Ear training–How well can you hear yourself?

If you are trying to change an aspect of your sound—be it related to accent, voice quality, articulation, phrasing, or tone of voice, you need to be able to hear yourself accurately to be successful.  Many people are alarmed when they hear how they sound on a recording.  However, as I mentioned in my last post, becoming aware of your sound is a necessary step in learning any new speech motor skill.

Why is accurate auditory self-perception difficult?  Because we hear our own voices differently than others hear it.  That is because we hear it internally via bone conduction and externally via air conduction.  If you plug your ears and talk you may not hear the sounds around you, but you can hear your own talking.

Here are three ideas to improve your auditory perception:

  1. Record yourself and observe what you hear.  Prepare to feel uneasy but trust the process.
  2. Tune into how your speech and voice feels.  Exaggerate the sound you wish to change and focus on it with curiosity.  Experience its quality, movement, vibration, opening, and points of contact.  Notice how the sound changes if you adjust your tongue position, mouth opening, breathing, or other speech-related action.
  3. Listen carefully to others.  Observe their voices and speech patterns.

After you connect the dots between the sound of your recorded voice versus your spoken voice and the feeling of your voice versus the sound, and you have developed your ear to more keenly perceive others’
voices, challenge yourself further:  Be aware of your sound as you speak.  Of course, speech is first and foremost about communication—don’t analyze your voice all of the time.  But in select situations, with certain people, or a few minutes several times a day, tune in and become an expert on your own sound.

Posted on 22 June 2011 | Category: Accent, auditory perception, Communication, General, Speech, Speech production, Voice


Unconscious Competence

Do you know about the consciousness-competence matrix?  It is a theory of learning that outlines our path from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence to conscious competence and finally to unconscious competence.

In other words, before we begin to gain a new skill, we are unaware of our inability to successfully complete it.  I recently worked with Margaret, who wanted to improve the sound of her voice.  After facilitating a webinar she listened to the recording and was dismayed; she didn’t realize her voice sounded so harsh and nasal.  This movement from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence is often what prompts people to seek training.  My first approach is to help clients become even more aware of their current skill level.  Sometimes they perceive that they are getting worse when they are simply becoming more conscious of their incompetence.

Spirits lift when they move toward competence, albeit a competence that can only be achieved using a high level of focus.  Because we have limited cognitive resources, this is often where training and therapy fail.  We are successful when we are earnestly practicing, but once we enter the real world, we cannot maintain our focus.

Ultimately we want to reach the state of unconscious competence, which is another word for habit.  The good news is that our brains are able to create new pathways with the right input.  Do you know the saying “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”?  I disagree.  A neurologist I know has turned this idea on its head.  He says, “Any dog, any age, any trick.”  So don’t ever think that you are too old or a skill is too difficult.  With consistent practice and patience, you can move from unconscious incompetence to conscious competence.

For more on the four stages of competence, visit:



Check out our accent modification courses for this summer.  We are also providing additional videoconference options so that you can take advantage of communication training from anywhere in the world.  From now through August, we are offering 10% off any videoconference package of 10 hours or greater.  Try it for free.  Email us or call 630-435-5622 for more information.

Posted on 6 June 2011 | Category: Accent, Communication, General, speaking, Voice


Benefits of having an accent

We all have accents.  If you have traveled even within your own country you have probably noticed differences in the speech patterns of others, and they have probably noticed yours.  The sounds and patterns of our speech constitute our accent. 

At The Sound Center, we work with many people who want to modify their accents.  Some want to be more intelligible using American English.  However, most want to preserve their native sound to some degree. 

Do you speak with a foreign accent in respect to those around you?  Accents can cause communication breakdowns, but they also can be beneficial.  If you have an accent, you immediately tell those around you that you speak more than one language.  It is likely that people who speak American English are monolingual.  You are telling people that you have experiences beyond the US just by speaking a few words.  These experiences have shaped you and made you unique, cosmopoitan, and bilingual…or trilingual…or multilingual.

You may have to repeat yourself frequently.  You may experience communication breakdowns.  Everyone does.  The way you deal with them will influence whether your accent benefits you or not.  When someone asks you what you said, the natural direct response is simply to repeat what you said.  You may repeat yourself more slowly or clearly, and that may suffice.  Rephrasing your message and using different words to say the same thing, takes a bit more thinking but can be much more effective.  Other strategies that can help are spelling key words from your message or writing your message.  You can increase your chance of success if you can control the environment: minimize background noise and distractions.  If you cannot, move closer to your listener and maximize eye contact.

