Sunday, September 9, 2012

Have a Confession to Make...

Hello again from Singapore!

I've had a crazy week last week workload-wise and couldn't get much studying done, to my great dismay.  As I'm not yet in the study mode I think I'll take it easy for the rest of the weekend.

Anyway, I'm writing this post to make a little confession.

For a self-professed polyglot who has been learning multiple languages for decades, I am not fluent in any of the languages that I speak, including Japanese, my mother tongue.

The primary issue that I'm having is that, for some unknown reason, I just cannot speak continuously for an extended period of time in whatever language I speak, because I always need to stop to think about what to say next when I'm done with my current sentence.

This particular inability in my speech does not affect me negatively at all on most occasions, whether be it in private life or at work, as I can carry a conversation with my colleagues and clients with perfect ease, and I can always get things done with my choppy sentences.  Furthermore, when I write emails at the office, I often get commended on my writing style for its organized structure and clarity. 

However, when I'm required to do a presentation for a few minutes where I have to speak continuously without anybody else cutting in, I always have great difficulty.  I don't have a stuttering problem, but I just cannot talk at length with a smooth continuous flow of speech, so normally what I do is to pre-script my speech and recite it verbatim in front of my audience, rendering it sounding somewhat labored and unnatural.

For the record, all of my YouTube videos that I've uploaded so far had been pre-scripted and rehearsed umpteen times before uploading; there is no way that I could have improvised those speeches.

Frankly, I have no idea as to what is causing this deficiency (I know that "deficiency" might be too strong a word for this, but I don't know how else to put it).  I know that it has nothing to do with the size of my vocabulary, because I've seen children of preschool age expressing themselves far more eloquently than I do with their limited vocabulary.  If you let them be, they can talk their heads off.

Could it be that I have some mental blocks which prevent me from expressing myself freely, by vocalizing whatever that pops into my mind?  I know that I'm a bit of a perfectionist, and I feel really uncomfortable every time I say a sentence that is incoherent or grammatically unsound, and I try to avoid it happening on some subconscious level, thereby preventing my speech from flowing in a smooth manner.

Whatever the cause may be, I'd like to overcome it with lots of practice. 

What I have been doing recently is to engage in a lot of self-talk.  I think having monologue sessions is an extremely effective method for building up one's fluency in a foreign language, sometimes even more so than having conversations with native speakers,  as the learner can monopolize the time all to himself, thereby maximizing the opportunity for actually speaking the language. 

Also, as I've already mentioned in my previous post, whenever I do self-talk, I always make a point of listening to my own voice with an IC recorder, in order to objectively assess my voice.  I listen out for places in my speech where I sound different from native English speakers, and I try to rectify these differences on the spot by repeating them again and again.

I wouldn't mind seeking some professional help as regards my difficulty in speech, but I have yet to find a training coach who can give me effective guidance.  In the meantime I will continue to do my own explorations for ways to enhance my speech.

Anyway, there you have it, my very first confession on this blog.  Thank you all for reading.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend.  Talk to you again soon!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Do I Need Professional Voice Lessons?

I'd like to continue on with the topic of improving my American English accent.

Once again I need to refer to the Eigonodo method which has had a tremendous impact on the way I vocalize when I speak English.

This method has made me realize that, while it's important to learn how to shape the mouth and where to place the tongue to correctly pronounce the vowels and consonants, it's equally important to understand the mechanism whereby native English sounds are generated.
Native speakers of English tend to utilize their throat much more extensively than Japanese people, and their vocalization usually involves a lot of air-flow vis-à-vis the Japanese, rendering their voice relatively deep-sounding and well-rounded.

Having learned this method, I can now say with utmost certainty that, without the right vocalization, one will never be able to sound like a native speaker no matter how he shapes his mouth to imitate the native sounds.

This matter of vocalization has really got me thinking lately.  I've been thinking, if I really want to switch from the Japanese way of vocalizing to the English one, there is no way that I will do this by half measures, lest I end up sounding unnatural and unconvincing.  I'd much rather go the whole hog and get the right vocalization method completely down pat, so that whenever I open my mouth to speak English, I'll be able to vocalize the right way on automatic pilot.

I am even contemplating whether I should seek some professional help to improve my vocalization.  The way things stand now, I have a very muffled voice that doesn't carry well, which I think gives the impression of lacking confidence to some people.  I've seen some YouTube video clips on this subject, and found that quite a few of them mention diaphragmatic breathing as an effective way to improve vocalization.  The problem is, I don't believe that this kind of breathing skill can be self-taught, simply by reading reference books or by watching YouTube videos, etc, hence the need for some private tutoring sessions.

Regardless of whether or not I will take professional voice lessons, I will continue to explore this matter of vocalization for the time being.  I will keep you posted on my new findings as I go along in my quest for perfect American English pronunciation.

Wish you all a nice new week ahead.  Talk to you again soon!