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Do you know the single most difficult aspect of sounding more like a native speaker?…it’s PLACEMENT. But of course, I can help! Check out this video and you’ll get to see me work—LIVE—with 2 of my students as they learn American English placement.
The one thing that makes the biggest difference for my students speaking English is also the hardest thing to teach and to learn, and that makes it kind of frustrating. But today, we’re talking about placement, we’re taking it apart, we’re going there.
Today, I’m working with a student and you’re going to see the tips and tricks that I give her to lower her placement. Now, I’ve been teaching pronunciation for years, and in the past month, I’ve learned something that’s totally new even to me, and that’s another tip to help lower placement. The other night, I was filming a video and it reminded me of a live class that I taught a couple months ago, and I went bam in my mind, I realized it. No, I wasn’t filming it, I was editing it, and as I was right here focusing on the reduction of the word was, I realized reductions help lower placement. So we’re going to see an excerpt from a live class where I started to get it. I’m teaching a woman named Karen, she’s Dutch, she has very good English, but we’re working on placement, and also on reductions. If the word placement is completely new to you, it basically means where in the body the voice vibrates. In American English, we have a low placement. Aahhh. And other languages have a higher placement often more here, aaah, aaah, but our core feeling uhhh is lower and that has to do with the neck and the pitch.
-Okay, so you know what vocal cords, you’ve heard that term?
– Yes, okay, so we have these two mucousy membranes. The air blows up, they vibrate, and that’s what makes ah, a sound. And we can’t change that; that’s involuntary. But what we can change is the voice box around it, and pushing it forward, pulling it back, lifting it up, lifting it down, and then that affects the shape of the inside of our neck.
And other languages, each language has its own specific neck shape, how we hold our muscles to produce the core sound.
And in American English, I think that most students need to focus on opening and lowering, and that changes the shape of the neck in a way that brings the formants down which makes everything sound placed lower.
If you’re watching this and you’re thinking, I want to learn more about that, the anatomy of the voice, what can affect placement, check out my video, the number one accent trick. We go so deep on anatomy and placement and something called formants which can affect the sound.
Our vocal cords and our voice box, if it starts to lift up, or push forward, or pull back, which it might when we’re tense, or when we’re feeling nervous, that that is going to negatively impact the overall sound. And, for some people, it makes it sound really nasal and high, and for other people it’s more subtle, like for you it makes it sound more proper in a way that’s a little old fashioned.
Again, not negative, but just sort of different than the way an American Would probably present. An American would speak with a lower pitch, and they would have those lower vibrations.
Okay, to sound more natural speaking English, you want lower placement. How do we get that? Tip one is actually lower your pitch.
Hi, my name is Karen, hi, hi, and then try lowering It, hi, hi, hi, hi, hi, my name is Karen, and just See, with lowering the pitch, What that feels like. Probably the lower you go, hi, my name is Karen, hi. Obviously you’re not going to speak there, but you should go there and practice to see and sense what is Changing in your throat. And what you’ll find, the lower you go, is that you have to really feel like your throat is getting wide, and that’s sort of the feeling That you want, even when you’re not speaking that low. so you can pretend, you can play with speaking really low, to sort of discover what that does to your throat, and then try to keep that open feeling as you bring your pitch up to something that’s a little bit more natural.
One question I get asked a lot is when I practice my throat starts to hurt, is that okay? Someone is saying, “Does it hurt when you lower your pitch?” It doesn’t, and it shouldn’t, but if it hurts when you lower it really low, that’s okay, you’re only going to do it for a second just to feel what that is.
But definitely, as you play Karen, do sense strain, because strain, I think, is a sign of a lifting of the voice box, and we want the opposite. We want a lowering, opening, so if you ever find, ah, my Throat is getting really sore, or my neck, or my tongue, you know, your tongue, the base of your tongue, is attached here to your neck. And if you’re ever feeling fatigued, that’s a sign that, okay, stop, take a break, shake it out.
So if you’re having neck pain, take a break, try to think open and low, and relax a little bit. Now, let’s start working with Karen on reductions.
And I run a business that Helps people sell more.
– Okay, so, and I run a business, beautiful, but a little bit of that formality, and. Let’s try, well, let’s try to reduce that. And I run a business, and I run, and I run, so i’m going to have you Bring in that reduction, and I run, and i’m going to have you bring down the pitch, and I run a business. And I run a business. Right, let’s just see what happens if you bring it lower. And I run a business. And I run a business. Right, you know, so the one you just did before that sounded pretty good, but the placement still felt high and then when you brought it down more, it didn’t seem like too much, and then the feeling was that sort of American chest feeling. And I run a business. And I run a business, and I run a business.
So we’re doing a reduction, we’re bringing in a reduction that she wasn’t doing and we’re also playing with lowering the pitch.
