Voice Skills

by Judy Apps

Articulation – consonants and vowels

Whatever you say, however loudly or quietly you say it, you need to be clearly understood.

To be clear, you need to articulate your words, and to articulate, you move your jaw, lips, tongue, teeth and other face muscles. If you are used to speaking with a tight jaw, this will feel very strange. Some of us move our face muscles so little when we speak that we would make fine ventriloquists!

Clarity depends particularly on the clear articulation of consonants.

Consonants

Well-articulated consonants make an enormous difference to the clarity of a voice. This requires good use of the tongue, the lips and the palate. If you are not used to this, you will need to exercise to get more flexible in this area.

Unvoiced consonants

Some consonants are produced entirely by the use of tongue and teeth, without needing to engage the vocal chords to make the sounds, in other words:

Try speaking these consonants using air only, with no voiced sound, to see how exactly your tongue, lips and teeth form themselves into different shapes.

Voiced consonants

Each of the above consonants has a voiced counterpart, which is produced in the same way, with the simple addition of engaging the vocal chords:

Try saying first one and then its partner, quite quickly, and you will notice how the vocal chords engage and then disengage. Below are various tongue-twisters and sayings you can use to increase your flexibility.

See also Tongue twisters.

Long consonants

Some consonants can be held on, and these are wonderful for stressing certain words. Increasing the length of these consonants is a quick – in fact, instant – way to give more impact to what you are saying, for example:

Try saying the above words in sentences and feel the effect of stretching out the long consonant much longer than usual, with great expression.

Vowels

The vowels are the singing part of the voice. They give it feeling and emotion. When we give the vowels the space and length they demand, our voice begins to sound much more expressive.

Lovely long vowels

We can greatly increase the impact of what we are saying by lengthening long vowels in key words.

Try some of these words out in sentences. If you can feel some emotion while you are saying them, the effect will be even stronger. Practise light-heartedly – try beating your hand firmly on something as you emphasise the words.

Vowels and emphasis

Correct English pronunciation uses quite lazy vowels on unaccented syllables. The secret of dramatically improving your pronunciation is to make beautifully clear vowels on the accented syllables. See the section on Emphasis.

Tongue twisters

To increase your clarity, try reciting a few of the following! You will need to keep your jaw, lips, tongue and teeth mobile and flexible. Start slowly and then increase your speed.

  1. A big black bug bit a big black bear, made the big black bear bleed blood.
  2. A box of biscuits, a batch of mixed biscuits
  3. Brad’s big black bath brush broke.
  4. Copper kettle bric-a-brac
  5. Crisp crusts crackle crunchily.
  6. Double bubble gum bubbles double.
  7. Flash message!
  8. I correctly recollect Rebecca MacGregor’s reckoning.
  9. If you notice this notice you will notice that this notice is not worth noticing.
  10. Lovely lemon liniment.
  11. Mrs Smith’s Fish Sauce Shop.
  12. One smart fellow, he felt smart,
    Two smart fellows, they felt smart,
    Three smart fellows, they all felt smart.
  13. Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.
    Did Peter Piper pick a peck of pickled peppers?
    If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
    Where’s the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?
  14. Red lorry, yellow lorry, red lorry, yellow lorry.
  15. Sam’s shop stocks short spotted socks.
  16. She stood on the balcony inexplicably mimicking him hiccuping, and amicably welcoming him home.
  17. Tip

    To improve your articulation, try the exercise in the page on Emphasis.

    Strange strategic statistics.
  18. The Leith police dismisseth us.
  19. There was a minimum of cinnamon in the aluminium pan.
  20. Three grey geese in the green grass grazing.
    Grey were the geese and green was the grass.
  21. Toy boat. Toy boat. Toy boat.
  22. Which wristwatches are Swiss wristwatches?