Tips for Accessing Accents

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picture from http://www.polyglotclub.com 

Many of our clients come to us either because they are actors who need to learn a new accent for an upcoming project or because they are business-people for whom English is a second language and they would like to work on clarifying their accents. For many, clarifying or learning a new accent can feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be! Here are some steps to consider when you are working on an accent:

  1. An accent is a physical behavior. Everyone has an accent, and that accent is based on how your speech muscles (lips, tongue, lower jaw, soft palate) move to shape your speech. For example, a Dublin accent has more spread lips than a Received Pronunciation accent. Learning what the key physical behaviors of the speech muscles are for the accent you are trying to acquire is an empowering way to help keep you consistent— especially if you feel like you don’t have a very good “ear.” To help you figure out the physical behaviors, watch videos of people who have that accent and watch the way their lips/jaw move. See if you can hear the “hesitation sound”—the sound they make when they are thinking, like “um”, and see if you can mimic that and notice how that changes your speech muscles— this tells you what their neutral setting is for the speech muscles in that accent. If you start from that place with your own speech muscles, you are more likely to stay consistent.
  2. Find a good sample. Whether you are learning a new accent or trying to clarify your own, find a sample of someone speaking that has the accent you want to sound like. If possible, find a sample that’s audio-visual, so that you can watch as well as listen in order to discover the speech muscle behaviors mentioned above. If you can find a live person to record, even better! Youtube is a great resource for this. IDEA (the International Dialects of English Archive) is an excellent online resource, although their materials are all audio only, I believe. Even so, they have samples from almost every accent of English.
  3. Find a good accent coach. Work with a coach that will give you tools to make you autonomous, that will help you feel your way into the new accent so that you can keep it consistent, rather than needing to rely on your (or someone else’s) ear. A good accent coach can give you tools that you can apply to learning any accent, so it’s a good investment of your resources, particularly if you will be learning new accents frequently. (we can’t help but plug ourselves here— we do accent coaching at BeSpoke!)

Have other ideas or resources you want to share about accents? Please leave them in the comments below!

Take good care,

Christine and Lindsay

5 Minute Voice Warm Up

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We choose this photo because, you know, cats audition for stuff too. These lucky babies were auditioning for a movie in 1961. 

Hey Friends,

This is a 5-minute vocal warm up that’s designed for you to do right before you walk into your audition or presentation. The idea with this is that you’ve done a longer warm up at home, but then you’ve traveled to your audition/presentation, and you need something to get your voice and body back in gear.

Let us know how it goes!

Take good care,

Christine & Lindsay

Get the Edge…with Vocal Energy!!

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Photo taken from Pinterest because let’s be honest it’s hilarious, and if we stretch, we could all use a little more inner child in our vocal energy.

Hello Friends!!

On the cusp of spring turning into summer we find ourselves at another time that’s often full of transitions. For some it’s graduations and the beginning of careers, for others it’s internships and summer jobs, still others are preparing to absorb and develop that new talent. Projects are picking up, people are moving in new directions. There may be presentations, interviews, auditions, and teleconferences to contend with. In the spirit of all this, including the feelings of renewal and energy that the spring and summer bring, we wanted to plant the intention to find ways of imbuing your voice with that responsive and present energy. It can make all the difference.

In our work, which encompasses the vocal demands mentioned above, there is a sadness (and often a frustration) around the cut off potential of a de-energized voice. Not to say we both haven’t been there. It’s a terrible feeling when you’re in a tense environment with your throat feeling strangled and catching on words with cracks in the voice. Often this is imagined on a large scale with presentations and performances in front of a big audience. Today we ask you to consider the more intimate moments, like interviews, important phone calls, and team presentations. In these situations the unity of energized communication with the information being conveyed is invaluable, and done consistently, may provide a whole new range of opportunities.

To be clear, we don’t advocate skimming substance and expecting to get by on glibness. Know your stuff and do your prep work! From observation though, there are too many occasions where people’s nervousness interferes with their vocal energy and there’s a flatness that strips the vibrancy of their content. Sometimes there’s over compensation instead, but the de-energizing tendency is more common across the wider range of vocal pressure situations.

You deserve to embody your full energy and engagement in an important situation and your voice can be an invaluable asset in conveying that! So here are a few simple suggestions to remind you of this power before an important occasion.

