Lingua East

People should hear your ideas, not your accent.

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Chipping Away at an Accent with an SLP

If you read my site, you might find the term ‘SLP’ used quite a bit. An SLP is a speech-language pathologist, a person who has completed a master’s degree in communication sciences and disorders, speech pathology, or another similarly-named program. Here I explain why when you need quality accent modification services (or other communication enhancement services, for that matter), it’s a good idea to look for a speech trainer who is an SLP, a speech-language pathologist.

A certified SLP is a person who has received the Certificate of Clinical Competence from the American Speech, Language, and Hearing Association (ASHA). You might see the letters CCC-SLP after their name. I am a certified SLP, which means that I have a master’s degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders and that my first year or so of work was under the supervision of an experienced and knowledgeable SLP.

Anyone can market themselves as a speech coach, and there are quite a few speech coaches peddling accent modification services who are not certified SLPs. Some of them are very good at it, but not all of them have engaged in the rigorous study of the sounds of speech, language learning, motor speech patterns, and what it takes to change the sounds of speech. These are all topics of speech pathology, and they are all topics that your speech coach should be intimately familiar with.

If you’re looking for a certified SLP to provide you with accent modification or other communication skills training services, you have several options to search. The first, and perhaps the most obvious, is Google. You can google the services you are looking for and your geographic area. Then, you can weed through the results to see which speech trainers are SLPs and which came to the profession from another field.

If you are unsure if your Google results are certified SLPs or not, you can verify their certification at the ASHA website. You will need their first and last names, their state, and the country to perform this check. Click here to verify a speech trainer’s certification.

A more targeted way to search is to search the CORSPAN database[1]. CORSPAN stands for the Corporate Speech Pathology Network, and it is an international organization of certified speech-language pathologists who provide accent modification, public speaking, presentation skills, voice training, and other communication skills training. At corspan.org you can search for a speech trainer in your geographic region.

Something worth noting about CORSPAN is that it is a membership-based group. There are many more speech trainer SLPs in the world than are in the group, but the group provides an easy way to find a qualified speech trainer in your area. Because one of the requirements for membership in CORSPAN is being a certified SLP, it is more reliable than Google.

Changing an accent is not just an art, it is a science. Groups of speech sounds are interrelated in many ways, and some are a lot easier to change than others. With an individualized plan carefully laying out the speech sounds to address and the order in which to address them, an English speaker with an accent has the best chance at making lasting changes and getting the most bang for his/her buck.

[1] In the nature of full disclosure: I serve on the board of CORSPAN, so I am biased here. However, it is the only group of its kind, and the members are passionate about what they do.

Uptalk: The Reviled Speech Behavior’s Origins and Purpose

There are many curious features of spoken language. Nobody know where they come from or how they start, but everyone has an opinion on these mannerisms. One of such mannerisms is uptalk.

In the world of linguistics, uptalk is known as high rising terminal. In other words, it means finishing a phrase or sentence by raising the pitch of your voice. Uptalk occurs all over the English speaking world, with notable occurrences in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, England, and especially in Northern Ireland. Like other curious features of spoken language, the origins of uptalk are guessed at, but unknown.

In the United States, people blame “Valley Girls;” in England they blame the Australians for exporting the juicy soap opera Neighbours; and in Cape Town… I’m not sure about that one. However, uptalk appears to be one of those linguistic features that has always been around. Or at least, it’s been around for much longer than people have been talking about it.

Those particularly critical of uptalk label the high rising terminal as sounding like a question. Those people report hearing an individual using uptalk as asking a series of questions. They further state that this series of question-like utterances make the speaker sound indecisive or insecure. However, such is not the case.[1]

Uptalk is quite versatile. Uptalk is a way for the speaker to ensure the listener is paying attention and following what they are saying. Uptalk is also frequently used when listing items, especially when the speaker has to think about the next item on the list. It is a way of holding the floor so the listener will not interrupt before the speaker has finished. Uptalk has a purpose and perhaps like any other speech behavior, it can be overused, but that does not take away its linguistic legitimacy.

