Speak english clearly in 5 easy steps
There are many different ways to learn how to speak English better, but with these 5 easy steps to speak English clearly, you’ll understand why all these other methods, such as the Imitation technique, simply don’t work for everyone. I’m going to go through each of the main speech coaching techniques and show you why/how they work and IF they can really help you learn to speak English clearly – and then I’ll show you my approach to speak English clearning in 5 easy steps, no matter your accent or voice type!
The imitation technique
The Imitation Technique is a common way for voice coaches to try to help people remove their accents by having their students ‘imitate’ their voice as they speak. Now, this is a great technique if you share the same accent as the teacher – but what if you have a Spanish accent, do you REALLY want to end up with an American drawl, or an English lilt in your speaking when all you wish to do is speak English clearly? Of course not – and that’s where this technique is limited, because everyone, yes, even Americans, have an accent of some kind – an individual way of creating their sounds linked to their locale and dialect. Being from Australia myself, I’m aware that I’m speaking with an accent even though it doesn’t feel like it. If you were to simply ‘imitate’ my speech, then you would end up speaking with an Aussie accent and you really wouldn’t be learning how to speak english clearly with your own natural voice. The imitation technique also falls short where your coach has a different voice type to you, similar in singing where a Baritone might be getting coached by a Soprano – your voice simply resonates in a different placement to your coach, so how could you possibly imitate their vowel and consonant sounds when your voice is creating different frequencies that simply SOUND different? Sure, the function and mechanics of the voice are the same for two different voice types, but it’s important to understand that no two voices are the truly the same and you really do need coaching from a professional voice coach who understand how and why your voice differs, while building a unique approach that is intrinsic to your natural voice, not simply copying someone else’s voice and picking up their bad speech habits.
Accent training and Accent reduction
Accent training, or accent reduction is another common approach to help students speak english clearly. In short, the Accent training approach involves masking or removing the natural character of your accent, for example, the way an Aussie would say the word “Mate” as MM-AYE-TUH with emphasis on the AYE sound to give us our natural, and at times even comical sounding accent. An Accent training coach would likely get me to down play or cover this over articulated AYE sound to mask my Australian accent, with more of an “EH” sound. But HOW do you change these vowel sounds, and WHY do I have to use a different vowel sound to someone else – and again, the question remains, WHY does my “A” vowel come out as an Aussie “AYE”, and WHAT accent am I replacing it with? Herein lies the problem with the Accent training method – the reason my “A” sounds comes out as an Aussie “AYE” is to do with the shape of my tongue, use of my articulators, my facial expressions, but most of all – the glottal character of my word onset, which will STILL exist in the back of my throat regardless of how I articulate this sound – meaning, I’m not truly learning how to speak English clearly, I would actually be learning how to make my Aussie accent unclear. Is you mind blown? I know mine was when I first learned how to articulate my vowel sounds in the correct manner without imitating and without adopting another accent or masking my native tongue.
Contemporary speech methods
There are a number of contemporary speech methods that you can find on YouTube, and while there’s a lot of great points and tips you can learn that may help you speak English clearly, ultimately you’re not being taught how the voice functions and how it is designed to work – often very different to the way that we use it, such as the glottal stop in an Aussie accent, or the throat placement of a Swedish Ö vowel. These ‘non standard’ functions are what build and cause your accent, and often translate to bad habits and poorly articulated English speech – I’ve learned more about my own accent and how my own voice functions from coaching students all around the world how to speak English clearly and how to sing better than any specific voice method out there. Remember, your voice is unique, so you need a unique approach to using your individual voice in the correct manner to speak English clearly.
Learn how your voice functions
Your voice actually functions via air pressure, vibration and resonance rather than air flow itself like is often mistaken. Once you strip down the voice to it’s basic functions, and learn to control the different mechanism of your voice in a smooth and powerful way, you can learn to speak English clearly without having to imitate a speech guru or replace your accent in any way – you will be articulating your vowel sounds with resonance and producing your consonant sounds clear and confidently without fighting against your natural voice.
Here are five important steps that you should be taking to speak English clearly, no matter your accent!