-If you’re walking anywhere leading up to your occasion it is great to start by connecting breath with movement. I like to count ten steps on an inhale and then ten on an exhale. This will encourage sustained, supportive breath while you speak.

-Find somewhere private (bathrooms work pretty well) and take a few yawns with sound, an easy “ah” sound works well. Try to slide from the top of your voice down and from the bottom up.

-When you’re speaking see if it’s helpful to imagine your thoughts as beams of light (I like to picture mine as a nice golden beam). Send those beams to the person, or people, you’re talking to and imagine you need to sustain the energy of your message so that the beam can illuminate their face. The idea behind the metaphor is to maintain vocal energy all the way through each and every thought.

-Choose excitement over ennui. As a general observation, there can be a tendency to downplay knowledge, experience, and ideas in an attempt to “play it cool” or not convey emotion or not appear affected by the stakes of the situation. We are not advocating moving yourself to tears while discussing your skills, accomplishments, and insights, but be careful of the effects the ennui attitude can have on your voice. It can make you sound unenthusiastic and disinterested. And the concept of mirroring tells us that this can affect the people you’re interacting with. If you send messages of energetic enthusiasm people may well reciprocate that and recall energy and enthusiasm while thinking about YOU.

-Consider clothing. On important occasions we usually want to look our best, which is great. It’s helpful to bear in mind that when communication is a factor there may be a few helpful considerations: 1. Can you breathe comfortably? Wearing a super streamlined, restrictive piece of clothing may impact your ability to breathe and make sustaining vocal energy more of a challenge. Ideally opt for something that won’t overly restrictive. Especially around your shoulders, abdomen, lower belly, and hips.
2. Can you stand/walk/get a connection with the ground? Whether what you’re doing involves sitting, standing or more movement, consider your footwear. If you’re super comfortable in high heels that’s great, wear the pair you feel most grounded and powerful in. If you’re not a heels person, maybe stick with that instinct. Where heels aren’t involved avoid shoes that pinch and squeeze. Impeding your ability to connect with solid ground is another way to literally (and metaphorically) throw yourself off balance. 3. Just a little positive energy tip, wear at least one thing that makes you feel fantastic. Whether it’s a clothing item, accessory, something no one will see, or a spritz of perfume, give yourself that secret extra boost.

Hopefully these vocal energy tips have given you some good food for thought. Let us know if you have anything to add or any feedback. We wish all the best to those celebrating milestones themselves or supporting the milestones of friends, family and loved ones.

Take Good Care,

Lindsay and Christine

De-Stimulation Sequence

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Hi Friends,

Feeling a little spread thin or stressed out? Here is a sequence that uses mindful voice work to help you de-stimulate your nervous system and chill out. This sequence is great for relaxation all by itself, but also great for your voice. Relaxed bodies lead to more relaxed breathing which leads to easier speaking. So get into something comfy and create yourself a nice little atmosphere (why not a candle? Maybe some flowers? Who says voice work can’t be romantic?) and enjoy!

Take good care,

Christine & Lindsay

 

How do you communicate when you don’t speak the language?

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Dessau, Germany

Every year for the past four years, my Easter has looked like this: my partner and I head to Germany, where he is from, and spend a few days visiting family and friends. We see beautiful countryside, visit castles, get fresh air, eat a lot of bread, meat and cheese and drink a lot of beer. Here’s the catch: I don’t speak German. And several members of his family (most notably his mother and father) don’t speak English. And while other friends and family do speak English, naturally (and understandably) they would prefer to speak German.

As a voice and communication coach whose job it is to analyze and play with language, being in Germany and being often unable to communicate is always a humbling experience. While it has definitely been hard, I also believe it’s one of the most important experiences of my life. Language and conversation is my most precious way of connecting to people— you learn a lot about yourself when your language, or your typical means of connection, is taken away from you.

So what to do when you find yourself in a situation where you don’t know the language? How can you communicate? You may not choose to spend your life with a partner whose first language is different than yours, but we will hopefully all get the experience to visit and/or work in other countries and cultures, so let’s consider some useful communication tools when your first language is stripped away from you:

Learn the language!: Ok, this may seem obvious, but if you are going to visit or work in another culture, take steps to learn the language. Depending on how much you are going to be immersed in the new culture, this can seem overwhelming at first. For the first couple of years with my partner, I was so overwhelmed by the idea of learning German that I avoided it completely, because I felt like I had to become fluent immediately. Now I am a lot more realistic with my goals. There are many ways of flexibly learning a new language on your own timescale for a reasonable price. I have worked with Rosetta Stone, which is an excellent computer resource, and for the last couple of years I have made a commitment of practicing German on an app called Duolingo for five minutes every day. That doesn’t seem like much, but it’s the consistency that matters. The last few times I’ve been in Germany I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much I’ve been able to understand and speak, and it has meant so much to those around me that I have made this effort.

