Auditory perception–How well can you hear yourself?

 In Accent, Ear training, Learning, Speech, Voice

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.  Auditory perception, or improving your awareness of sound, is a necessary step in learning any new speech motor skill.

As many of us learned in the recent “Yanny” versus “Laurel” debate, auditory perception is subject to individual difference. Here is a link to a nice YouTube video (with a shout out to an awesome speech scientist, Brad Story), that discusses reasons for this perceptual confusion, including acoustic properties and listener’s age. Despite the debate, you can improve your auditory perceptual skills. You might start with listening to and describing others’ voices and speech patterns. Of course, your observations probably best kept to yourself unless they are positive!

It’s more difficult to develop accurate auditory perception of our own voices. Why? Because we hear our own voices differently than others hear it.  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. As mentioned above, listen carefully to the sound of others.  Observe their voices and speech patterns.

  2. Record yourself and observe what you hear.  Prepare to feel uneasy but trust the process.

  3. 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.

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.

Almost all of my clients need a nudge to take the steps of recording themselves, listening, and experimenting, yet they say it is one of the most valuable exercises they have done. Ever. We can make it easy. Contact us for more information.

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