How are they listening to you? Part 2: Clarity

In Part 2: Clarity, I write about how a speaker can better understand how to make the sound of their words ‘as clear as a bell’ and the benefits to understanding how sound is shaped to communicate more effectively.

Engaging an audience is key to effective speaking, but how can a speaker be actively listened to?

How often do people say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear what you said?” or “Please, can you repeat that word/sentence again?” This can be frustrating for both the speaker and the listener. Of course, it might be that the listener is perhaps hard of hearing or unfamiliar with an accent or dialect. However, why is it that the speaker hasn’t sounded their words clearly for their listener? Reasons such as tiredness, sickness or perhaps a speech impediment are justifiable of course. Fortunately, when miscommunication is caused solely through lack of a person’s confidence and energy, there are active ways which can be taught to help the speaker.

Currently, in England, schools teach ‘phonics’. In Early Years Foundation Stage (see UK Gov.UK EYFS Statutory Framework), children learn the formation of at least 10 individual sounds through ‘sound blending’. However, what I find difficult to comprehend (and please, when reading these musings, email me to provide me with further clarity on the subject) is that schools are not setting the context of how individual people create sound using their whole physicality (see last month’s blog Part 1: Audibility). I think the Department of Education is missing a trick here. Children are taught the two different types of language sounds: vowels and consonants, but the curriculum does not state why the two types are different. From my experience, the self-discovery can be enormously fun. In my later years, attending the workshops of the professional Voice Coach Alison Bomber ( cannot be recommended highly enough and have been influential in establishing my own practice.

Speaking is as much a physical process as it is mental. We think, we feel, we speak/behave. When mentioning the physical, I don’t mean solely using the eyes or fingers to register what is written on a page. Speaking requires the use of the whole body, particularly when the words are highly emotive. On discovering the sense of feeling of how to make the vowel and consonant sounds, those who struggle with communication are able to appreciate the involvement of their own body’s muscles and the energy required to express them:

Vowels are unobstructed (free flowing) sounds which are voiced (see Part 1: Audibility). They are formed by the changing shapes of the lips and tongue muscles. Notice how you say the sound ‘ee’ (phonetically <i:>)!

Consonants are obstructed sounds (where two or more articulators come together) which vary between voiced and unvoiced sounds. Experiment with the sounds <k> and <g>! Articulators, known as organs of articulation, are both fixed and moveable; they include: the jaw; the lips; teeth; the roof of the mouth, which includes the teeth (alveolar) ridge, the hard palate and the soft palate (velum); and the tongue.

For detailed definitions, I would suggest looking up Patsy Rodenburg’s Right to Speak (vowels, pp. 234-5 and 239-241 and consonants, ‘articulation muscles’, pp. 238-239).

By exploring the movement of the articulators, people can experience for themselves (often made helpful with the aid of a mirror) what happens when they make their own sounds.

Depending on the discipline in both the arts and sport, a dancer or athlete work on specific muscle groups to improve their skill in context of their whole body. Similarly, a person can focus on developing their speaking musculature to clarify the sounds they create. Through my experience of being a teacher of speech and drama, by understanding and strengthening the movement of the articulators through experiential practise, a speaker’s confidence naturally improves as they develop. Consequently, a speaker’s overall wellbeing can be improved as they learn to value themselves speaking in whatever space they find themselves.

Next month, for the final part of ‘How are they listening to you? Part 3: Meaning’, I will be explaining why the meaning of words and how they are spoken in context is vital for the success of the speaker/listener relationship.

What happened during March 2022?

I’ve helped establish a Spoken Voice Sub-Committee as part of the British Voice Association’s (BVA) Education Working Party. Plans are being put in place to organise a ‘speaking voice’ focused event in 2023. More news to follow. I attended the Hertfordshire Performing Arts Festival, when I had the enormous privilege of catching up with Dr Jeffrey Grenfell-Hill and Paul Bench, both seasoned British International Festival Federation (BIFF) adjudicators. I volunteered at The Wenlock Olympian Games Live Arts 2022 Festival and have been making plans with the festival committee to return to my post as Speech and Drama lead. I’m planning on bringing competitions back in March 2023 with the help of William Brookes School, Much Wenlock. I held a Showcase for Voice Confidence learners, many of whom are preparing to take LAMDA exams in early April. Finally, I completed my Level 2 Introduction into Counselling Course at Shrewsbury College, a course I thoroughly recommend to speech and drama teachers for Continued Professional Development.

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