Because language isn’t politicized enough (that was sarcasm), many people commenting on uptalk have labeled it as a gender issue plaguing the speech of young women. Others have come to women’s defense, declaring that the “uptalk epidemic” is just part of society’s unfair policing of women’s behavior. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle of those two extremes.[2]

The uptalk discussion has received contributions from individuals varying in their qualifications to discuss language, from the BBC reporter who consulted with Mark Liberman (a celebrity, if you follow linguist a-listers) and traced uptalk back to the 9th century, to others, who refer to uptalk as a pathology disturbingly growing in popularity among female speech. The truth is, especially in the English-speaking world, communication is not gender-specific. (You have probably heard children of both genders using uptalk as they told a story, especially in the phrase “and then…”.)

The sorts of linguistic features that women are accused of using more often, such as uptalk, or fry, are things that both genders use. Linguistics studying the incidence (how often something occurs) of uptalk have not found any definitive data pointing to it being more of a feminine or masculine way of communicating. Instead, these negative critiques of uptalk appear to be related to some of the work done by linguist William Labov in the 20th century.

Labov came up with something called the “gender paradox.” According to the gender paradox, when there is an evolution in a specific language form, then women – particularly the younger women who speak that language – are much more likely than men to use that form. If the gender paradox applies to uptalk, then you can expect to hear a lot more uptalk in the future.

All attempts to communicate thoughts and ideas are good. When others are uncomfortable with the way you speak, the problem is not yours, it’s theirs. Some speech coaches ascribe to the view that uptalk is a pathology that should be eradicated from their client’s speech, the sooner the better. Or that it is generally undesirable because it makes the speaker sound indecisive, like they lack confidence. However, uptalk has its uses. At Lingua East, we can help you get rid of your uptalk, if that is what you want. But we will never force you to change who you are. It could be that you are just ahead of the curve.

Whether you choose to use uptalk or not, let them hear your ideas.

[1] That is certainly not how the uptalk I heard yesterday from Shinzo Abe’s interpreter sounded. But maybe you disagree.

[2] I am suggesting here that women may use uptalk as a tool to hold the floor, given the overwhelming incidence of men interrupting women more than they interrupt other men.

Cultural Communication for Exceptional Service

Human relationships are the source of business success. These relationships can happen in many places. They occur among staff members, they develop between your company’s representatives and guests, and they serve as the backbone of customer referrals. The human connection is the most valuable part of your business.

Every facet of business matters. To succeed in business, one must be constantly striving, working to improve in every area without leaving any aspect of the business behind to stagnate. That’s why it is so important to work on communication skills. There is always space for improvement.

Every facet of business matters.

Every facet of business matters.

Consider the hotel industry. Hotel employees deal with guests from all over the world, perhaps with the majority of visitors coming from one or two foreign countries. Operators work very hard for years to select the best quality linens and furnishings for the accommodations, and staff works tirelessly around the clock to provide guests with other special features that make a stay at the hotel an unforgettable experience.

What so many business operators overlook, unfortunately, is the crucial importance of communication skills. After all, hotels and other service-oriented businesses rely on the customer experience more than anything else. Customers can experience the best in activities and accommodations, but if their interactions with staff are less than stellar, then they will be significantly less likely to refer others to the hotel.

Negative experiences are memorable.

Negative experiences are memorable.

Negative experiences are memorable. Studies show that we remember them more than positive experiences, and with greater detail[1]. In fact, guests are more likely to talk about their negative interactions with the staff than they are to rave about the excellent quality of the Egyptian cotton bath towels or the LED temperature controls for water fixtures in the bathroom. We have to work harder to provide memorable positive experiences.

Particularly when dealing with guests from other cultures, we come up against cultural expectations that we often do not even know about. These cultural expectations can occur in the unlikeliest and most mundane of interactions, such as a server checking on dining guests. When these expectations are violated, people notice, and they remember.

The best way to prevent individuals from your organization from inadvertently violating guests’ expectations is to educate yourself in cultural communication. Just as you make an effort to stay on top of industry news through publications, networking, and working with consultants, if you are in a service industry behooves you to work on communication skills. Especially if you provide services for international guests, communication is one area you do not want to leave behind to stagnate.

What matter most are the connections forged between people.

What matter most in the service industries are the connections forged between people. Read any business book and you’ll find countless examples of companies that sell product at higher prices than competitors, but still experience success due to an unwavering commitment to customer service. The companies that are able to persevere through tough times and turn profits, year after year, are not the ones that base their basic operations on shrewd economic principles with dead-eyed employees fulfilling job duties, nothing more, nothing less. The companies that are able to find true longevity and success are the ones that focus on people – that means both the customers they serve and the individuals they employ.