Right, and I love that, and I run a business. Take it down way lower than you know it should be. And, actually, this is something that will be fun for you to do. Take one phrase like this, and then record yourself doing all sorts of different things with it. And, when you’re going back and listening, and be like, “ah, I love that one”, and then play it, imitate it, play it, imitate it, play it, imitate it. And then these are just things that can help unlock that feeling, and the thing about the feeling is, once we find that, that affects everything that you say ever, so working on placement can really just transform everything About how you speak and for other people out there who have more varied issues, finding a better placement can often help sounds in a way that working on just the sound doesn’t even make sense, but working on the core concept of the placement transforms the sound in a way that, just working on the sound, you never could’ve gotten there. And so I always find that really interesting, and I really ask my students do that.
So you lower your pitch, your fundamental frequency, to find a lower placement. You also relax and open up your neck and throat and if you want more on that, watch my one accent trick video. Then also bringing in reductions is something that can help with placement. I found for my students thinking about lowering placement and letting go of tension in the neck can be pretty confusing and hard to actually do. But reductions, these are something concrete that you can do instead of saying aaand, say and. Instead of saying thaaat, say that. Now, if you don’t know that much about reductions, I have a full playlist that goes over what the reductions are in American English. If you’re looking to train more, check out my academy, I have hundreds of audio files to go with each concept that you learn so you’re not just learning it with your head but you’re training it into your body. And of course, my academy is also where I have live classes once a month like when I taught Karen. In this next clip, I’m going to work with Karen on the reduction of the word that. It becomes that, with a schwa instead of the AA vowel and a stop T depending on the sound that comes next.
I’m gonna say that helps people, And then you repeat it back That helps people.
– That helps people.
– That helps people.
– That helps people.
– Okay, so one thing, Let’s do the reduction. It’s not that, but it’s TH, that helps people.
– Yeah, okay, that helps people.
– Right, that helps people.
– That helps people.
– Yeah, loved that.
So, also for everyone else that’s listening and noticing, so she had and, I made her do that reduction. We had that, I made her do that reduction. You guys have probably noticed so many of the reductions involved, changing something to the schwa. And the schwa has a lower feeling, and so by also taking these words that aren’t reduced, like to, and reducing them to ta, and this kind of thing, we’re changing these things to a sound that naturally feels lower too, which will help with the overall placement feeling lower. And it’s not something I had really noticed when you were talking, although it makes sense now when I was sensing formality. A lack of reductions also creates a sense of formality, in sort of an old fashioned way. So that’s something, Karen, that you could also do when you record yourself and you’re listening to yourself, is be listening for, am I doing reductions? ‘Cause your rhythm is fine, right? And you were saying that, that, that, but I actually wanted th, th, th, so that’s another thing I would say.
I gotta say I was really excited to find this new trick that reductions affect placement. I’m always looking for new tips to give students especially with something that’s as hard to teach and understand as placement. Here’s another student that I worked with in that same live class, and placement came up again. And here, we’re talking about it as it relates to a particular vowel, the UH as in butter vowel, and you can only get the right quality for that vowel if you do have a low placement.
You know there’s one sound I Wrote only down only one word But I heard it a couple Times that I wanted to tweak With you and this sound Relates to placement so fully. And it’s the uh as in butter sound. And it was in this word…
– Yeah, let me hear you say it longer like holding out the vowel, bu-mm-ed.
– Okay yeah, I actually I like that a lot.
When you were talking it was a little bit higher, bum bum.
– I remember it.
– Yeah, bummed I’m so bummed.
That’s difference in placement.
The thing that makes that sound different is placement bummed is a very low placement things have to really open.
And if you have a good uh vowel, like it seems like you do When you’re imitating and thinking about it.
That’s a really good core place to go, when you’re thinking about your placement u-uh bummed.
I’m really bummed.
And then as you do it and you build a sentence on it, you try to maintain That connection that feeling.
Let me hear you say, u-uh.
– U-uuh, do it again.
– Yeah, I like it at the end the quality changes a little bit. Let me see if I can imitate it.
Uu-uuh, I don’t think I really did.
Uh, uh, uh, so it seemed felt to me like at the end It was a little bit more like uh, instead of u-uh.
Uh, uh do you hear a difference?
– Yeah, I hear it.
– The one is like, it’s like
There’s this really deep lagoon or something.
U-uh, and the other one it’s much more shallow.
And the one that we want is the deep lagoon. We want the feeling that there’s a lot of space down here, not that it’s shallow or gets cut off, Uhh, uhh, butter. Bummed.
– Okay, buh buh buh–
– Right, that was a lot more buh, buh-uh, – Bu-mm-er.
– Right, that was right.
That was a lot better.
Did everyone hear that, the difference between buh.
Which is just really shallow.
It’s really narrow, buh-uh.
Like we’re opening up everything underneath it.
And that’s one of the things in this placement video that’s coming out in May.
I worked with some students and I imitated them.
And basically every time I imitated them, what I felt was, a compression of where the sound lived.
It was here instead of here, or even really more like that.
So yeah, I think that’s something to think about And, that’s a feeling that we can still have variation Of pitch with that.
So, we might use a low pitch to find that feeling Or you might use that vowel to find that feeling.
But then once you found, that you can do a lot with it And still maintain that feeling.
