A New Voice

There’s a strong new voice for people who have multiple sclerosis or spasmodic dysphonia. This voice belongs to the talented actress, Selma Blair. She was recently interviewed by Robin Robinson on Nightline and Vanity Fair magazine. She certainly had a lot to say about living with MS and SD, being authentic, and learning to see others with compassion.

Spasmodic dysphonia (SD) is a voice disorder that originates in the brain. It causes spasms in the larynx which interrupt the voice. As a result, the voice may sound breathy or strained and choppy. It can also sound variably breathy and strained, depending on the type of SD. You can listen to examples of different types of spasmodic dysphonia at the website for the National Spasmodic Dysphonia Association here. Also, if you listen to the Selma Blair interview, you will hear the undulating sound of her voice, which is likely a vocal tremor. Vocal tremor is common in people with SD, and occurs in about one third of people with SD.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a neurological disorder that can cause a wide range of symptoms. Selma Blair calls it a “snowflake disease;” this is because MS is different in everyone who has it. While voice problems can occur, many people with MS have normal voices. Much more information about MS is available at the website of the National MS Society here.

It’s well worth your time to watch the Robin Robinson interview and read the Vanity Fair article.

If you or someone you know is struggling with a voice change, disorder, or difficulty, contact us, We want to hear your story, provide resources, and help in any way we can.

Foreign Accent: Benefits and Challenges

Everyone Has an Accent

You may not realize it, but you do have 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.

Your Accent Could Be an Asset

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 speak with 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.  But by speaking just a few words, you are telling people that you have experiences beyond the US.  These experiences have shaped you and made you unique, cosmopolitan, and bilingual…or multilingual.

Do People Misunderstand You?

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. Another strategy is to rephrase your message; Use different words to say the same thing. This takes a bit more thinking but can be much more effective.  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.

Does Your Accent Hold You Back?

In the global marketplace, people are becoming increasingly accustomed to various accents. They are getting better at comprehending them. This is good news, but the best communicators realize that although communication is a two-way street, you can only control yourself. If an accent is standing between you and success, contact us. We’d love to help.

You Sound Tired!

We all have days when we drag ourselves out of bed and seem to sleepwalk through the day.  I am no longer able to pull “all-nighters” common in my college days, though having children has been a long-term commitment to sleep deprivation!  I know very well what my “tired voice” feels like:  It is rough, breathy and quiet.  I don’t breathe as deeply or project my sound.

Researchers have been looking into the effects of fatigue on voice and speech in an interesting study.  Read an article about this study or view the abstract from the scholarly publication.  Participants were required to stay awake for 24 hours and were periodically recorded completing speech tasks such as counting, reading, and sustaining vowels.  The researchers measured speech rate, pause length, data relating to variation in quality, and other speech and voice elements.  They found that as time went on, the participants’ speech rates slowed, pauses got longer, and quality variation increased.  An explanation offered by one of the researchers, Dr. Adam Vogel,  is that we lose control of speech and voice muscles as we become more tired.

If today is one of those days for you, a great way to warm-up your voice is with the lip trill.  Also called the “raspberry”, the lip trill takes the pressure off of your vocal folds and allows you to efficiently connect your breath to your sound while exploring pitch freely.  I have a client who has always hated her voice, especially in the morning.  It used to take her several hours to “wake up” vocally.  This exercise helps her quickly and gently wake her “morning voice”.  What works for you?

Abstract citation:

Acoustic analysis of the effects of sustained wakefulness on speech
J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 128, 3747 (2010)
http://link.aip.org/link/?JASMAN/128/3747/1

Learning Unconscious Competence

Do you know about the consciousness-competence matrix? It is a theory of learning that outlines our path from poor performance without awareness to performing well without self-consciousness. We move 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. For a free consultation to help uncover opportunities for improvement, contact us!

Spirits lift when clients 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. Let us know if we can help!

For more on the four stages of competence, visit:

https://www.businessballs.com/self-awareness/conscious-competence-learning-model-63/
http://changingminds.org/explanations/learning/consciousness_competence.htm

Auditory perception–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.  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.