If English isn’t your first language, you might struggle to feel confident when you speak. Mastering speaking and conversation is one of the hardest parts of learning a foreign language and it takes a great deal of practice to get good at it. Many English Language Learners (ELLs), or English as a Second Language (ESL) learners find that they cannot truly express themselves in English because they’re limited by vocabulary or pronunciation.
Everyone should be able to speak in a way that shows their authentic self. Although developing an authentic speaking voice is sometimes harder for ELLs than for native speakers, it’s still possible. Use the following techniques and tips to improve your English speaking voice and communicate more effectively.
Recite famous speeches
One way to practice tone and pronunciation is by studying famous speeches. When you listen to the speech, pay close attention to how the words sound, not just what they mean. Listen to how quickly or slowly the speaker talks and when they take pauses. Do they emphasize certain words over others? Listen for Pitch, Pace, Tone, Melody and Volume changes.
Next, try to recite the speech yourself. Go ahead and imitate the speaker’s style at first, every sound they make. Get good at this first without worrying about making it your own and changing the sounds. Great singers always imitate the singers they love, it’s wonderful practice. This exercise will help you understand how talented speakers use their voices to convey emotion and communicate an important message, and how you can do the same.
Some good speeches to practice with are:
- Steve Jobs’ Stanford Commencement Address
- Greta Thunbergs’ United Nations Speech
- Barack Obama’s 2008 Presidential Acceptance Speech
- Oprah Winfrey’s Golden Globes Speech
Reenact scenes from films
Reciting famous speeches will help you if you have to speak in public, or if you want to master more formal English. But developing your speaking voice for everyday conversation is important as well. One way you can do this is by reenacting scenes from films, rather than reciting speeches. It helps to have a partner to do the scenes with, to make it more realistic. But you can do this exercise alone as well.
Reenacting film scenes can help you better understand the context in which you speak and how gestures and facial expressions also help you convey your meaning. Choose one of your favorite English-language films and try to recreate one or two scenes from it.
Don’t go quiet
The volume at which we speak can be the result of the culture we were brought up in. If in your native language you always speak quietly as a sign of respect or civility, you might find it hard to speak loudly in English. Projecting your voice is a sign of confidence in English and a must if you are speaking in front of an audience.
Many ESL learners tend to speak quietly in English because they’re unsure if they’re saying the right words or phrasing their sentences correctly. Even if you aren’t sure that your vocab or grammar is right, speak up! Other people might misunderstand you if you use the wrong word, but they will definitely misunderstand if they can’t hear you. To develop an effective speaking voice for English, work on maintaining a good volume.
Release tension you’re holding
One reason many ELLs have trouble creating an effective speaking voice in English is due to the tension they’re holding in their bodies. The tension might be a habit, or it could be the result of stress you feel about speaking English. You might have some of following thoughts running through your head:
- “What if I don’t say the right word?”
- “What will people think of my accent?”
- “I don’t feel like myself when I speak English.”
And it can build up some tension whenever you try to speak.
It’s not always easy, but work on letting this stress go when you speak English. Start by trying to relax the muscles in your jaw and around your face. Stand up straight with your head up and shoulders back — good posture helps relieve tension and allows you to breathe properly. When your body feels less tense, you’ll be better equipped to master your English speaking voice.
Go between your “Chest voice” and “Head voice”
When you speak, you emit sound waves that resonate in the open spaces of your body, such as your chest or nasal cavity. Speaking from your chest is using your “Chest voice” and it has a lower frequency. Speaking from your nasal cavity is using your “Head voice” and it has a higher frequency. Some languages emphasize one type of speaking and so naturally have lower or higher frequencies.
The Roger Love method specializes in helping people bridge the Chest and Head voices with an area called Middle voice. It gives people the ability to move all the way up and down the vocal range with no pressure or breaks. With all three of these voices, you’ll be able to speak in a way that your audience can better understand you – context and emotion. You’ll be able to get your full meaning across in English.
Training your Middle voice takes practice, but you can start working on it with the simple exercise in this video. This video is geared toward singers but the same principles apply to your speaking voice.
Develop your English speaking voice with practice
Take the time to master your English-speaking voice. Keep practicing and studying, speaking effectively in English will soon become second nature to you.