It’s all in your mouth!

January 23rd, 2010

Learning English is Difficult

English is such a difficult language! So many rules, and so many exceptions to every rule. How anyone trying to learn the language could possibly remember even half the rules and exceptions is beyond me. Trying to memorize and master the rules makes learning so tedious and frustrating. Plus, that’s not how to learn a language.

In this second of a series of posts about pronunciation, I will be talking more about pronouncing the sounds of English. I don’t mean, at least at this time, the sounds of the letters, or where you place stress in a word. I mean the basic sound of the entire spoken language. I talked about this in the last post, and want to continue here. I’m talking about the point of articulation and point of resonance that makes the sound of the words.

The Point of Resonance in English

As you may recall from my last post,  in English, the point of articulation and resonance is in the middle of the mouth. English is spoken from a kind of a hollow in the middle of the mouth, the tongue most often bounces off the gums above the front teeth, and the lips, jaws, and corners of the mouth remain relatively relaxed, at least as compared to many other languages. In order to improve your English accent, your mouth must be in the correct position. The best way to learn the correct position is to imitate the English accent of someone speaking your own native language.

Getting Your Mouth In Position

At first, when you get your mouth in the correct position, your jaw, lip and tongue muscles will no doubt feel tight and tired. Keep practicing, though, until it becomes natural and instinctive when speaking English. This is really important. You cannot make the sounds that are exclusive to any language without having your mouth in the right position. An example of this is English speakers trying to roll their r’s. Unless we tense our tongues, lips and corners of the mouth, we cannot speak forward in our mouths enough to make the rolling sound. It just won’t work. Just try to roll an r sound with the point of articulation being in the center of the mouth. That’s why you laugh at us!

German, Dutch, French, Spanish, Italian, Russian and Polish are among the many frontal, or dental languages. The tongue in these languages is always somewhere around the front teeth, tapping against them. This is not the case in English. English is spoken as if the speaker has a hot potato in the mouth.

Following are a few examples of how the mouth is held in other languages, by way of comparison to English.

It’s All In Your Mouth

In English, the jaw is fairly relaxed, and the mouth is held in a medium open position. The tongue is held in the middle of the mouth, and the corners of the mouth are relaxed. The tongue hits the gums above the front teeth more often than the teeth themselves.

In French, the tongue is kept slightly raised to make a narrow tunnel in the vocal cavity. The muscles at the corner of the mouth are tensed and the lips protrude a bit when speaking. The tongue is always in the vicinity of the front teeth, in a more forward position than it is in English. The point of resonance is high.

Spanish speakers keep their jaws loose, their mouth in a medium open position. The tongue is held slightly raised and forward, always in the vicinity of the front teeth. The lips are relaxed, but the muscles at the corners of the mouth are slightly tensed. The point of articulation is near the front of the mouth.

In German, the jaw is tight, and the mouth is held in a somewhat closed position. The tongue is held slightly raised and forward. The lips are relaxed, but slightly protruded, and the muscles at the corners of the mouth are a bit tensed. The point of articulation is back in the mouth.

Russian speakers keep their jaws loose, with their mouth in a fairly wide open position. The tongue is held raised and slightly back. Lips are relaxed and slightly protruded, and the muscles at the corners of the mouth are relaxed.

Imitate Accents

Practice imitating the various accents of foreign speakers speaking your native language. That is where it is easiest to see how each language requires a different mouth position to speak the language properly. Then, practice speaking your own language with an English accent over and over again, until you can feel the difference between how you would normally hold your mouth to speak, and how you need to hold your mouth to speak English.

5 Responses to “It’s all in your mouth!”

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