In order to provide value to your customers and excellent customer service to your guests, you must invest in your employees. Part of their training in operations and company culture should include a section on communication skills. If you serve international clients, special training in cultural communication can set your organization apart from the competition.

We all want to be the best at what we do. Employee training in cultural communication can be extremely valuable to your organization. Have a consultant train your staff once and you’ll see lasting customer service improvements that quickly recover the cost of the service. Companies of all sizes reap the rewards of communication skills training through better, more responsive customer service.

If you are interested in learning more about how you can increase profit margins with cultural communication training for employees, contact us. We provide consulting services to select organizations looking to build customer relationships through effective cross-cultural communication. Help your company make a name for itself through the human connection.

We provide consulting services to select organizations looking to build customer relationships through effective cross-cultural communication.

[1] Mickley, K. & Kensinger, E. (2008). Emotional valence influences the neural correlates associated with remembering and knowing. Cognitive, Affective, and behavioral Neuroscience, 8, 143-152.

Mickley Steinmetz, K. & Kensinger, E. (2009). The effects of valence and arousal on the neural activity leading to subsequent memory. Psychopsyiology, 46, 1190-1199.

7 Communication Tips for ESL Speakers that Work

If you speak English as a second language, then you have run into situations where someone did not understand you. What did you do when that happened? Were you able to adjust your communication style to get your point across successfully, or did you say, “Forget it,” and move on with that disappointing feeling that you had an idea you wanted to share but you couldn’t? I know what it is like to communicate my ideas in a second language, both successfully and unsuccessfully. I know you have great ideas, and I want you to be able to communicate them successfully.

To help you communicate better as an ESL speaker, I have come up with the following tips. Try them out, you may find that some work better for you than others. Leave a comment below about which tips like the most (or least).conversation

  1. Slow down your rate of speech.

Many people speaking English as a second language find that they are better understood when they slow down their rate of speech. You don’t have to speak one…word…at…a…time, in fact, that may make your listener look at you like you have six heads. But, if you can produce the same words over a longer period of time, your listener will understand you better.

I certainly found this to be the case as a small child communicating with an aunt from Peru. When she spoke to me at her normal rate of speech, it was extremely difficult for me to pick out key words in her message. But when I asked her to repeat and she slowed her rate of speech, I understood her perfectly.

  1. Use “clear speech”

“Clear speech” is a technique that involves speaking with exaggerated movements of the tongue, lips, and jaw. You may have to think about what happens in your mouth when you produce certain speech sounds to be able to successfully use clear speech, but with practice, you’ll be able to turn it on and off when you need it. It feels strange to speak using the clear speech technique, but it can help you get your message across.

  1. Lose the fillers

A lot of us use “fillers,” words or sounds like “um” or “ah” when we’re speaking without even thinking about it. Fillers do not add any meaning to what we say, and can be distracting to listeners. When you speak with an accent, you may be using filler sounds from your native language that are especially distracting to listeners. This can make it extra difficult for your listeners to understand your message.

I was recently at a convention with thousands of other speech-language pathologists. I attended a talk by a very intelligent, extremely talented clinician. The talk was packed full of valuable information, but the clinician used the filler “right?” at the end of every other sentence, and sometimes even multiple times within the same sentence. This made it more difficult to keep track of the flow of the presentation, and I suspect the speaker had no idea she was doing it.

  1. Communicate in a quiet area

There is a lot of research about the interaction between accented speech and background noise. In short, if there is a lot of noise in the surrounding area, your listeners will have a harder time understanding you. Turn off the television, move away from the crowd, and stay away from the speakers blasting music. If it is easier to hear you, it will be easier to understand you.quiet-communication

  1. Use transition words

You can use transition words strategically to introduce topic shifts to your listeners. When you use words and phrases like “on the other hand,” “that is different from…,” and “that reminds me of…” These phrases serve to flip a switch in your listener’s brain that prepares them to understand a different set of vocabulary from what they might otherwise expect.

  1. Pause more

Public speakers use pauses to give their message more power. You can use them to the same effect. Use pauses between phrases and to separate your ideas. You can even use this pause time to plan what you are going to say next, or to prepare yourself for a transition or clear speech.