Breathe with the vulnerability: Not knowing or feeling comfortable in a language can feel extremely vulnerable, especially when you are the only person in the room who is in that situation or when you are in a new country where you need to get around and don’t know your surroundings. It’s helpful to keep breathing and feel grounded in the space you’re in. Whenever you start to feel vulnerable or lost, feel where your feet are touching the floor, or if you are sitting, be aware of where your sit bones are supporting you in the chair. Put a hand on your belly and feel how it moves towards your hand when you breathe in and away from your hand when you breathe out. These actions will help you ground and keep you from panicking. They will also make it easier for you to listen when you are trying to grab hold of a language you don’t totally understand.

Be aware of your body language: When you don’t have access to verbal communication, body language becomes even more important. For my first few trips to Germany, when I didn’t know German at all, I had no idea how to interact in group conversations. Do I look at the person talking and act like I am listening when he/she knows I have no idea what’s being said? I found myself nodding my head when people were talking (a habit I have in my own culture that I am trying to be aware of— we often nod to signal we are listening but it’s something I try to be mindful of, because it signals agreement when that’s not always how I feel), and then feeling ridiculous because I was nodding at people when they knew I had no idea what they were talking about! So what to do? If you are in a group conversation, use your body in a way that looks engaged and like you are listening, even if you don’t understand. It will help you pick up new words if you are trying to learn the language, and it will make those around you realize you are making the effort to learn. Everyone likes when you make an effort to learn something about them, including their language. You can even turn it into a game for yourself. Watch how they use their bodies in communication. Notice if you are naturally mirroring them, or try mirroring them and see what that feels like. This helps you stay active and engaged. If you totally break eye contact or stop listening, it gives the impression of boredom— perhaps not an impression you want to leave when you are visiting another culture.

Intercultural communication is an increasingly necessary skill in this ever-globalizing world. While many people do speak English, it’s not fair to always expect them to do so, especially when you are in their culture. So if you find yourself, whether for professional or personal reasons, in a different culture where the first language isn’t English, hopefully these tips will be helpful to you!

Do you have any other thoughts about how to communicate when language is taken away? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

Take good care,

Christine

Articulation Work for Camera

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Yet another Anchorman classic

Hey Friends,

I couldn’t help myself and had to use another Anchorman reference for our second sequence for camera work. This is the sequel to our post from a couple of weeks ago about Voice for Camera.  The first sequence focused on your vocal power, and this one focuses more on your speech clarity. Both are important to being understood. This is a great sequence if you work on camera or you are using microphones at live “performance” events (whether that be acting or giving presentations).

Let us know how it goes!

Take good care,

Christine & Lindsay

 

Be a Springtime Blossom! Tips for Spring Allergies and Vocal Care

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Hello Friends!

First of all, Happy Spring! We are very happy to see flowers blooming, the days growing longer, and even getting that little bit warmer in London, although like all early spring days things are certainly changeable. For some (including me), this changeability can cause imbalances in the sinuses and, trying to be as tasteful as possible, hefty production of mucus, which can leave my throat itchy and uncomfortable with post-nasal drip and bring an unhealthy rasp to my voice. It’s not fun and can impact range, breath support, and resonance. But no one should miss out on the fun of spring and of course there are always ways to support ourselves through pungent, pollinated times.

To that end, we thought it would be helpful to share some strategies for coping with the allergy and sinus challenges spring can pose. Because we are not ENTs or allergists these are not medical suggestions but natural means for relief that we have found effective. Please ensure you seek the advice of a doctor for your allergies, especially if you’re being severely affected. We just hope these thoughts will encourage some mindful self-care.

