Enunciating your sounds needn't be robotic; to make people want to listen you need colour, intonation, pausing and emphasis so you direct people to what's important in what you're saying.
Elocution is an antiquated term, usually associated with clichéd phrases such as ‘how now brown cow’, or Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins. We think it is a path to speaking properly, and it associated with received pronunciation, or a neutral non accented English.
According to the Cambridge dictionary, the definition of elocution is "the art of careful public speaking, using clear pronunciation and good breathing to control the voice"...
But let’s introduce the idea of elocution for the 21st Century. When we say elocution at London Speech Workshop, we mean so much more than an accent. It is possible to have good elocution and a regional accent, and equally possible to have bad elocution and a neutral or posh accent.
We see elocution as connected, even synonymous with good communication. Yes, maybe some people will want to speak with a neutral accent, they may feel their native accent is getting in the way, they may even experience a glass ceiling, blocking them from a promotion, or the influence which they see their neutral speaking colleagues have available to them. And they may be right. But I would hazard a guess that they are only partially so.
It is rarely all about an accent. When people have power with their voice, when they can achieve their goals with their communication, when they are felt by their peers, audience or people around them to be a good communicator, it is never going to be just about the accent in which they speak, and thank goodness for that! No, so much more important is the way in which you speak. Is the speaker pausing, using intonation, emphasis and expression? Do they do the listeners work for them, creating the ideas that go into the listener’s head? Are they clear and easy to understand? Do they make the most of the words they are saying, tasting the vowels and articulating the consonants? Are they in short, a pleasure to listen to? If this is in place, then regardless of their accent, they have good elocution.
Bad elocution on the other hand, will mean someone is mumbling, or speaking too fast, or speaking with their mouth closed, or giving up on their ideas when they are half way out their mouths….and they may speak in the poshest accent in the world! But they will never be a good communicator if they are not letting their words, crisp tools that they are, reach their audience or listener.
So, when thinking of your elocution, aim high! Let yourself be inspired by great communicators out there, listen for clarity, pausing, emphasis, expression. And most importantly listen to your own engagement as a listener. Do you want more? Because if you do, chances are you are listening to someone who has mastered the art of ‘good elocution!’
Have you ever listened to a brilliant speaker and thought wow, this is amazing? Similar to hearing a piece of great music - it can fill us with joy and we remember the message they delivered and how they made us feel. The speaker more than likely will have delivered their message with what we call eloquence - not only making you listen to the message, but also taking it into consideration.
An eloquent speaker is someone who has mastery over how they use language. They understand its subtleties and nuances and can use it to communicate their message effectively and persuasively.
Have you ever listened to a brilliant speaker and felt captivated by what they are saying? Then that's an eloquent speaker!
The good news is that it’s a skill that can be learned. If we keep to the music analogy, learning to become an eloquent speaker is similar to mastering an instrument. You don’t simply pick up the instrument and start playing. Instead, you start by learning notes and scales, understanding the basic principles and techniques.
We use the metaphor of a vocal landscape all the time at London Speech Workshop. When someone is speaking, you’re building a landscape in your mind, based on:
their tone of voice
the way they handle their words
the colour they inject into their sentences
their pauses, pace and word emphasis
We have all heard speeches that make our pulses race and our imagination flow. A great communicator has the confidence to tell a story or share a message that sparks a reaction with the audience. They will create a vocal landscape that is filled with colour, dimension and texture. Then they will direct their listeners’ attention to the big ideas using their intonation and emphasis and, in doing so, engage and interest them. Who springs to mind for you?
Words are packed with meaning. They have the potential to be incredibly powerful tools if used correctly.
The more sophisticated your vocabulary, the more options you will have to communicate your desired message. Take the word ‘eloquent’ itself. In that word, we hear a mixture of short vowel sounds and delicate consonants, which together make the word sound light and poetic. The word eloquent, sounds eloquent! An articulate speaker will choose their words with care, understanding the power of words not just in what they mean, but also in their intrinsic musicality.
So when you are writing your speech, or speaking in an impromptu setting, pick your words as if you were an artist trying to find the perfect shade to highlight a feature in his painting, or as a musician would hunt the right combination of notes to create a perfect harmony.
This is not to say that overloading your speech with flowery language is the way forward. It is important, as with everything in life, to have quality not quantity, so take care not to over do it. A few carefully chosen words go a long way. You also need to make sure you are being authentic.
Vowels are a conduit for one’s emotion. Using the vowels to share your feelings allows you to transmit emotion into your speech. You can think of it as putting colour and melody into your speech. Using your vowels in this way gives your listeners a chance to connect with you, and to come with you on the journey you are sharing.
We relate to one another, through emotion. It’s what makes great speakers and orators so convincing and powerful when they speak. Their words have emotion, intention and impact. Using your vowels is a first great step to bringing more feeling into you speech, not to mention practising good elocution.