#1 – Learn how to breathe properly
Learning how to control your breathing properly will allow you to speak English better by allowing resonance and moderating your airflow in the correct manner. When other speech coaches say “breathe low”, what they mean is engage your diaphragm. Breathing from the diaphragm allows you to control your air pressure and air flow via extension of the diaphragm instead of contraction of your ribs – have you ever felt out of breath while speaking? Bingo – you’re not breathing correctly. Your breathing starts with correct posture, so lets move on to number two:
#2 – Set up your posture
I know I know, it seems obvious – but did you know there is a specific way to set up your posture to allow for the most efficient resonance as you speak? Good posture for speaking looks something like this:
- Head up, Shoulders back, Chin parallel with the floor, ribs OUT.
This last point is VERY important and is tied to your breathing. Often called Appoggio, setting up your posture with your ribs out is the key ingredient to controlling your breath via diaphragmatic extension rather than contraction of your chest. A great way to set your ribs into a wide position is to raise your sternum without breathing in – if you use your diaphragm properly, your breathing should feel more like it occurs in your belly than in your chest.
#3 – Place your resonance
This is especially important for men with a lower voice type, such as myself. If you have a low voice, it’s likely that your vocal chords naturally create a wider band of frequencies to say, a Tenor, or a Soprano voice type – so your voice may lend itself towards inconsistency, or worse, get hoarse when you try to speak English clearly. The key is to ONLY allow the most efficient frequencies to vibrate, in essence, ‘placing’ your resonance in a particular area of your vocal tract. Vocal placement shouldn’t be considered with classical ‘mask’ technique, where you concentrate your frequencies to build in a specific area of your face, and is usually associated with classical or Opera singing – we want to PLACE our resonance so that we can speak clearly with very minimal effort. A great way to do this is to warm up your voice with a simple “N” or “NG” sound, and try to limit any excess frequencies which occur below your top teeth. Here’s a video I’ve put together showing you how to build placement in your voice – it does include some singing, but the premise is the same for speech:
#4 – Remove any non-English sounds
This is especially important for Slavic languages, Español and Europeans in particular – any non English sounds or vowels, such as the Spanish ñ or Swedish Ö – these sounds have no place in English, so you shouldn’t impart them in your english speech, because, surprise surprise, they will articulate a non-English sound when you speak. It’s important that you break down your vowel sounds into the main English vowel sounds and learn to speak English without reverting to these ‘extra’ vowel and consonant sounds that make up your native language. An example of this is the Swedish ä vowel, which would translate to an English “EH” sound, like the word “PET” – but this doesn’t mean that when you speak an English word with an “EH” sound in it that you would use your swedish ä vowel to fake this sound – it’s important that you understand “EH” is unrelated to ä, even if they sound the same to you in your native accent.
The same goes for a student with a Spanish accent – a word like “Canyon” would not actually include the Spanish ñ as in “Cañon” even if it SOUNDS the same to you – because this will give you a Spanish inflection and sound rather than the English sound of C-AA-N-EE-OH-N.
#5 – Learn to articulate your consonant sounds correctly
Your consonant sounds are another large part of what gives you your natural accent – even when you don’t want it. Did you know that there are specific ways to pronounce each of your consonant sounds? I personally like to group my consonant sounds into their types, such as Glottal, Plosive, Sibilant, Open and Closed Resonants, and then form an approach for each of my students based on their voice type and accent.
A great example of this is the “W” sound that we Aussies often speak with – deep and low in the larynx and with FORCE, known as a glottal stop. But here’s the catch, a “W” should not actually be a glottal consonant, it is intead a Closed Resonant – meaning the soft palate should be closed as we articulate this sound. To illustrate my point, a great way to achieve a “W” in the correct manner is to actually replace it with an “OO” vowel, like “OO-EH-LL” for the word “WELL”.
This one’s another singing oriented video, but the premise is exactly the same for Speech. Can you see how I’m replacing my Aussie “W” with a natural and neutral “OO” instead?
Are you ready to speak English clearly and learn how your voice truly functions like no other voice coach is showing you? You can book a Skype session with me today and I’ll SHOW you how your voice truly works, and I’ll help you speak English clearly with my practical and simple steps-based approach to voice technique.
Feel free to leave any feedback or questions below!
Kegan DeBoheme is Bohemian Vocal Studio’s resident vocal coach and voice expert. He teaches professional singing and voice technique to students all around the world and enjoys providing tutorials like this one on how to improve your voice.