduction has proved a great success. Yet, i can't help thinking that i could work more effectively in order to help more people to improve their speech. To this end, i am creating a course that has been long awaited by many. A digital course in accent reduction. This does not replace one-to-one lessons, but can be taken as an alternative or alongside Skype lessons. I am now in the final editing phase and intend to launch the programme in the next two weeks.

This course is for anyone who would like to transform their accent or speak in a more polished manner. It is for both native speakers and those learning English as a foreign or second language. In addition to covering the 44 sounds presented in the international phonetic index, i also cover vocal projection, resonace, warm up exercises and mindset. Anyone who has taken Skype lessons with me, will be familiar with the course style and delivery. Having said this, almost all the content is new.

I am currently releasing sneak previews of the course via YouTube. Here is one such video:



Should you Pronounce t sounds?

Posted on Wednesday, July 06, 2016 by Positivevoice

Increasingly, British people tend to leave off 't's, particularly at the end of words. Should you do the same?

The choice is entirely up to you.

My recent YouTube video may help you to make this choice:

If you struggle to pronounce t's at the end of words, it may be because your focus is too much on the front of your mouth. A great exercise is to imagine that the back of your mouth is a big, open cave. If you do this at regular intervals throughout the day, your voice will start to resonate more in this area of the mouth. For more warm up exercises, watch this YouTube video:



One Simple Way to Transform Your Voice

Posted on Tuesday, November 17, 2015 by Positivevoice

Over the years, I have been constantly looking for the difference that makes the difference in voice transformation. I have had clients who have done it in 3 months and others who have taken years… So, what is it that sets the speedy ‘voice transformers’ apart from the rest?

 

We shall take regular practice as a given (without this, nothing will happen very quickly). So, firstly imagine someone who is practicing the exercises done together in class on a daily basis. Secondly, and here is the ‘trick’; the difference that makes the difference; imagine someone who is becoming very aware of how they sound by making recordings of their voice. In and of itself, this sounds very simple, but it is incredibly effective when done in a certain way. This is the first time I have shared this on a blog, I usually reserve it for my one to one clients, but after coming back from maternity leave, I am feeling excited about sharing these things again, so here it is, in chronological bullet form; one of the best kept secrets; an effective way to reduce your accent:

 

  1. Start by recording your voice in everyday conversation. You may wish to ask someone to do it without telling you (think short recordings of 60 seconds max).
  2. Play back the recordings and make a note of what you like and what you don’t like. Notice what you would like to change.
  3. Make recordings in a variety of situations; at work, on the phone; with your partner or husband or wife and with family and friends. Do you have a ‘different voice’ in different situations? Notice when you use your ‘best voice’. How do you feel in these instances? (Your voice and your emotions are inextricably linked).
  4. Once you have ‘got to know’ your voice, you are ready to start transforming it. Point number 3 will prove very useful and is an exercise to be repeated on a weekly basis. The next point, however, may be the difference that makes the difference:
  5. Find a written transcript with an accompanying audio (Past clients have used: audio books and magazines; such as The Economist and even Harry Potter):
  1. Find a short paragraph and read and listen at the same time.
  2. Repeat point a. several times.
  3. When you are ready (or just before) record yourself reading the passage you have chosen.
  4. Play back the original recording and compare it to your own.
  5. Repeat the process until you are happy with the result.The above exercise is one that I do with my clients on a regular basis. We then go through their audios; correcting rhythm and vocal variety.Please do give this a try and let me know how it goes!



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