The shape in which you place your body has a dramatic impact on your accent. What!?!?!? Does that even make sense? It does! I’ll show you.
What makes a piccolo sound different from a flute, what makes a violin sound different from a bass? Knowing this will probably help you sound more natural when you speak English if your native language is not English. Today we’re going to explore how you shape your body when you speak, and some tweaks that you can make to make it easier to speak English.
I was working with a student in a live class a month or two ago and we were talking about how her Spanish voice should sound different from her American voice. Now, this is true for any native language. It’s not just the sounds of American English that are different from Hindi, Korean, Portuguese for example. It’s not just the sounds, but the instrument itself. How Americans shape their body to produce American English is different from how native speakers of other languages shape their bodies to speak their language. And when I say body, really what I’m talking about here would be the neck, the parts of the mouth, and all the muscles involved.
So if you speak English without changing the shape of your body, it’s going to be harder to get some of the vowel sounds and some of the reductions and rhythm of American English.
Here, I’m working with my student and I’m imitating how she said a phrase, and I’m feeling the difference in my body between her way of saying it and my way of saying it, to feel how I change the shape of my neck and throat. The phrase is “I’m living”.
It’s pretty cut and held here. “I’m li-: and I would say, “I’m le-”. So I’m feeling quite a bit more chest vibration. I’m living, I’m living is quite a bit more face and nose. I’m living, I’m living.
Now I talk about where your voice vibrates as a heat map. A heat map is “a representation of data in the form of a map or diagram in which data values are represented as colors,” for example, this image that shows where people’s eyes go when looking at this webpage.
So, like if I had to imagine like a heat map of you know, where the vibration is happening, I would say for you in Spanish, it’s like here. And in English, it’s like here.
So it’s bigger and deeper.
Now here I get into that piccolo analogy. An analogy is when you compare one thing to another to help explain that other thing. I’m using a piccolo, and qualities of a piccolo, to describe the human voice and vocal instrument.
It’s sort of like the difference between a, like a piccolo and a flute. Do you know those two musical instruments?
Flute? Yes but Piccolo no.
Piccolo is like this long, and it’s like–
It’s like super high. Right, the instrument is smaller, the pitch is higher. And a little bit more intense.
Let’s compare a piccolo to a flute.
First, a little flute, then a little piccolo. Thank you to the Minnesota orchestra for sharing these demonstrations on YouTube.
So the piccolo is the smallest instrument, it’s the highest instrument in the orchestra. And it has a sharper quality than the flute. In fact, the player actually put in an ear plug when she did the piccolo demonstration to protect her ears.
Let’s hear those two clips again.
So how does that relate to voice? When you tense muscles in certain ways, you make the tube of your instrument smaller, and that changes the sound, unrelated to the vowel sound you’re making here with your articulators. Your tongue, your teeth and so on. Your native language may feel more like a piccolo, but we want American English to feel more like a flute.
It’s sort of similar to that. It’s like when you’re using a little bit of your instrument, the color of the sound is different. And when you’re able to have a bigger instrument and open it up, then there’s more color and that has sort of a rounder sound to it which has a little bit more of an American feel. So, if you’re taking a word in English and you’re using more of a Spanish placement and some of the Spanish sounds, I can see how some people at first would not understand the word, depending on the word.
There, I mentioned the word ‘placement’. We can think of placement as being how the voice vibrates in the body, as it relates to the shape of your instrument. This affects all your sounds, every word you speak in English, and if you haven’t seen this video, where we talk about the anatomy of the voice and we compare the English of many different non-native speakers, please check it out. It’s probably the best video I’ve ever made on how to truly sound natural speaking English. After you finish this one, of course. I will link to that in the video description.
So how do you find more space in your body to open up your instrument? Try the exercise that I do with this student.
So, let’s just take the phrase, “I’m living in.” Because this has quite a few ih, I’m living in. Ih is one of those vowels that Spanish speakers often want to make ee, which is really bright and placed right here. And so that’s an example of ee, ih, of how we change the sound and it changes the placement and it goes from a tighter, smaller instrument to a bigger, rounder instrument. So let’s just try that vowel.
Pretty good. I want to do what I did to Marian a little bit which is I’m going to say, a sound and I’m going to take it so low that I’m not even sure if I’m going to be able to go any lower and I want you to try to do it too. Let me think of. I’m going to do the word live. Okay, live.
Okay. So, what you had to do to go that low, I felt like I saw a little bit of movement here which is like the base of the tongue where your tongue is attached and maybe it was a little bit of dropping and opening. Live. Like to go that low, you had to release some tension. Live. So what if you use that same feeling and then you brought your pitch up but even as your pitch became more natural, you had that feeling of like the dropping that you did there. So, let’s just do that again and this time I want you to really think about what is physically changing especially for the last one, what are you thinking to get your pitch that low?
Okay. So the last one, I like the sound. Honestly it’s got the most American quality.
And I feel more relaxed. And I feel more relaxed when I did it. I can feel the.
It has this like core American feel and color to the sound that’s like yeah, that’s it. And obviously I don’t expect you to speak this low. That would be very hard and unnatural. But, maybe you do want to do that for like ten seconds every once in a while, and like I said with Marian, maybe write out a list.
Are there things that you notice that you’re physically doing to get that sound? And then have that list with you, have that be a checklist and sort of try to go through those things sometimes when you’re just speaking more regularly like you said I have to relax, when you’re like, think of going that low.
And then, think in your mind, okay now, I’m going to say it normal, normally. Do you feel anything tense up and get ready?
Okay now, I’m going to talk like oh wow, now everything came back up high. I want to see if you can feel like your body picking up tension to get ready to talk. And if you notice that, see if you be like, no, I don’t need that, I don’t actually need that. I’ll tell you if it sounds weird. But this is like the difference between your American voice and your Spanish voice naturally has the tension that brings it here that has that awesome Spanish placement. And then your American voice, you got to leave all that, you got to think so low and then it’s going to give you a rounder tone to it. It’s like, maybe it’s worth going to uhm, YouTube and looking up like a Piccolo song and hearing how bright that sound is and thinking, okay, that’s my Spanish voice. My English voice is less bright. It’s more mellow.
More mellow. This is a great exercise you can do. You don’t need my feedback for this. Take an English phrase, bring the pitch down so low, as low as you can possibly go, and note everything your body does to produce that sound. Open, lowering, relaxation, space. Then try to keep some of that in your body as you bring your pitch back up. Also note American English might in general need to have a lower pitch to sound more natural. So that is my exercise challenge for you. Try to open up your instrument with relaxation.
Huge thank you to my student who volunteered to work with me in my live class in Rachel’s English Academy. I give live classes there once a month and work with a couple students, and I record all those lessons and they go in the Academy. So when students sign up and join, they can go to this course, type in their native language, and see all the students I’ve worked with in their language group. It’s a really great resource for finding tips and tricks that are relevant to you in tweaking your English. Of course there are also hundreds of training lessons to help students find these new parts of the American voice that they learn about. To learn more, please visit RachelsEnglishAcademy.com. And thank you so much for watching this video, I just love working with students on their English speaking, helping them reach their goals, helping them be 100% understandable and confident speaking English. Please subscribe with notifications on here on YouTube and why not binge watch some of my videos right now by watching this recommended video. That’s it and thanks so much for using Rachel’s English.