  1. Say it another way

If your listener asks you to repeat what you just said, it can sometimes be helpful to rephrase your message. Your listener may have had difficulty understanding just a couple of the key words in your sentence; if you can use different words to communicate the same meaning, you increase the chances that your listener will understand you. (This is also a great way to show off that impressive vocabulary you’ve worked so hard on!)

bubblesNow that you have read about these tips, get out and practice them. Figure out which ones work for you and which ones you already use. Keep these tips at the ready to communicate with greater success. Let them hear your ideas.

Understanding Multilingualism

Being able to speak more than one language is a wonderful thing. When you are multilingual, you can communicate with many more people than if you learn your native language and end your communication development there. When you are able to communicate with more people, you earn the remarkable opportunity to learn about other cultures, other ways of life, and all sorts of wonderful things. Multilingualism expands your world.explore1

Learning another language helps people to understand one another. We are all on this planet together, and the better we understand one another, the better we can cooperate to make the world a better place for everyone on it. Multilingualism helps people to spread urgent news from one part of the globe to another rapidly, so scientists can collaborate and share their remarkable discoveries with the rest of the world, and governments can come to agreements about difficult situations.

Furthermore, knowing a foreign language allows you to immerse yourself in someone else’s culture, to fully understand and appreciate the customs and traditions, foods, music, and even get a better understanding of how the way people from that culture think. Psycholinguists (most notably Benjamin Whorf and Edward Sapir) have thoroughly discussed the effects of language on thought, and have come to a general consensus that at least some of the aspects of our language shape the way we think.

processingSome people do not understand the unique benefits of knowing more than one language, and they may view foreign accents as a negative thing. While looking down upon foreign accents is certainly not the way the world should work, it is the reality. While we cannot easily change the way in which others view our accents, one thing we can do is to work on our accents to change the way our listeners process our speech.

talkWhen we hear spoken language, our brains work to translate the spoken words into ideas with meaning. Our brains can usually recognize whole words, sometimes entire phrases, and translate those into their respective meanings. When the speaker has a noticeable accent, however, that recognition process is slowed down. The listener’s brain may have to break down the words further into the separate sounds of speech before putting them back together and translating that cobbled-together series of speech sounds into words with meaning.

This process of understanding accented speech takes a little bit longer than the process of understanding speech produced without an accent. Researchers[1] have found this to be true. Furthermore, this effect of hearing and understanding accented speech varies depending on the word choice, and perhaps even the topic of conversation. More predictable words will be processed faster than words that are unpredictable. Whether a word is predictable or not depends on context; that is, the other words that are in the sentence or phrase. Researchers have found that when words contain inaccurately produced speech sounds, listeners are better able to identify these errors in words that are highly predictable (for example, in the phrase “shag garpet”) than in words that are much less predictable (“rag garpet”)[2]. Although this processing delay is only in the order of milliseconds, it can have a big effect on communication.

Luckily, there are some things that we can do as speakers to make things easier for our listeners. These tips are similar to the tips I shared in my post about communicating with people who are hard of hearing. If you want to learn tricks for getting your message across with an accent, click here.

Multilingualism[1] Munro, M. & Derwing, T. (1995). Processing time, accent, and comprehensibility in the perception of native and foreign-accented speech. Language and Speech, 38, 289–306.

[2] Cole, R. A., & Jakimik, J. (1978). Understanding speech: How words are heard. In G. Underwood (Ed.), Strategies of information processing. New York: Academic Press.

The Hidden Meaning of Small Talk

Different cultures treat workplace communication differently. Many people working in the United States for the first time may be shocked at the casual nature of conversations between colleagues and their superiors. In the United States personalities really come out (ever heard the phrase let your freak flag fly?), and while a subservient attitude toward the boss in all situations may be a norm in a native country, that is simply not the case here.

Small talk is a crucial aspect of communication. The brief conversation you have every morning with your colleagues in the hall as you make your way to your desk may not seem to matter much, but it does. If you learn the hidden meaning of small talk in US corporate culture, you can use it to your benefit.

Pro tip #1: Remember personal details that your coworkers mention in small talk (such as names of family members, pets, hobbies), and ask about them later.

Small talk is a good way to form a personal connection with each of your colleagues, no matter what level they may inhabit in your organization. This personal connection will affect how they interact with you on more professional matters, and will impact their attitude toward working with you. That is why it is important to make a good impression – and to maintain that good impression – through small talk.

