Learning to Pronounce Difficult Sounds: Mentality and Practice
Published by Pertti Aholanka at Shakespir
Copyright 2017 Pertti Aholanka
Shakespir Edition, License Notes
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
Phonetic speech sound disorders mean difficulties with producing certain physical sounds. Tongue is your main tool to work with when you practice to improve your pronouncing. It is a movable muscle, so all the pitfalls involving muscle training also apply to pronouncing and vocal training. If you tense up too much, you lose muscle coordination, making any kind of an improvement very difficult in addition to tiring your tongue. So stay relaxed and do not rush. There is no shame in mispronouncing or not being able to properly pronounce something. Most often it is a symptom of not having talked and practiced it enough naturally. In a society where more and more communication is textual and most school students subjugated to not talk at all during most of their school time, it is more common that people are not even given enough chances to practice their speaking. On the other hand, they are called selective mutes in a largely pejorative fashion if they dare to not speak the few times they are not only allowed to speak but also coerced into it. Clearly there are a lot to improve in the speaking culture and letting people get better at it before they give up such aspirations.
Most sounds require specific preparations to have any chance of being properly pronounced. For example, the sharp ‘ss’ sound is spelled differently than the soft ‘sh’ sound. To understand this, a lisper needs to observe itself doing the ‘sh’ and seeing that it is done by lightly pressing the base of the tongue against the roof of the mouth and blowing air through the gaps between the tongue and the roof. Whatever you do, aim to keep your tongue in the middle, as this is extremely important with making the more difficult sharp sounds. Another quick pitfall to eliminate is to make sure you use face muscles from both sides of the mouth as otherwise your muscle control will out of balance, making you fail at performing demanding sounds. You can alleviate the tongue-middleness by trying to touch the teeth right above the tongue and moving it around until it reliably touches only the front teeth i.e. it becomes properly centered. The muscle imbalance can be fixed by warming up both sides of the mouth prior to the practice. Usually this is the issue with the people who talk very rarely and consequently let their face muscles get cold and the lazy people who talk with only one side of the mouth.
The mentality part of the sound making is simply to relax, not to impatiently try-hard to the point of frustrating yourself (if your spirit dies, so does any chance of you ever learning the practice sound) and to keep practicing without particularly expecting any results.
Most lispers and other mispronouncers most likely do not know the technique to pull it out and there is no quality instruction available for them. In practice, sharp s sounds are done with a straight tongue and the soft s with a curled one. So if you have trouble performing the sharp sound, you need to focus maintaining the straight tongue shape during the sound by tensing the tongue a little. For example, you can press your tongue firmly on your upper gums, spread your tongue out a bit to clarify sound and to improve the firm contact and practice performing the sound with the focus on keeping the tongue from moving too much from this firm and straight position to finish your first proper sharp s sound.
If you are having difficulties making the hard r sound, your instructors most likely cannot help you because they usually lack effective enough teaching methods. This sound has extreme requirements for performing to the point that most languages soften it out or leave it out altogether. Very few peoples besides Finns, Germans, Irishmen and Scots use the hard r sound. For example, Japanese have pronounce it as an l+d combination sound i.e. d sound’s contact point with l’s voice tone and usually Englishmen cop it out by doing a brief soft contact version of it that even most lispers can do. To perform a hard r properly, you need to do all this at once:
1) Keep your tongue horizontally in the middle of the mouth lined up with the middle front teeth.
2) Spread out your tongue (bunching up would produce a moist, lisping sound).
3) Shorten your tongue to the ideal length to your contact point on the roof of the mouth to make it feasible to keep the whole tongue firm.
4) Balance your cheek muscles and push any cheek flaps to the back or to the sides of your mouth to be out of the way of your tongue.
5) Pick a contact point for the first half-inch i.e. a centimeter of tongue flesh to be very close to the front of the mouth, e.g. on the upper gums (do not touch the teeth) to minimize the tongue stretching and the ensuing muscle coordination required.
6) Lightly tense up the tongue until you feel the tensing without pain i.e. a sign of over tensing. If you feel pain, you need to move your contact point closer to the front of the mouth to minimize the distance or to relax the base of the tongue a bit more.
7) Mentally anchor your tongue to the contact point, so that you can keep it steady even when the pronouncing process tries to pull it out and mess the sound you were making.
8) Reshape your tongue to a J shape as you take support a spot a little further from the base to the roof of the mouth near the back of your mouth. This will make your tongue supported and horizontal, drastically reducing the effort required to keep the tongue straight and firm during the pronouncing. This could be optional, though it makes doing the sound with much less concentration very easy and it is most likely your only choice to do it properly in case you are intoxicated or tired.
9) Add little pressure to the front contact point and try your sound. Vocal sounds tend to intuitively encourage the disconnecting of the contacts, so if you can keep the contacts in place while you practice your sound, your progress is going to be steady.
10) Actively maintain the firmness, the contact points and spread out shape of the tongue when you perform the sounds. Even the common people, who have had no r sound issues, need to focus a bit on making it come out right.
11) Flex and/or stretch the tongue slowly a bit to find the tenseness, the shape and the position that makes it easy for you to make the hard r sound with ease.
If you practice long and carelessly enough, you are bound to figure at least some kind of solution. Keep trying. That is your mental requirement. Once you can blow air and make it sound dry and not moist at all, your tongue positioning is already quite good and you are halfway there.
A nine-step plan to do one sound in its basic form is quite a lot to ask. If you can learn to do that (with enough time, you surely will), you are quite good pronouncer in the global scale. The setup for the hard r sound is applicable to equally hard and easier sounds too, as it is mostly there to make your sounds sound clearer and to facilitate vocal practice.
The pronouncing teachers never were lispers themselves and hired based solely on a generic college degree, so they are often incompetent at their work and even give outright wrong advice. For example, one teacher told its student that spelling a hard r, one of the most difficult sounds out there, is done by touching a spot in the middle of the roof with the tongue. It is not very good instructing if you leave out over 90% of necessary technical information and give outright wrong one in its stead. The vocal specialists often focus on the tip of the tongue, as that is usually the only part they can see of the tongue of their students. You still need to support your middle part of the tongue to the roof in the back of your mouth, as some demanding sounds require it.
The more sharp sound you need to make, the more back you need to pull your cheek muscles. For example, ‘sh’ requires almost no pulling, a sharper ‘ss’ some pulling back and maximally sharp ‘z’ requires a big pulling of cheek muscles in order to guarantee a clear sound.
Mr. Aholanka wrote book based on few personal notes and fresh observations. It was fully written and conceptualized in less than three hours and as an experiment in writing short booklets, it was a success. It demonstrated the almost complete lack of stress and any other major issues when the writing scope is small and limited beforehand. He writes about factual topics that seem to lack valuable material. He is an author to collect first-hand evidence of the inevitable death of the physical book publishing. He thinks the meaning of life is a lot of tasty yogurt.