How to Speak
As a performer, the ability for people to discern what you are saying is vital. It’s not about volume, it’s about pronunciation, enunciation, and tone. Diction is the clarity of your words, and it’s a useful skill to develop for daily life, and it crops up in acting, singing, and even rapping.
The simplest way to improve your diction is to try out tongue twisters. There are hundreds of examples to choose from, and while they can all be useful to practice, the first ones you should address are those that feature the syllables you have trouble with.
But how do you discover which syllables trip you up?
I’m a big fan of recording myself or getting honest feedback from people in the audience. Sometimes, I know my tongue can become lazy and I’ll slur my words a little, particularly S and R. Find out where your weak points lie, and you can begin improving them.
Remember, tongue twisters don’t have to be done at high speed. Try them out slowly first, feel how your tongue moves, and try to make every syllable sound clear and sharp. Your practice with resonance will greatly aid this. As the tongue twister becomes easier, start speeding up until you can recite it at a normal conversational pace.
To make it harder, try biting a cork while you speak. This can tire your jaw, but it will force you to project and enunciate more.
A more complex way, but one more suited to a general practice, is to work on consonant placement. This refers to the location within the mouth where we make the sound. There are eight kinds of consonant produced by the human voice.
These are sounds made with both lips.
BEE BAY BY BOH BOO
MEE MAY MY MOH MOO
PEE PAY PY POH POO
WEE WAY WY WOH WOO
These sounds are made by the upper teeth on the lower lip.
FEE FAY FY FOH FOO
VEE VAY VY VOH VOO
These sounds are created by placing the tongue between the teeth.
THEE THAY THY THOH THOO
4. Lingua Alveolar
These are sounds made using the tongue tip against the upper teeth.
DEE DAY DY DOH DOO
LEE LAY LY LOH LOO
NEE NAY NY NOH NOO
TEE TAY TY TOH TOO
5. Lingua Alveorlar
These sounds are made with the tongue tip positioned against the lower teeth.
SEE SAY SY SOH SOO
ZEE ZAY ZY ZOH ZOO
6. Lingua Palatal
These are sounds created by pushing the tongue is against the roof of the mouth.
CHEE CHAY CHY CHOH CHOO
JEE JAY JY JOH JOO
REE RAY RY ROH ROO
SHEE SHAY SHY SHOH SHOO
7. Lingua Velar
These sounds are from the tongue against the soft palate (uvula).
KEE KAY KY KOH KOO
GEE GAY GY GOH GOO
These sounds are created in the voice box (larynx).
HEE HAY HY HOH HOO
For the best results, try to recite these sounds for a few minutes every day. At first it will sound exaggerated, but as you become more familiar with the mechanics of speech, the sounds will begin to be expressed more naturally.
Vowels are also worth practising in the same way. There are five Primary Vowels:
AH EH EE OH OO
With each sound, the jaw drops further, which gives them their unique tones. By practising the Primary Vowels as a scale, you can strengthen the jaw muscles and develop an awareness of how your jaw moves. If you are musically inclined, these are the sounds we carry tone and pitch on.
Of course, these exercises can only go so far to correcting true speech impediments, but for the majority of people, they will vastly improve the quality of your performances. They should be practised regularly, preferably every day, because there’s no sense knowing these things if you don’t put them into practice.
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© 2018 Connor Sansby
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
Connor Sansby is a Margate-based writer, editor, poet and publisher through his super-indie Whisky & Beards publishing label.