Words are the great facilitator of our communication. When we use words sloppily therefore, we are undermining our position as communicators.
As much as we would like to think it is not so, there is an accent hierarchy globally, and some accents, fare better than others. In hundreds of studies, it has been shown that certain accents are thought to signify increased trustworthiness, a more educated individual and even intelligence. It may not be fair, but it is true. And guess what is at the very top of this hierarchy, at least as it currently stands?
Yep, neutral English, or as it is officially known, Received Pronunciation.
In RP, stand for efficiency and respect for the language. As such, our pronunciation of the important consonants, in the important words needs to be accurate. Find those consonants and hit them with the same precision as a percussionist would hit a triangle. It is a fact self-evident that saying “There’s nuffink I want from you” will create different connotations to “There’s nothing I want with you”.
This is about the melody of speech, the music of your accent. Here RP does the job well. It goes up and then down, creating a little bridge between the speaker and the listener. The up in the voice makes it interesting, the down ensures the idea lands firmly in the listener’s pocket. At LSW we have a special 3 step intonation technique that gives our clients, native and non-native speakers alike, a mastery over this concept in minutes, and boy, what a difference it makes. It allows for people to have instant engagement, gravitas and steadiness with their speech, and there are times when we can all benefit from that!
The English language is a peculiar beast. In what other language would you pronounce 'law', 'caught', 'sure', and 'poor' with the same vowel sound? Or pronounce all these words with different sounding 'o' sounds? ‘Stop', 'hope', 'London', 'now’?
So here I've written 5 tips you can use to help you make your way through English spelling, to make sure you don't trip up.
Now I know it may be a big ask, but what I’m about to suggest will be the game changer to you taking English for your own and feeling more in control. I would like you to start carrying around a notebook, and jotting down any words where the spelling and the pronunciation don’t match up or where you think the spelling doesn’t make sense. Then when you have a minute at the end of the day or week, you can check them out online, or ask a native English speaker for their pronunciation (although remember, us natives make mistakes too – for years I thought yacht was pronounced Yak-t!).
Look out for the ‘or’s, the ‘er’s as they tend to be particularly tricky.
Also, and this is not for anyone, if you are chatting to someone and you feel comfortable, ask them if there are any words that they noticed that you pronounced incorrectly. Usually an English native will notice (if there are any) but be too polite to comment and only to happy to help. This is a speedy route to quick improvements.
If a word starts with a ‘w’ and followed by an o or an a, the sound will often be different from what you think. Was and wash are both ‘o’ sounds (as in hot). Warm and walk – are both ‘ore’ sounds (as in horse) wonder and wonderful are ‘u’ sounds (as in hut).
If a word has a vowel followed by a consonant and the letter e, the vowel becomes the sound of its alphabet name.
Ok, I know that sounds convoluted, but it’s simple really. Let me show you.
Take the word ‘hop’. Its vowel is the short ‘o’ sound right? Now add an ‘e’ on the end – and it becomes the letter ‘O’ (or Oh) like you would say it in the alphabet. Look – Hop turns to Hope.
And that works across the board. So say these sounds to yourself, the vowel alphabet names if you will – I’ll do them in capitals to make it easier – A, E, I, O, U.
And now look what happens when we add an e:
Merriam Webster’s dictionary describes elocution as the study of how to speak clearly and in a way that is effective and socially acceptable. But before we focus on precise articulation and pronunciation, we must first focus on a suitable warm up for our vocal cords. A professional athlete would not start a race without some dynamic stretches. And so we too must put the muscles we use for speech and producing voice through their paces. This makes sure they work efficiently and effectively.
Vocal warm ups are particularly useful if you mumble, have a slightly muffled sound, have a lisp or any other kind of consonant issues. If you are ever accused of being unclear, a few minutes a day getting your tongue, lips and palate into gear, will do you the world of good!
Warm-ups and tongue twisters are great for targeting your tool set (the bits of your instrument that you articulate with).
During the first lockdown in 2020 we thought a lot about different ways we can support our clients and the wider community to feel more comfortable and ready for the new virtual working life. Sam, one of our wonderful Principal Coaches came up with the idea for a vocal and communication morning wake up webinar. And so our daily 'Wake up & Warm Up Webinar' was born - it ran every day in April 2020.
Let's start with the face. Carrying out these jaw stretches and massages helps to warm up your face so that it can shape and form vowel sounds with efficiency and land consonants with clarity. Give the following a try:
Your tongue is a large muscle that needs working out to keep it strong, much like any other muscle in the body.
Try the following warm-up exercises to focus on the rate and range of movement your tongue has and for extra precision in your speech:
BDG BDG BDG … (sounds like ‘budiga’)
PTK PTK PTK… (sounds like ‘putika’).