You don't have to talk like a rasping buzz saw or a screech owl. How your voice sounds is up to you
How's Your Voice?
THE MAN who keeps his car in repair, his piano in tune, his house painted and his budget balanced is apt to think he is rather an efficient fellow. If in addition he takes pride in his clothes, visits his dentist twice a year, has a yearly medical examination and keeps his insurance premiums up-to-date, he may feel smugly that he hasn’t overlooked a thing. Yet this man may be neglecting one of his most valuable assets.
This precious possession is his speaking voice. Most Canadians do not take sufficient pride in speech. Naturally the physical, mental and emotional strength or weakness of the individual has a bearing on the quality of speech, but most poor speech is caused by ignorant or careless misuse of the Bjjeech tools.
The speech tools are the lungs, the different sets of breathing muscles, the diaphragm, the bronchi, the trachea, the larynx, the pharynx, the mouth, lips, teeth, tongue and jaws.
From the lungs we draw the raw material of speech air. The breathing muscles and diaphragm are our strongest speech muscles. We use them to control the intake and outflow of air used for speech. The bronchi and the trachea are the tubes through which this air [jasses up to the larynx.
When the mental signal for speech takes place, the air passing through the larynx strikes the vocal folds, causes them to vibrate and produce sound. The sound travels through the pharynx into the mouth, where it is molded into speech by the use of the articulatory organs the hard or soft palate, lips, teeth, tongue and jaws.
There are many misuses of the speech tools. Faulty breathing habits which do not supply sufficient air result in tension of the chest and t hroat
muscles. Too much breath pouring through the larynx can result in a “breathy tone.” Improper or lazy use of the lips, tongue and jaws causes faulty articulation. Nasal tone is frequently the result of a relaxed soft palate.
Try It for Size
OUR VOICES seldom fit our personalities, and in nine cases out of 10 it is because the owners haven’t taken the time or trouble to make them fit. How often, for example, do we consider the texture, quality and size of our speaking voice? We hear thin, high-pitched voices from men v/ho look like halfbacks; nervous, timid squeaks from efficient well-tailored women and loud raucous speech from the mouths of petite doll-like beauties.
The majority of adults take their own speech so much for granted they never listen to the sound of it. Not only should we listen to our own voices but we should pay attention to the speech of others. When we hear a voice of distinction we admire it, but do we analyze it? Do we ponder why that voice should be so musical and ours so harsh? If we do, we usually shrug it off with the old evasion, “Some people are born with lovely voices. I wasn’t. This is the voice I have and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
The fact of the matter is we aren’t born with a voice of any kind. We would walk, eat, cry and laugh in the normal course of development but we would never speak unless taught to do so.
Since speech is an acquired habit, it quite reasonably follows that the habit can be poorly learned, and even though a child originally learns to speak well (as happens in rare cases), his speech will rapidly deteriorate if neglected.
Canadian speech is often described by experts as “slovenly.” What do they mean? Simply this.
You don't have to talk like a rasping buzz saw or a screech owl. How your voice sounds is up to you
Thousands of men and women who know better who have had education ranging from public schoo, to five years in college, drop final consonants eliminate or slur medial consonants, telescope o:: eliminate syllables practically every time the;) speak.
We hear “government” pronounced “guvment’ or “guvament” by the man in the street and thi: men in the House of Commons. The phrase, “how do-you-do,” comes out “howjado” as frequenti) from the lips of Ph.D.’s as from the man who “didn’t have much schoolin’.” Editors of influe^ f iai magazines say “yeah” as frequently as high; school students.
These people all know better. Why do the) continue? For the simple reason they have stoppet listening to how they say. what they say. Tell ) man of learning that he says “Yeah,” “Hows’at’l and “probly,” and he will be horrified. He will den) the accusation, but the chances are that if he wil listen to his own speech he will learn he is guilty That is the first step in the right direction.
Anything for a Laugh
PERHAPS we aren’t entirely to blame for ou."
carelessness. Slovenly speech is glorified today in the movies, in print and on the air. Some radii comedians deliberately distort what they say fi get a laugh. In some cases speech defects art mocked. I
I am not saying that speech should be perfect 03 that slang is unforgivable. Pedantic enunciation È stilted and dull. Some slang phrases are colorfu and descriptive, and this form is recognized ii literature. The majority of people who use slang, o:, who enunciate poorly, do so because they havl picked up the habit from somebody else.
