Learn about two different ways of speaking English: one is more horizontal, where you pull your lips wide, and one is more vertical, where you drop your jaw. Which one sounds more natural? Find out in this video.
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Hi! I’m Tom Kelley, a Rachel’s English teacher. And I’m here to tell you to relax! Chances are you can. It’s really helpful when you’re speaking English. Today’s practice tip is about thinking “vertically” rather than “horizontally” when you speak – you’ll see what I mean in a second.
A lot of my students are amazed to discover that speaking English can actually take less effort than they are currently using. Today I’m going to talk about one area of the face in which I see a lot of effort being used – the lips. Some students tend to pull their lips back wide when speaking – I call this speaking horizontally. I’m going to do it for a second. It’s like a bit of a smile on my face. And it tends to limit how much I drop my jaw. It also changes the way I sound. It takes my vocal placement from a lower resonance, to a higher resonance. We want to keep that low, open chest resonance when speaking English.
There are a few sounds in English that might require a little bit of horizontal stretch from the lips. For instance, the EE as in ME vowel. Many students like to pull the lips back for this vowel sound. EE. EE. That’s fine. And you will achieve a clear EE vowel when you do that. But when you watch native speakers use words with the EE vowel – you’ll notice that if the lip corners pull back, it’s a very subtle movement. For example, ‘easy’. ‘Easy’. My lip corners are barely pulling wide. Most of the EE vowel is made with the middle of my tongue arching up in the mouth.
Another vowel sound that might use a little bit of lip movement is the AA as in Hat vowel. Many students will say “hat”, using a lot of lip tension. This tension can actually make your voice sound a little nasal. The vocal placement rises into the face and nasal passages. Hat. My hat is missing. Instead, let the lips stay a bit more relaxed and let the tongue position be more important. For this vowel the tongue is wide and arching slightly up and forward in the mouth. Hat. My hat is missing. Now the vocal placement sounds the same the whole way through the sentence. Only with relaxation can you find that chest resonance.
I really encourage you to use a mirror to check and see if this is something you do. If you find that you tend to pull the lips corners back a lot when you speak, see what happens if you speak “vertically”, rather than horizontally. This means relaxing the lips and letting the jaw drop down a bit more for stressed syllables.
Let’s run through some examples:
Bed. Speaking horizontally: bed. Speaking vertically: bed. It takes so much less effort to speak vertically.
Same. Horizontal: same. Vertical: same.
To do this, you may need to move your tongue more than you are used to. If you’ve been using lip and jaw tension for the AY diphthong, for example, chances are you are pulling your lips wide. Instead, just arch the middle of the tongue from a low, wide position in the mouth to a higher position. AY. AY. And let the lips relax. American English depends on a lot of flexible movement from the tongue so that the lips and jaw can stay relaxed.
How about a couple practice sentences:
I love vacation days. Avoid the horizontal: vacation days. And go vertical and relaxed. Vacation days. I love vacation days.
Take the empty chair in the back. Horizontal: Take the empty chair in the back. Vertical: Take the empty chair in the back. Again, hopefully you can hear how relaxing my lips and jaw ends up changing the placement of my voice and the sound of my vowels and diphthongs.
Use a mirror when you practice to see if you are speaking horizontally. If you are, cool! Now you know you get to relax. And it’s always great to remember that you’re allowed to relax.
I hope this tip has been helpful! If you’re interested in learning more about taking private lessons with me, click here or in the description below. Keep practicing, have fun, and thanks for using Rachel’s English.