You can even shout!
You can even be angry!
And it still feels that connection.
I’m not angry at you.
My friend who’s living upstairs is probably like, What is going on in her class right now?
But that’s what I would say and that sort of goes to That other question is, finding your thing.
I think for you finding that uh could be what helps.
So it could be a vowel or for other people It could be a particular word that has that vowel or whatever or it could be playing with pitch, uh-uuh.
Until you find something and then, As you’re practicing with a soundboard go back to That between each sentence even.
You’re like, hey what are you doing today, uh-uuh.
Hey, what are you doing today, or whatever.
Find your core, that’s awesome.
I also had thought when you were speaking.
I had also thought, placement it feels very cheeky, rather than chesty.
So now, I’m going to ask her to speak her own native language, so I can compare the placement of that to American English. Listen to how different it is when I imitate her placement, and I switch back and forth between that and the American placement.
And that’s probably what your native language is like.
Can I hear you just speak for a few seconds seconds, tell me where you were born or whatever in your native language.
– Yeah, it’s so different.
It’s so focused and small
Here, ta ta ta ta ta ta ta ta.
It has to me that kind of quality, ta-a.
And we have da da da da da da
Da da da da da da da da da da.
And that’s an example guys, my pitch was the same, my vowel was the same like my articulators were doing the same thing.
But it was the shape that changed to make those two different sounds.
As you’re practicing, if you feel like you find a placement that’s lower and sounds more natural and American, what should you do with that? You should come up with words to describe your experience and your feeling.
When you go bu-mm-ed.
Bu-uh, what would you say is happening In like your neck, throat, chest area?
– I feel it’s relaxing.
– I feel it relaxing.
– Oh I like that, I feel it relaxing.
Let me ask you then, speak your own native language again and tell me what you feel happening.
– I feel like there’s something that’s constraining.
Like everything is not relaxed.
I feel like I my muscles contract in here.
– Mm hmm.
– And not as much as–
– It’s so interesting to me that’s what you have to do to get the right sound of your native language. And, for English we have none of that for American English.
And so I think that can be really useful for everyone too.
Once you find something that feels like, oh This feels right, go back to your native language And see if you can describe what’s happening.
Because that’s what you have to fight to not do every time you speak American English.
And when I say fight, it sounds like tension.
But of course, the way to not do it is to let go of the tension.
I had a student once whose native language is Hindi.
And I was imitating him and when I was going back and forth between imitating him and not.
It’s like I felt I could almost feel my voice box.
Like bending forward to imitate him, and then dropping back to sound like myself.
So that’s great that you can identify it.
It sound like you identified here and also stuff that was happening here.
So that is awesome.
That is your voice in your native language. Totally different of course than American English.
So I asked her to keep comparing English with her native language. And guess what we get to? Reductions.
Let’s do something.
I want you to say a couple in your native language And then stop, think, let it all go and then say something in English.
And try to be aware of, I’m using a totally different voice in my body now.
– I’d like to eat.
– Pretty good, do another one.
– I have to…
– I liked that I liked I have,
Then to the verb I have to
It sort of brought it up.
I’m sorry, not the verb but the particle.
And you know, that is the sound that we actually probably should make a schwa.
I have to and if you had
let it stay a schwa, I bet i
have to, I bet it would have stayed lower.
I have to do that.
– I have to do that.
– Right, it’s a lot different than I have to.
I have to.
– I have to.
– I have to, right.
– I have to, yeah that’s a big difference.
– Big difference and when we were working with Karen, she was doing the ah vowel in that.
Which is also has a bit of a higher feeling and when we drop that and we switch into schwa, what was the word th-a, th-a-t.
– Th-a, th-a
– Th-a, th-a, th-a, th-a.
Another great tip for you to do as you practice is to speak your native language and then purposely try to speak American English with that placement. And then also try to speak it with an American placement. Try to really establish the difference in the feeling between those two placements. Hopefully, you get to the point where speaking American English with the placement of your own native language starts to feel kind of strange and funny.
I love that switching, keep that up.
The more you do that, the more you’re gonna solidify the difference.
And then actually a great other thing to bring in, Is speak your native language and then bring in your English and try to do it in that Native language voice. And identify that as wrong and as unchanged. And then do your native language again and then try to do that total American voice.
I think that that would be a great way- – Great.
– For you to uncover and play.
– It’s all about playing discovery.
I can’t do it for you, but I can listen and give you feedback.
One major tip I want you to know before you go start working on reductions is that simplification goes hand in hand with reductions. So you’re going to be simplifying your mouth movements as a part of reducing words, being able to say them more quickly. Here’s that playlist on youtube of all of the videos that I have on reductions, words that reduce, and if you do sign up for my academy, and you went ahead straight there it’s the Stress course. Keep your learning going now with this video and I really appreciate you being here watching this. I love teaching pronunciation and I learned so much from teaching my students. So massive thank you to my students who are in my academy who sign up for my live classes who let me teach them and learn from them. That’s it and thanks so much for using Rachel’s English.