Something I’ve Noticed About American Speech

by Wednesday, December 2, 2015

I was coaching two of my favorite Italian students last week and we discovered that to sound more American they had to use more breath while they were speaking — more than they use normally for both Italian and English. The same thing happened earlier today with a student who hails from both Jamaica and the UK — more use of the breath and BINGO he sounded more like someone from the east coast and less like a guy from the East End.

The key here is NOT breathiness, (though Marilyn Monroe made us famous for that), but more breath to support more tone going through the language. I like to say, “Give it more juice” or “Dig into the language,” especially when you’re talking about those buzzy consonants like M, N and Z. Finish the ends of the words. When in doubt, take a deeper breath and finish the end of each word in a sentence — you’ll feel a difference in energy, more alive and visceral. The key is to utilize the body (the ribs expanding, the abs supporting) WITH the voice through the words.

Beware, it does NOT mean to clench your jaw or tense your muscles in the face/neck/torso – NO! We must use the breath without tensing up.
Many people around the world are taught that to speak “American” you have to “hold everything back” or “in the back of your mouth or throat” or “do nothing” and it’s just plain NOT helpful — especially if you’re an actor and you NEED to use your voice and speech to tell a story.

I won’t argue with you if you say you can show me Americans who don’t open their mouths, don’t breathe and don’t really live in the language. You’d have a point, but not a job! As an actor you need to be able to be clear and dig in so we get the thread of the story — even if you’re cast as the First Officer and you have one line — you gotta be clear!

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