Pro tip #2: Show others you are interested in what they have to say. You can do this by making a comment on what they have said and encouraging them to keep talking such as, “I didn’t know that, can you tell me more?”

Another function of small talk is to set the stage for future interactions. For example, as members of your team and a few other departments are arriving in the conference room a few minutes before a Monday meeting, the group may engage in light conversation about what they did over the weekend. This conversation, while seemingly unrelated to the meeting that is about to occur, sets the mood. This conversation helps everyone there to relax and to open up so that when the meeting does begin and the conversation turns to more important matters, everyone there will feel good about participating, and will be more willing to share their ideas in an open discussion.

Pro tip #3: During small talk, stay calm. To maintain an overall positive attitude in the group, do not interrupt others, even if you really want to. Let them finish what they are saying before jumping in. (This is a good rule of thumb for any interaction.)

It is not uncommon for small talk with the boss to be on a more personal level. In other countries, it might be unthinkable to discuss relationships outside of work, activities done in your free time, and current events, but in the United States, these topics are fair game. It is certainly not recommended to be open about everything; every company is different.

Pro tip #4: Observe others in your company engaging in small talk and use their conversations to guide you.

small talkThe best way to figure out what is appropriate is to listen carefully to topics that others bring up in conversation and use those topics as a gauge. Of course, you should only share information that you are comfortable with sharing. The main point is to engage in casual small talk with as many members of your organization as possible, so that you can forge those personal relationships that will help you to excel in your position.

Pro tip #5: Make an effort to engage in pleasant small talk with everyone in your organization. This will help to set you apart as someone everyone wants to work with.

Small talk can open doors to greater opportunities. It is never a waste of time to engage in small talk with a person, especially if you do not know that person very well. By having a casual conversation with someone, you can, little by little, learn more about him or her. A casual conversation can also help that person to learn more about you. The more they learn about you the more likely they may be to volunteer to help you with that project you’re trying to get off the ground, or to introduce you to a higher-up in the organization you’ve been hoping to speak with.

Small talk is a skill that you can learn, like a yo-yo trick, or playing the banjo. One of the best ways to learn and improve your small talk skills is to watch others and pay attention. Listen carefully to the topics they discuss and their word choices. Look at their body language, hand gestures, and facial expressions, and listen to the tone of voice used.

Pro tip #6: Practice small talk. Practice it everywhere and with everyone you encounter. Practice with strangers (unlike in other places, talking to strangers is a completely acceptable thing to do in the United States). Practice with the grocery clerk, the librarian, and that lady at the café who remembers how you like your coffee. The more you practice, the closer you will be to mastering small talk.

FontCandy (50)Everyone does small talk a little differently. Using your observations of many different people, develop your own small talk style. The comments you make, the way you raise your eyebrows, what you do with your hands, and the tone of your voice when you say, “Wow!” all come together to make an impact on your listener. Your small talk style is unique to you.

The best way to really learn something is to seek out someone who can help you. A speech coach can help you to identify your strengths and weaknesses in the area of small talk, and can help you practice and perfect your small talk. At Lingua East, we want to help you succeed, and we’d love to help you develop your own small talk style. Contact us to master those small conversations that can lead to something bigger.

Changing Your Accent is Hard (But Not Impossible)

When you’re a kid, you can learn languages – your native language and successive languages – pretty easily. Your developing brain is able to soak in all the sounds, words, and structures of a given language.

By the time we are four years old, our brains and mouths have linked up to form the speech patterns that will accompany us for the rest of our lives.

By the time we are four years old, our brains and mouths have linked up to form the speech patterns that will accompany us for the rest of our lives.

By the time we are four years old, our brains and mouths have linked up to form the speech patterns that will accompany us for the rest of our lives.

By adolescence, our speech patterns have become so ingrained that if we learn a second language, we are increasingly likely to speak that second language with an accent. Furthermore, it is around this time that learning another language becomes much more difficult, requiring hours of study. Even if you are able to master the grammar and vocabulary of Farsi at the age of 16, you’ll probably still speak the language with an accent.

Accent encompasses the sounds, rhythms, and intonation of a spoken language by a group of people. It could be confined to language, such as Estonian, or region, such as the Texas Panhandle. While everyone speaks with an accent of some sort, we usually don’t think about having an accent in our native language.