If people stopped to think what they were saying I wager they would never say, “You’re tellin’ me,' “You said it!” “You’re not kiddin’,” “Ya can sa; that again.” Or such super pearls as: “Long tiro-1 no see!” “Hi, Howyadoin’?” and “Well, Wotsnoo?
A voice of distinction should possess thes; qualities:
Control—not booming one moment, fading tfc next or rising to a shrill pitch under strain.
Pleasing tempo—neither too fast to be under stood and followed Continued on page 4P
Contir~ed on page 42
Continued from page 12
with interest, nor so slow it is boring.
It should also have: Resonance,
purity of tone, clean-cut articulation and melody, vitality, confidence, personality and friendliness.
At 10 points for each “No,” how would you score on this quiz?
Do my breathing habits aid or mar my speech?
Is my pitch too high?
Do I talk in my throat?
Does my voice sound dry and brittle?
Do I mumble?
Does my voice lack variety of inflection?
Do 1 speak too quickly?
Do Í speak too slowly?
Does my tone display lack of confidence?
Do I sound cold and unfriendly?
If—without cheating on yourself!— you can score 70 or more, you are among the fortunate few. Most people will find themselves answering yes to half the questions at least.
While you are analyzing the sound of your voice you might as well do a complete job and take stock of what you say. How do you rate by the following standards?
Do I mispronounce words frequently?
Do 1 telescope syllables and sounds?
Do I omit certain consonants and vowels from my words?
Can I carry on a conversation with ease?
Could I “say a few words” if asked to?
Is my language repetitious?
Do 1 use worn-out phrases and slang words?
Am I guilty of “smart retorts” which may offend?
Would my speech handicap my chances for promotion to a position of authority?
Some people believe that speech improvement is a magic formula that becomes effective in one easy application. The president of a large business concern once said to me, “I’ve been doing some speaking lately and I’d like to brush up a bit. Get a few pointers, you know. But I’m a busy man and I can’t waste time on breathing exercises or any of that nonsense.”
Breathe Well and Widely
There is no short cut to good speech any more than a concert pianist can remain in top form without constant practice. But any person who can hear and who lias a simple knowledge of anatomy can improve his speaking voice. First step is to acquire the habit of breathing deeply and widely, so that the lower lung cells are used, and the diaphragm, the intercostal muscles between the ribs and abdominal muscles used with understanding. The majority of adults are chest breathers. This results frequently in poor health and poor speech performance.
Wide breathing means simply this. Inhale the breath without lifting the chest and shoulders. Imagine you are wearing an elastic belt around your waist which must be stretched at the sides, with every breath you inhale. 'I’his type of breathing activates all the lung cells —even the lower cells. The diaphragm flattens, the lower rib cage expands at t he sides. This is the natural way to breathe. Watch young children, animals, or adults, when they are lying down perfectly relaxed. They breathe this way.
When correct breathing is practiced the outgoing air is controlled by the strong muscles of the abdomen, diaphragm and rib cage. No such control
is possible with chest breathing only.
“You speak as well as you breathe” was a phrase repeated to me many times by Elisabeth Ferguson von Hesse, noted speech teacher of New fork, during my studies with her.
But breathing is not the only answer. The old idea of taking a deep breath, then starting off on a marathon of words, pausing only when the breath supply is completely used up, is the reason why the ends of so many sentences are never heard. Shorter sentences and small breaths, taken frequently, will break this bad habit. Inadequate breath control can cause such serious faults as: inaudibility, monotony, poor enunciation, pinched vowels, shrillness, breathy or—the other extreme—throaty tone.
Its worst feature is that lack of breath control also means lack of melody, color, warmth, friendliness and resonance. No intelligent singer would attempt to sing without an adequate supply of raw material—air. Yet
speakers by the thousand go on, day after day, forcing sound through weary larynxes, causing speech which should be vibrant and living to be stillborn.
Lip movement should be neither too loose nor too tight. Uncontrolled lips produce muffled sounds. Lips that are stiff are frequently accompanied by stiff jaws—which means the mouth does not open enough during the production of speech sounds, particularly vowels. Stiff lips can also cause poorly formed consonants.
The tongue must be very flexible, as it moves almost constantly in the production of our speech sounds. A slow-moving tongue can be loosened by exercise.
Hand in hand with better breathing habits should go exercises to improve posture. Round shoulders, hollow chests, sagging abdomens are all enemies to good speech. • The person who “walks tall,” who stretches upward with an easy supple grace, is leaving his speech muscles free for action. Speech muscles, contrary to the common belief, are not all above the shoulders. The most important muscles are in the section made popular by current fashion—the midriff.
