This is Part 2 of a 3-part series of “mini case studies”: snapshots of some of our real-life students working hard on their American accents and voice.
Mini-Case 1: Stopped the second guessing
A. was a Haiti-born business consultant who came to us with concerns about “his speech in general”. He spoke excellent English and had a great American accent. During conversations about his projects, it became obvious that A.’s self-doubt about his English was blocking him from communicating in an easy and effective manner. His tendency to constantly second-guess his pronunciation and sentence construction led to a speaking style that sounded weirdly disjointed, almost like he was “building sentences”. This made it challenging for listeners, including his instructor, to follow his message. In fact, he was quite tiring to listen to!
To address A.’s self-doubt and improve his speaking style, his instructor came up with a strategy: A. was prompted not to interrupt himself or repeat any words while speaking. This constraint helped him articulate his ideas effectively from the first attempt, without excessive concern about his accent or grammar.
Letting go of the habit of self-interruption and repetition was a turning point for this client. By sticking with this strategy, A. was able to concentrate on expressing his thoughts more fluently and boosted his confidence during presentations.
Mini-Case 2: Spanish speaker masters 4 tricky American consonants
Client Background:The client, J., was born and raised in Columbia and worked as a manager in a food franchise. His HR manager found his Spanish accent and lack of speech clarity to be a barrier to effective communication in the workplace. They signed up with us to help J. improve his American accent.
With his well-developed Spanish accent, J. found it particularly hard to distinguish between four American consonants: DZH (as in “juice”), ZH (as in “Asia”), CH (as in “chicken”), and SH (as in “shampoo”).
To help her client, the instructor devised a “classification”approach. She introduced two main classifications to help J. tell the difference between the four sounds. The first classification was based on voicing. “Voiced” sounds are made by vibrating the vocal cords during speech. The instructor explained the classifications to J. in this way: ZH and DZH were categorized as voiced sounds, produced with vocal cord vibration. CH and SH were classified as voiceless sounds, produced without vocal cord vibration. Once J. was able consciously to control voicing, he started producing the sounds correctly.
The second classification focused on attack, which refers to how the sound moves through the mouth. Using ear training, J. was taught to distinguish the more explosive and forceful DZH and CH sounds from the smoother and more continuous ZH and SH sounds. An abrupt attack resulted in the explosive consonants, while the gentler attack produced the smoother consonants.
As J. grasped the classifications, he experienced a notable improvement in his ability to correctly pronounce ZH, DZH, CH, and SH. Understanding the voicing and attack distinctions helped him develop a clearer differentiation between the consonants, which made his pronunciation much clearer.
Mini-Case 3: A successful and super-brief Voice Improvement course
C., a male New Zealander in his 40s, wanted to develop a voice that sounded more masculine, with better projection. He faced a setback when he was denied a promotion, losing out to another candidate who possessed more “presence”. C. had always struggled with a soft and somewhat effeminate voice. Additionally, he had recently undergone heart surgery and wanted to distract himself with something relaxing and enjoyable to work on during his recovery period.
At AccentsOff, we work on both accent and voice, but sometimes clients opt to focus only on vocal quality. C’s voice instructor created a plan to maximize resonance (full and vibrant vocal quality), increase airflow (volume), and modify intonation to make his voice sound more masculine.
The client quickly grasped the concept of resonance after the first two sessions, experiencing a noticeable improvement in the richness of his vocal quality. Working on the exercises his instructor gave him, he gradually integrated increased airflow, enhancing his overall loudness.
Finally, the focus shifted to modifying his intonation, emphasizing downward inflection at the end of phrases to replace the “upspeak” he was previously using. (“Upspeak” is a vocal behavior where the voice rises in pitch (goes higher) at ends of sentences, making them sound like questions – like you’re totally unsure of what you’re saying!)
This 3-tiered approach resulted in the client achieving a more masculine and confident voice, enhancing his professional presence. C. accomplished this in only four sessions! You can listen to the client’s before-and-after recordings here.