Another challenge is managing the perceptions of others if you make pronunciation or grammatical errors.  Being proactive in acknowledging your errors is a mark of a great communicator and a mature individual.  Using humor can be very effective.  Of course you have an accent.  Of course you will make mistakes.  Seek to deliver your message instead of seeking perfection. 

In the global marketplace, people are becoming increasingly tolerant of accents.  They are also getting better at comprehending them.  Communication is a two-way street.  However, if you want to contribute your ideas to the conversation, if you want to be heard and respected, if you have a lot to say, you understand that you can only control yourself.  You can become more intelligible to others and increase your impact as you exchange ideas.

Posted on 18 January 2011 | Category: Accent, Communication, General


The Sound Center on Fox News Chicago

Last night–January 14th, 2010–The Sound Center was featured in a story on accent modification.  Check it out and let us know what you think.  I’ll post again with some comments of my own.


Posted on 15 January 2010 | Category: Accent, Communication


Turn Your Accent into an Asset – New Event

A free workshop will be offered on January 11, 2010 for people who speak with a foreign accent and would like to be more intelligible in American English.  Check out our Events Page for more information.

Posted on 17 December 2009 | Category: Accent, General


Code Switching

You do not have to inspire large groups of people, speak poetically, or weave elaborate stories in order to be an effective communicator.  The results of our daily interactions are a better measure of our ability to communicate.  One aspect of communication that most of us use is called code switching.  This is the ability to alternate between languages, dialects, and communication styles to fit the audience or situation.  


Conversations can be altered entirely or within sentences.  Alterations can be made to vocabulary and grammar, as well as to nonverbal aspects of comunication like voice, articulation, and body language.  The most obvious situations where this strategy is used are among multi-lingual and multicultural societies, such as the United States. Check out this YouTube video about how advertisers are using code switching to sell their products.   


Sometimes code switching can lead to funny situations:  If you have spent time with family or friends who communicate differently than your professional associates, you are likely to bring words and sounds particular to that experience back to work with you.  One time I was checking out after an appointment.  There were papers to sign and dates to confirm and when we were finished, I said in a chirpy, peppy voice with a bright smile, “All done?”  This came directly from my experience as a new mom…the sleep deprivation also contributed.


During training, clients will make faster progress if they primarily use their target communication style.  This may mean limiting their native language use and code switching behavior.  However, this is not always possible or desirable.  It is important for each person to make conscious choices about how they want to communicate in different situations;  important but challenging.


How do you use code switching?  Have you seen others effectively (or ineffectively) use code switching?

Posted on 8 December 2009 | Category: Accent, Communication, General


A Call for Questions

I would love to use this blog as a place to answer any questions related to communication.  If I can’t answer them, I will do my best to find the answer and invite feedback from you.  So go ahead, ask away!  Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • VOICE:  Would you like to know something about how your voice works?  What people prefer to hear in a voice?  Voices people dislike?  Can a voice be changed?
  • ACCENT:  Perhaps you want to know something about accents, like what is the American accent?  Why are some accents harder to understand than others?  Is it discriminatory to require an employee to receive accent modification training?
  • PRESENTATION:  How about presentation in the business world?  How much should a person use gestures?  Should a presentation incorporate visual aids like PowerPoint?

These are just a few ideas.  Use them or brainstorm your own and ask.  I love this stuff!

Posted on 1 April 2009 | Category: Accent, Communication, Presentation, Voice


Accent Modification – A Racist Goal?

One of the services we provide at The Sound Center is accent modification for foreign and regional accents.  Clients work on pronunciation, intonation, speaking rate, style of presentation, and tone of voice, among other areas.  The accent we teach is American English, as spoken by most broadcasters in the US.

Some see this work as fundamentally racist.  They claim that the group in power dictates the correct way of speaking, and the less powerful are forced to change.  Who has the right to say which way of speaking is correct?

I can see their point, especially when people are dismissed or demeaned for the way they speak.  However, in my opinion, communication is the goal.  If people have ideas to share but their audience cannot understand them, it is to their benefit to make some changes in the way they speak.

I have simplified this debate considerably, but I am curious to find out what you think.  Is accent modification a racist goal?

Posted on 10 March 2009 | Category: Accent, Communication, Presentation, Voice