Release of muscular tension throughout the entire body is the next step toward better speech, especially for women. Rich, round, warm tones cannot be squeezed through tense, stiff throats, set jaws and thin, tight lips.
The next step for the majority of Canadians would be to slow down when speaking. This is done by developing better breathing habits and paying more careful attention to articulation of consonants and production of vowels.
If your voice is flat and uninteresting, practice reading aloud and striving for more “ups and downs.” These inflections must, of course, be the outward expression of your inward feeling. Nothing is more offensive to the ear of a listener than artificial melody in speech. Reading to children is excellent training. Many adults, who grow selfconscious if asked to read aloud before adults, put plenty of expression into their reading of “The Three Bears” to the small fry.
When you wish to speak a kind phrase—do you sound kind? When you wish to pay a sincere compliment— do you sound as though you mean it? When you intend to be humorous—are you mistakenly thought of as being sarcastic? If so—try to find out why. Is it the words you say or the tone of your voice?
The U. S. has been called a nation of mumblers. A survey revealed that the phrase most often repeated by the
American public is “Whadyasay?”
Before you say, “Well! If there’s one thing I don’t do it’s mumble!” ask yourself how many times people request you to repeat what you’ve said. They aren’t all hard of hearing.
Mumbling is caused by a variety of bad habits. Some people scarcely open their mouths when they speak. Some people mumble because of lack of suitable words to express their thoughts. A good many people speak poorly because they are shy. The only way to overcome it is to analyze the cause, retrain thinking habits—and speak.
If you hesitate to use words because you do not know how to pronounce them, there is only one cure. Buy a good dictionary and look up the words, write them out several times and repeat them aloud. It takes time, but it pays dividends. An ample reward for being able to pronounce hors d’oeuvres is the thought that at last you can discontinue asking for tomato juice when ordering lunch publicly.
Check Your Vocabulary
In the business world an increasing number of organizations are realizing the necessity for good speech. Application forms concerning new employees frequently contain the questions: “Has the applicant a pleasant speaking voice?” . . . “Does the applicant speak well?” . . . “Does the applicant get along well with people?”
Public relations directors not only demand goed speech performance among members of their staff, they frequently provide training for switchboard and elevator operators, salesmen, information clerks and receptionists.
Businessmen are called quite frequently to take part in the leadership of their country’s affairs. Many men during the war years were caught napping. They were asked to lead, but lacked one of the essentials of leadership—a voice of authority and distinction, a voice in which their fellow men would have confidence, a voice which could instill courage into the hearts of a bewildered and frightened people.
Women are growing more conscious of their vocal shortcomings and are taking steps to overcome them. To speak well is a major requirement for any businesswoman, but perhaps the greatest challenge is in her own home. Children usually make their first speech sounds in an endeavor to imitate the
sounds made by the mother. If you have a high-pitched, shrill voice, your child will in all probability make his early sounds that way. If you talk like a machine gun, why should you expect your baby to drawl? If you possess a strong local accent, so will your child —until he begins to hear other voices and, perhaps, prefers to copy them.
Two-year-olds in Brooklyn say, “Gee, it hoits!” if their mother speaks Brooklynese. If you talk baby talk to your youngster, don’t be surprised if he asks for “a jink of wawa an a tookie.”
Take stock of your vocabulary. Do you still say “Okey-doke?” Perhaps you go back farther than that for an occasional “Hot Dog,” or “Oh, you kid!” Words, even slang phrases, mdst be kept up-to-date. “Hubba-hubba” is now on the way out—thank heaven!
A profitable week in speech improvement could be devoted to the elimina-
tion of unnecessary sounds. Listen carefully to your conversation. Do you interject “er,” “ah” and “urn” throughout your speech? Do you end your sentences with “D’ya see?” or “If you know what I mean?” Do you begin the majority of your sentences with “I,” “and” or “well?” Have you used any new words within the last six days, six months—or six years?
The best speech of all time, contained in the world’s best seller, is written in such simple phrases as “A certain man had two sons” . . . “And it came to pass” ... or “A sower went forth to sow.”
A famous speech known the world over contains 250 words and begins, simply, “Fourscore and seven years ago . . .”
Simple, strong speech, beautifully spoken, can move the hearts and minds of men or nations, it
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