Your Speaking Voice: How Good Diction Helps
How to Correct Poor Diction
What did you say? Will you repeat that, please? Did you say . . . ? Would you please speak a little louder? I didn't understand what you just said. Could you speak up, please?
These questions all refer to one thing—poor diction when speaking. One of the biggest frustrations in communication is the inability to understand what a person is saying. This can even lead to a heated argument, family disputes, and lovers' quarrels.
Many of us fall into the "I can't understand you" or poor diction category. But all it takes is a change of habit to learn how to clean up your diction and sound more professional.
Important Benefits for Speaking Clearly
The dictionary defines diction as the degree of clarity and distinctness of pronunciation in speech. Speaking clearly improves the sound of your voice, giving you a more successful vocal image. As you speak with confidence and credibility you make a lasting and positive impression. This forms trust.
It seems that we become complacent with our speaking voice. We don't think much about it. And because we are so used to our own sound, what we hear as we speak seems to be correct to us. But what we hear and what the listener hears are two different sounds. As we speak, we are hearing the sound which is vibrating and resonating between the bony surfaces of our head and face while the listener is hearing the projected sound. This sound can be quite a shock to us the first time we hear it on a recording. I know I was quite disappointed the first time I heard my true speaking voice.
Another advantage we have over the listener is the "image" of the words which travel through our thought process. Others can't read our minds and can only communicate through our words.
Our voice makes us immediately recognizable and identifiable from the first word we utter. The human voice is a potent and fundamental part of who we are and how we express ourselves. The sound of our voice reveals our feelings, our gender, our personality and even our age.
Pumping Energy Into Your Voice
When you were in grade school and just a kid, you were taught how to make vowel sounds. You were also taught how to articulate consonants. By being specific with these sounds, you learned that you could easily be understood.
It may be time to pump more energy into your voice by reviewing some of the basics of good speaking. Do you remember the famous actor, Richard Burton? He was known for executing perfect diction. If you can imitate his sound (somewhat), you will find that he used his lips to form beautiful, clear and resonant speech.
He was the master of consonant placement. And as brilliant as he was with the spoken word, he continued to practice and always warmed up his voice before acting on stage. Burton always used Diaphragmatic Breathing to bring energy and power to the spoken word.
Every word we speak needs energy in order to be heard. This energy comes from our breath and the words actually ride on air. Breathing from the belly instead of the chest provides more energy for better communication.
Listen to the Clarity of His Speech
Steps for Learning Diaphragmatic Breathing
Diaphragmatic breathing is the foundation for confident speaking and singing. To learn this principle, practice the step-by-step exercises provided in this article. Practice several times a day for as long as it takes for you to learn. It must become entirely automatic. This means that for some, a few weeks will be all that is needed but for others, it may take several months.
A great benefit for learning this new way of breathing is how we are able to get more blood flow and oxygen to our brain. This all adds up to living a healthier and more productive life. Consider reading my other article, The Miracle of Breathing.
Exercises for Speaking Consonants
The following exercises may help you with your consonant placement. They exercise your muscles for speech:
Bilabial: Sounds made with the two lips together:
- ME MAY MY MO MU; PE PAY PY PO PU; BE BAY BY BO BU; WE WAY WY WO WU
Sometimes we mumble and fail to pronounce our words properly because we don't know how to position our tongue and teeth. While speaking the above bilabial exercise, pay attention to how the tongue is positioned in the mouth. There is little movement except for the U (oo), where the tongue pulls back a little.
Labiodental: Upper teeth on the lower lip.
- FE FAY FY FO FU; VE VAY VY VO VU
Linguadental: Tongue between teeth.
- THE THAY THY THO THU
Lingua alveolar: Tongue tip against upper teeth. Avoid attacking the T by bringing the teeth together so that they touch. The t sound is initiated with the tongue contacting the gumline which meets the upper teeth.
- TEE TAY TY TO TU; DEE DAY DY DO DU; NEE NAY NY NO NU; LEE LAY LY LO LU
Lingua alveolar: Tongue tip positioned against lower teeth.