The sorts of researchers who study how babies respond to different sorts of language have found that at a certain age, babies prefer the accent of their own group. In other words, a Jamaican baby would show a preference of Jamaican English over a Minnesota accent, and a baby from St. Louis would prefer a drawl over an Australian accent. We know that babies can tell a difference. What about adults?

The adult brain works through the accent like a sculptor, chipping away at the surface to get at the meaning underneath.

The adult brain works through the accent like a sculptor, chipping away at the surface to get at the meaning underneath.

When a typical adult hears someone speaking with an accent, their brain has some extra work to do before he can understand the message the speaker is trying to convey. The adult brain works through the accent like a sculptor, chipping away at the surface to get at the meaning underneath. The processing of the accent happens mostly on a subconscious level, unless the accent is particularly strong.

Accents can come with a lot of baggage in the form of how listeners perceive someone who speaks with an accent that is different from theirs. People who speak with a certain accent may be seen as more intelligent, sophisticated, or educated. People who speak with a different accent may be seen as more likely to be dishonest. And none of this has anything to do with the person himself, just his accent!

While I have discussed before how as a listener, the only way to overcome any subconscious biases you may have is to increase your exposure to those accents or dialects that might be seen in a negative light, many wonder, what can a speaker do about her own accent?

Petra is an individual who learned a second language when she was a little older. She has an accent. This accent is there because of the speech patterns that Petra developed as a little kid in Hungary. Petra, who works in the corporate offices of a chemical company in the US, wants to change her accent.

She has an accent because of the speech patterns that she developed as a little kid.

She has an accent because of the speech patterns that she developed as a little kid.

She had always had some apprehension about communicating with her team and outside vendors, but as she rose up in the ranks, her accent started becoming more and more of a problem. Petra knows that she is knowledgeable, experienced, and hardworking, but she feels that at times, her interactions with colleagues and vendors are not as clear as they could be, because of her accent.

She’s tried apps on her phone, working diligently to tap and talk to her phone on a daily basis. Didn’t work. She’s tried mimicking the voices on the television. That didn’t work, either. Petra finally realized what was missing: professional feedback from a native English-speaker.

So Petra went to Human Resources and asked about speech coaching. The training director at her company set up an appointment for Petra to meet with a speech coach. Petra chose to do the training over the computer, because it was more convenient for her.

Working with the speech coach, Petra got more than just the feedback that she needed to improve her speech. She was given special exercises to practice that were tailored to her needs, based on science, and recommended by a professional. Petra found the sessions enjoyable, and learned something new every week.

After working with the speech coach for three months, Petra still has an accent. However, she is able to speak English much more clearly than before, and some of her colleagues have even commented on how her speech has improved. She feels more confident in her position, and her feelings of apprehension about communicating with colleagues and vendors have reduced significantly.

If you or one of your team members would like more information about accent modification services, contact us. We’ll be happy to tell you more about our program. If you’re ready to change your accent using a speech coaching program that works, take our online screening to get started. People should hear your ideas, not your accent.

Why Your Vocal Folds are Like Jellyfish, or The Four Kinds of Voice

Your vocal folds are like jellyfish. They’re like jellyfish in that they are surprisingly complex and they move in an interesting way. You can see this in videos recorded with a strobe (so the vocal folds look like they’re moving in slow motion) like the one here.

As you saw in the video, there are different ways you can use your vocal folds to create different types of voice. In general, there are four different ways you can use your vocal folds, and each way creates a different type of voice. The four voices have different pitch and quality characteristics, and to produce each voice, you use your vocal folds and the surrounding muscles and tissue in a unique way.

jellyfishThe first kind of voice is the voice you use when you’re talking normally. In the speech world, this is called modal voice, and singers call it chest voice because the sound vibrations are more in the chest cavity than anywhere else. This voice is loud and clear.

Like trying to tickle yourself doesn’t really work, trying to get to the right pitch when you’re thinking about your voice is not easy. You can use an easy trick to find your ideal pitch. I recommend you do exercise while sitting down. If you try it standing up, your tensed abdominal muscles will make it difficult. First, shake everything out and relax. Then, in as low a pitch as you can before it gets uncomfortable, hold a prolonged “oh”. With your index finger, poke your belly a couple inches above your belly button.