1. Starting with the obvious and eternal advice: HYDRATE

We regularly mention hydration on this blog so I’ll stick to the spring-relevant points here. When temperatures are going up and we’re feeling warmer and perhaps sweating a bit more, drinking hydrating fluids is very important for overall health. In the case of assisting allergies and sinuses, maintaining a good level of hydration can dilute mucus thickness and combat the drying effect that allergy medications like antihistamines and decongestants have on the throat. Just remember drinking water does not instantly hydrate your throat, vital organs reap the benefits first. By some measures it takes at least 20 minutes for your throat and vocal folds to feel any benefit of drinking water while some sticklers say overall hydration is only achieved after 4 hours. Don’t drive yourself crazy with these timelines, just drink throughout the day. A glass of water first thing in the morning and before bed will help too. Spring is a great time of year to make some trendy water infusions so pile in the mint, strawberry, and cucumber!

2. Take a sinus rinse…NETI POT

We could probably write an entire manifesto on Neti pots. Using them has been a game-changer in terms of caring for our voices while living in a big city and suffering from sensitive sinuses. Because they only use salt packets and water we’ve found them to be a great alternative to nasal sprays. Neti pots and salt packets can be found in the allergy treatment sections of drugstores or on Amazon. A written explanation of how to use them is difficult but luckily the amazing Adriene Mishler of Yoga With Adriene has a video on the subject. Check it out and see what you think. For our part, we’ve looked back.

3. Soothing Smells…AROMATHERAPY

This is a simple suggestion, but sometimes experiencing lots of congestion during warmer weather can feel very oppressive. A little essential oil action can go a long way. My preferred oils for this scenario are peppermint and eucalyptus. Just putting a few drops on a tissue, holding it to my nose and gently breathing in goes a long way. I also like to place a few drops on my pillow before bed. Whether it’s essential oils or a lavender infused eye pillow, soothing smell and sensory stimulation can be an easy way to alleviate pressure and provide yourself with some lovely smells!

4. Maintain useful habits…BREATHE AND MOVE

When we don’t feel well it’s tempting to feel like moving should be put on the back burner. Despite this, stretching and tying movement to breath offers the chance to find gentle relief through working muscles and moving the breath, which will gently work on the throat and sinuses. Turning to Adriene again, this is a sequence I like to do when I’m feeling particularly bad (it’s really great for a bad cold as well as allergies).

5. Fresh air, plenty of sleep, good food…SELF CARE

When your allergies are making you all kinds of sniffly don’t shut the windows and stay in a stuffy room, let some air in and get outside. It will help you acclimate to the changes in pollen levels and avoid the dust you find indoors. Pair this with getting enough sleep and eating plenty of good vitamin-packed foods. Dust off that nutri bullet, personal blender, giant blender and make some smoothies! In short, find ways to give yourself extra healthy support.

Please let us know what you find most helpful and we would love to hear your favorite strategies!

Take Care and Be Well,

Lindsay and Christine

Support Work for Camera

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Ron Burgundy from “Anchorman” 

Hey Friends,

Lindsay and I are both big fans of Ron Burgundy– especially the way he warms up before getting on camera! Who doesn’t love a little “How now brown cow?” This week’s audio guide is a sequence to help you support your voice when you’re working on camera or when you are using a microphone. Microphones only amplify what’s already there, so this sequence helps ensure you’re still supporting and directing your sound in a way that allows you to be heard. It’s great for actors and public speakers.

Let us know how it goes!

Take good care,

Christine & Lindsay

Find your Ground! Connecting to Vocal Authority

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Hey Friends,

If you have ever been told that you don’t sound authoritative enough, or that you aren’t grounded enough, then this sequence is for you. This week, we explore finding an authoritative sound that feels authentic to you and helps you connect on a deeper level to what you are saying. It’s good for public speakers who want to convey their message with credibility and for actors (or anyone!)  who feel like their emotions cause them to constrict and lose their ground.

On another note, this week is BeSpoke’s birthday! March 8th will be our 1st anniversary of having a live site. Help us celebrate– comment below and let us know what your favorite post has been in the last year! We would also love to hear from you if there is something you would like us to cover.

So let’s all say together (authoritatively!)… Happy birthday BeSpoke!!!!!

Take good care,

Christine & Lindsay

The Value of Process

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“You’ll never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” — John C. Maxwell

Lindsay wrote an (in my humble opinion) important post a couple of months ago about the significance of creating your consistency in your voice/communication practice. In this post she made a crucial point: voice and communication training can’t only happen in the classroom or with a coach if you really want life-long change. Skills and techniques have to be practiced consistently on your own if you really want to instill permanent shifts.