- SEE SAY SY SO SU; ZEE ZAY ZY ZO ZU
Lingua palatal: Tongue is against the roof of the mouth (hard palate)
- CHE CHAY CHY CHO CHU; JE JAY JY JO JU; SHE SHAY SHY SHO SHU; RE RAY RY RO RU
Lingua velar: Tongue against the soft palate or uvula.
- KE KAY KY KO KU; GE GAY GY GO GU
Glottal: Layrnx or voice box.
- HE HAY HY HO HOO
Practice these diction exercises for a few minutes each day to get the best results. After a time, your pronounciation will become natural sounding. Another suggestion is to list words with these sounds in them. Record your voice now and then to help you follow and recognize your improvement.
An Energetic Message for Speaking
Common Mistakes Made When Speaking
The way you pronounce your words is a major factor in influencing people. Those who mispronounce words are often unfairly judged. Take a look at the following list of mistakes made in pronunciation.
- Leaving off the end of the "ing" words as in thing, wearing, loving, wanting, singing.
- Word and slang misuse ("he goes" instead of "he said")
- Eliminate the words (goin', comin', gonna, shoulda, woulda) in your speech permanently.
- Kill the filler words (like, you know, um, er) which can be annoying.
- Using the wrong word.
- Even using the wrong tone can have a negative effect on what you're saying.
- Using a high and piercing tone.
This Tip Brings Energy to the Voice
I have used this exercise for years with immediate results. If your speech is lazy, tired or monotonous, try running in place as you speak an easy song or phrase. Example: Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream, merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream.
Try it all in one breath, speaking clearly and not rushing the words. Keep the volume and pitch up.
The speaker must have a well developed voice able to produce sound with little physical effort. A resonator is an area where the voice becomes larger. Actually, your whole body is a resonator which produces vibrations.:
- The chest works with the lower parts of your vocal range.Place the palm of your hand on your chest and in a low voice say "ho". Do this until you can feel vibrations occurring in your chest.
- The sinus area affects the middle range and enables your voice to carry. Find a comfortable middle tone and sing the word "nee" feeling for vibrations in the nose and cheek area. The tone will sound nasal at this point.
- The skull (top of the head) is the highest resonator and helps to produce high sounds.Send a nice high " Hee" sound on different pitches into the highest resonator - the head.
Learning how to use these resonating chambers will help to free your voice without force or strain.
Special Exercises for Specific Speech Problems
Here are some exercises to help you if your pitch is too high or too low. And if your tones are monotonous and boring the following exercises will add color to your speech.
- The siren exercise: Begin on a low tone, using the vowel "ee" and slide up to a high tone and back down again. ( you will sound like a siren). This will introduce you to a variety of areas and colors for speaking. If you speak with a high sound, lower your pitch and if you use a low sound or monotone, experiment with different pitches. Recording your vocal changes will help tremendously.
- Practice the following vowel exercises: Say the vowel sounds in progression as you drop your jaw farther for each vowel sound. You may feel as though you are exaggerating and you should. EE IH EH AH AW UH O OO.
- Drop the nasal sound: If you want to get rid of a nasal sound, drop your jaw and exaggerate chewing the tones on YA YOO YE.
- My favorite exercise is this one: Look in the mirror and say "hello" to yourself using lots of energy. You will most likely smile, and that's great. Now, saying only good things to yourself keep talking. Nothing negative must be spoken. Talk to yourself like you're talking to your best friend. Keep the dialogue going for at least 1 full minute. In the beginning, it may be difficult, but with time and consistency, it will become easy.
- Speak from the chest: If you ladies still speak with a "little girl" voice or if your voice is squeaky, start bringing your vocal sound from the chest area. This may feel awkward at first, but after some practice, you'll sound much better. Your voice will take on a rich, relaxed and confident tone.
"He who speaks the truth, stabs falsehood to the heart."
James Russell Lowel
Good, Clear Diction Is the Goal of Successful Speakers
You deserve to be dressed in a powerful, confident voice. You deserve to be listened to and you certainly deserve to be understood. We will be talking until we take our final breath. Speaking is our inner landscape. It's our personal calling card. Harness the power of your voice by rehearsing the exercises provided for you in this article.
Your voice is your instrument. Make it your best.
Questions & Answers
© 2011 Audrey Hunt