As you do this several times, you will notice that the sound of your voice changes. You should hear your voice rise in pitch as your finger goes in, and fall back to the low pitch you started at as you move your finger away from your body. The highest pitch your voice reaches during this exercise is your ideal pitch. If it helps, try doing the exercise and holding “oh” at your ideal pitch as you move your finger away from your belly.

The second kind of voice is still clear, but it’s quieter than modal. It’s a thin voice, or in the singing world, head voice. When you produce this voice, your vocal folds spend the same amount of time apart as they do together, and have a bit more tension on the outside.

To find your thin voice, there’s a simple singing exercise you can do. Produce a prolonged “ee” at a comfortable, perhaps even low, pitch. Put your hand on the back of your neck. You should feel the vibrations of your voice there. Now, increase your pitch, gliding up to as high of a note as you can while keeping your voice [relatively] smooth. Pay attention to where the vibration goes. You should feel it moving up your throat into your mouth and even higher in your head. Isn’t that cool?

The more you practice getting into each voice, the easier it will be.

The more you practice getting into each voice, the easier it will be.

The third kind of voice is stiff, but you probably know it by its other name, falsetto. In stiff voice, there is a lot more tension in the vocal folds, which are actually apart at the back. Therefore, stiff voice sounds breathy and quiet.

You can get to your stiff voice using the same pitch glides that you used to find your thin voice. When you increase the pitch, you’ll reach a point where you have to shift things around in your throat to go higher. That shift, in case you’re wondering, is you releasing contraction of the interarytenoid and lateral cricoarytenoid muscles and moving your vocal folds apart in the back. After you’ve made that shift and gone higher, you’re into your stiff voice. How does it feel different from modal or thin voice?

The fourth kind of voice is the kind that has been getting quite a bit of mainstream attention in recent years, slack, or glottal fry. Just do a Google search of “glottal fry” and the results will convince you that this type of voice is a fad among young women and it will ruin your life. While shocking search results may be enticing, there is nothing to worry about.* fry is a normal part of voice that speakers of all genders use to varying degrees in different dialects.

There was a great article a few months back in the ASHA Leader about glottal fry. You can read it here.

This kind of voice sounds creaky, and quieter than modal voice. With glottal fry, your vocal folds spend more time closed than they do open, and they vibrate inconsistently. You probably already know how to produce this type of voice: block off the air in your throat by closing your vocal folds and slowly let the air out. Hear the creakiness?

It is remarkable to think about all the things your vocal folds do for you. They help you sing, laugh, pick up heavy objects, and to tell that special someone that you love them. Be sure to treat your voice well. Check out my article on Why You Should Be Kind To Your Voice to learn some tips for keep your voice healthy.

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*If fry is the only thing your voice is doing, then seek help from an ENT, as that could indicate a voice disorder like muscle tension dysphonia or vocal fold lesions.

Improve Your Speech with PESL Speech Training

An accent is a part of who you are. It is part of your cultural and personal identity. At Lingua East, we love accents, always have. However, we recognize the negative impact an accent can have for people speaking English as a second language, both professionally and personally.

Miscommunications occur all the time. When a listener does not understand you, because of word choice, pronunciation, tone of voice, or some combination of the above, the results can be disastrous. We know what it feels like to not be understood when speaking a second language. And we are dedicated to providing quality accent modification services to decrease the chances of having that happen when you communicate in English.

Your accent is a part of who you are.

An accent is a part of who you are.

Our accent modification services are provided with the ultimate goal of reducing the negative impacts that accents can have on a person’s life, and enabling that person to meet their goals and go further than they imagined. We don’t want to eliminate your accent. It’s part of who we are. We do want to give you the tools for effective communication, that you can use at will, as needed.

The Compton Pronunciation of English as a Second Language method, known as PESL, is a program we use to help individuals who speak English with a noticeable accent. The PESL method is based on research done by Dr. Arthur J. Compton and is provided by speech professionals who have completed formal training in the method. For decades, this method has been in use. It has benefitted tens of thousands of participants.

Participants in PESL training work with a certified speech trainer once a week for about three months. This training may be offered on an individual basis either in person or via teleconferencing, or in a small group setting. The result is clear, effective spoken communication.

The program begins with an assessment that identifies speech sounds that differ in the participant’s spoken English, and any speech patterns that may interfere with the intended transmission of information. It continues with a series of engaging sessions that are customized so the participant may learn more accurate pronunciation of the sounds of Standard American English. We like to keep the training sessions interesting without sacrificing quality or value.