Why? Because when you are working on your voice, you are facing strong habits that are deeply instilled in your body’s muscle memory. For the voice to truly change, it requires a process of consciously changing those habits. We are the first to admit: changing habits is hard. As Rob Gilbert says: “First we form habits, then they form us.”

In my experience, changing habits doesn’t happen with a quick fix. It’s a process. At first, this process can feel daunting, but if you stick to it, the process itself is the reward, and you may make new discoveries you were never intending to make along the way.

This post is for everyone who is afraid of or feels overwhelmed by the “process.” It’s especially for my students who ask me after only a short time of working together (or even in our first session), “How can I change my voice without having to think about it?” My answer is— you can’t. But you can reap tremendous rewards by becoming conscious about your voice use (or becoming conscious, in general!). To illustrate the benefits of process, I would like to share with you a snippet of my own story.

My whole life, I’ve wanted to be an actress (except for my very early years, when I wanted to be a teacher— see how things come full circle?). I was very impatient about it. I got my BA in theatre at an institution in the States that had very little voice or movement training. I moved to New York immediately after graduating, and wanted success now now now. I felt tremendous social and financial pressure to be a successful working actress, to prove to everyone that I was good enough to be in this profession. But because of my lack of vocal and movement training, I didn’t have the chops. I had some good instincts, but I didn’t have enough of a relationship with my body, and my voice was tight and couldn’t carry in large spaces. A little voice in my heart kept saying that if I really wanted this, I was going to have to go back to school. This was extremely distressing, as it disrupted my plan of having success NOW. It felt like too much of a hurdle to jump— to disrupt the life I was building in New York to go back to school. So instead, I started making small changes, in manageable bites. Here was the progression:

I had always hated working out. I have never been very flexible and had bad memories of breathing problems when I was in school physical education classes, so I used to avoid working out because it brought up memories of shame and inadequacy. However, because I didn’t work out or have any kind of movement training, I had no relationship with my body. This meant that in rehearsals, even if I had a strong mental connection to the characters I was playing, I struggled to embody them. A teacher I was working with at the time told me— if you are serious about acting, you have to cultivate a relationship with your body.

I started slowly— with a few stretches every morning, no more than about 5 minutes. I realized quickly that those 5 minutes were making a huge difference to the rest of my day. So I increased that time to a 20-minute pilates video every morning. Twenty minutes is a lot to add to your morning routine, but within a few weeks I couldn’t imagine my mornings without this time. It was the time I woke up, came into my body, and set the tone for the rest of my day. My interest in mind-body connection eventually led me to yoga, which, thanks to technology and youtube channels, I practice now almost daily. This consistent practice has completely revolutionized my life. I went from a person who had no connection to her body to, through mindful, consistent, incremental practice over several years, has a daily habit of connecting to herself physically. I successfully made this shift by choosing a kind of work out that I love, that makes me feel good. I truly enjoy my yoga practice, so I look for ways of fitting it into my day.

This connection with my body made me increasingly aware of my disconnection with my voice. I began taking voice classes on my own, and perhaps like some of you, I hoped that things would magically change in class. Luckily, I had good teachers who were insistent that I find a way of making this work my own— of practicing at home. Based on my previous experience with building a work out routine, I knew I needed to start small, then build. I also knew that I needed to find a kind of voice work that I enjoyed, so that it wouldn’t feel like a chore. For me, that’s Fitzmaurice Voicework(R). I started practicing 5/10 minutes a day, but because I enjoyed the work so much, that time continued to grow, and again, I looked actively for ways to make that practice a part of my daily routine. In fact, I became so enamored with the changes I was noticing, that, in the end, I did uproot my whole life to go back to school— but for something different than I originally intended. I moved to London to train to be a voice teacher.

What started as small, incremental changes to my daily routine led eventually to a whole life shift. This kind of growth could only happen because I stuck to and trusted my process. When I talk about it in hindsight, it all seems very rosy. But the process is always filled with struggle and pitfalls. Struggle and pitfalls are an important part of learning— and  I am learning that struggle is often the step before a big discovery— an important part of the process to move through, rather than to avoid, if I want to get to the next step.

So that is my story. To sum it up, if you want to change something in a big way, start small. Think about something you can add to your daily routine, and then stick to it and watch what grows. It may take you in a totally different direction than you ever intended. What a delightful surprise that could be!

Please let us know what steps you are taking in your daily routine, and what your struggles and triumphs are. We would love to start a dialogue with you. Let’s make process cool again!

Christine & Lindsay