I’m told I mumble but opening my mouth wider doesn’t seem to help. Why not?
There’s more to mumbled speech than meets the eye. Oops! That should probably be ‘meets the ear’. Saying someone mumbles is like saying there’s bad weather outside. Right, but what exactly is going on? With mumbled speech, there are two main culprits.
- Mumbled speakers very often shorten all the vowels in their words. This gives the impression their speech is rushed and indistinct. At its worst, we call this ‘cluttering,’ as one word seems to tumble into the next. This is an entire topic in itself so I won’t cover it here.
- The mumbler slides over many consonants and often leaves others out entirely. But all consonants are not equal when it comes to creating clear English. As they say in the classics: Some are more equal than others.
The key to clear English lies with the Stop Consonant sounds. This is the set of sounds where you stop the air in your mouth before exploding it out. They are /p/ /b/ /t/ /d/ /k/ and /g/ as in ‘Two puppy dogs bark at a cat in my garden’.
The secret lies in how you let the air out. Did you notice that word ‘explode’? The best and clearest English speaker explodes their Stops out with a very definite puff of air. This gives a ‘hissing’ and ‘popping’ quality. In fact, those who’ve never heard English before say it sounds as if the speaker is spitting out their words.
So why is this ‘puff of air’ so important for clear English? English has many words that contrast meaning by changing just one of these Stop sounds. If I don’t let out enough air at the end of the words ‘bat’ and ‘bad’, you may not know which word I’ve said. Therefore, if you’re a mumbler, opening your mouth will not help if your Stop sounds aren’t clear.
So how do these work? Strong air puffs call for firm mouth contacts. Firmly released Stops take a fraction longer to make (and require a fraction more care) than weak puffs. Your speech is automatically clearer and less rushed; syllables can’t ‘run into each other’ anywhere near as readily.
The ClearSpeak Method places great emphasis on Stop sounds. It recognises that these form the foundation and framework of clear English. Watch the Masterclass video on Stops at www.clearspeak.com.au if you’d like to learn more.
Still a bit sceptical? Take a look at any TV news interview. Why does that BBC announcer sound so much clearer than their guest with a broad regional accent? Notice the announcer’s hissy puffs and how these help separate one word from the other.
Summing it all up, the answer to mumbled speech is to stretch out your vowels and think Stops, Stops, Stops. Oh, and don’t forget you have to open your mouth at the same time.