Training may individual either in person or via teleconferencing, or in a small group setting.

Training may individual either in person or via teleconferencing, or in a small group setting.

After completion of the training sessions, a final assessment is performed to measure overall improvement. Typical participants in PESL training demonstrate improvements in their speech of 50 to 80%, along with additional benefits that are not so easily measured. These include improved voice control, increased confidence, and a significant improvement in professional performance.

Speech training with the PESL method is particularly beneficial to individuals who interact with a large network of people, such as professionals in the corporate world, healthcare practitioners, IT professionals and consultants, and students and professors in academia. Really, anyone who speaks English with an accent can benefit from PESL training.

At Lingua East, we are certified to provide PESL speech coaching. If you would like to become a more effective communicator, complete a free screening today or send us an email. We’d love to hear from you and to help you take the first step toward clear communication. Let them hear your ideas, not your accent.

20 Reasons to Work on Your Accent

Still wondering about the benefits of accent modification services? Let the following reasons convince you.

  1. Be understood. When you work on your accent with a certified speech trainer, the result is clearer communication. People will understand you better.
  2. Be a role model for others. You can show others through everyday conversations that change is possible. The people you know will notice a change in your speech over time. You have more power than you can imagine.
  3. Experience professional success. Get that promotion, build your network, and climb the ranks with improved communication. You will be able to do your job better when communication isn’t a barrier.
  4. Learn more. When you take action to improve your accent, you will be able to learn from other people. Experts will better understand your questions and as a result, you’ll get new information and learn new skills.
  5. Look better. Your stylist will understand you better when you explain that tasteful new cut that will give you the perfect new look you want.ballooning
  6. Share your interests with others. With clear communication, you will be able to share your knowledge, experience, and hobbies with others. Doing this can open doors to unexpected adventures, in the most rewarding way.
  7. Get lost less often. When others understand your speech, asking for directions from strangers in gas stations is a more comfortable experience.
  8. Be better regarded by others. Having an accent is not a bad thing. However, negative perceptions related to accents are an unpleasant reality. The good news is you can improve the way you are perceived by others by working on your accent.
  9. Build your confidence. When you know how to get your point across, you can focus on what’s really important. And that’s a powerful thing. Take advantage of accent modification services and take charge.
  10. Get your point across. With worries about your speech out of the way, you can focus on what’s really important. People should hear your ideas, not your accent.
  11. Have more interesting conversations. How many times a week do you have to explain to people your life story: where you’re from, why you came, and everything else? And if you’ve been in the area a long time, how annoying is it to get the well-meaning question, “How do you like living here?” When you work on your accent, you get these questions less and less often, and you have more time for more interesting conversations.
  12. Repeat yourself less often. Work on your accent so people will understand you the first time. Work on your accent so people will understand you the first time. (Did I make my point?)
  13. Give better presentations. Public speaking doesn’t have to be painful. But for many, it is. Accent modification services can give you the tools you need to wow everyone in the boardroom.
  14. Be happier with your friends and colleagues. When the people in your life understand your speech, it is easier for you to clearly tell people what you want. When they know what you expect, they will fulfill and maybe even surpass your expectations.money
  15. Make more money. Clear communication has its benefits. Impress your boss, take the next step, and reap the rewards. It starts with you.
  16. Increase your chances of being a movie star. Lots of actors work with speech trainers. Work on your accent and deliver your lines in an award-winning performance.
  17. Make a better first impression. Let the true you shine through when you meet someone new. Engage others with your ideas, not your accent, and you’ll instantly charm.
  18. Make more friends/meet new people. When you can communicate clearly, your world gets bigger. Meet new people and make more friends, wherever you speak.talking fun
  19. Be able to spend time with those people in different places. Research shows that people with light accents are better understood in noisy environments. Don’t let your accent hold you back from taking your friends to that loud restaurant you love. If you work on your accent, you will find that communicating in English with the locals in foreign countries is easier, too.
  20. Enjoy talking on the phone. It can be harder to have a successful conversation on the phone with an accent. Without the visual clues that listeners pick up from facial expressions and gestures, telephone communication can leave something to be desired. After working on your accent with a certified speech coach, you will have the skills and confidence to have great phone calls.

Change your accent and improve your life. It all starts with you. Contact us today to get started.

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