Auditory feedback, particularly listening critically to one’s own voice and speech, plays a critical role in any voice-speech improvement program, or in accent and dialect reduction, or in training the professional speaking voice. Each of the five auditory feedback components of the Facilitator (real-time amplification, delayed loop playback, DAF, masking, and metronomic pacing) have been found useful when working on voice and speech improvement.
An important part of improving voice and speech is developing an awareness of what one’s own voice and speech sound like. For most people, they have never critically heard themselves. Since we hear ourselves speaking through the bone, muscle, and tissue in our heads, it takes listening to ourselves on an external listening device such as a tape recorder, or even an answering machine, to get an auditory glimpse of how we sound to other people. A typical reaction of most people when hearing their voices for the first time on a recorder is to exclaim, "Do I sound like that?" Voice and diction (articulation) classes have been around for a long time, and, more recently, there are now voice improvement classes, classes for the reduction of accent and dialect, and voice classes for the professional user of voice. A critical feature of such classes is increasing one’s self-awareness of voice and speech, necessary before one can modify the voice and speaking patterns that already exist.
The need for voice and speech improvement was stated well by Glenn, Glenn, and Forman (1) which is excerpted here from the preface to their book, Your Voice and Articulation:
We think of voice and diction (articulation) as one component of many different communication performances—giving a speech, having a conversation, participating in a group meeting, acting in a play, reading aloud, or talking on the radio or on TV. Developing a pleasant and impressive voice enhances your opportunities for success in any communication performance. Pronouncing sounds and words in a way that is understandable and does not attract attention makes you a more effective communicator (1, p. V).
We will look first at general voice and speech improvement, followed by auditory feedback in accent-dialect reduction, and, finally, how we use auditory feedback in training the professional speaking voice.
Using Auditory Feedback in General Voice and Speech Improvement
As we voice and articulate our communication to others, the components (such as pitch, loudness, quality, rate, and clarity of speech) of what we say are produced seemingly by automatic pilot. More emphasis is given to the content of what we say, the expression of our emotions, and to reactions of the listener than to HOW we say it. This is as it should be. However, if there is a need to change these automatic voicing-speaking patterns, an awareness of real-time production is necessary. Hopefully, with extensive practice using more optimal patterns, these new vocal-speech adjustments will eventually be habituated into a more optimal voicing-speaking style. For general voice and speech improvement, the following auditory feedback modes have been found useful.
Real-time amplification. The voices of some individuals improve when they are listening to themselves read or speak under conditions of real-time amplification. The person speaks into a microphone attached to an amplifier with headphones. The voice and speech patterns of the individual are fed back as he or she is speaking. The amplification mode on the Facilitator is particularly useful as it provides speech-enhanced auditory feedback. The amplifier is designed for a bandwidth of 100 to 8000 Hz, filtering out background noises below and above the bandwidth. This allows the subject to experience an optimal auditory feedback as he or she is talking in real-time.
Immediate looping feedback. The best component on the Facilitator for use in general voice-speech improvement is the immediate looping feedback. This permits the person to listen critically to HOW something was just said. The individual, the teacher, or the vocal coach can record up to 6.0 seconds, depending on how long the RECORD button is depressed. Voicing patterns, words, phrases, or sentences are recorded via the microphone and then played back for listening. The unit will play back the utterance as often as the STOP-PLAY button is pressed. Boone (2) believes that immediate playback of one’s voice for critical listening is a needed step for voice improvement.
DAF and masking. Under conditions of either DAF or masking, the individual is not able to hear and monitor normally what is being said. Wearing headphones, and listening to DAF as one speaks usually has the immediate effect on normal speakers of slowing down the rate of speech and changing the melodic aspects of speaking. Some people sound better under conditions of DAF. For people with weak or faulty voices, speech-range masking, as available on the Facilitator, often has an immediate effect of making a louder, better-sounding voice. The masking on the Facilitator can either be used continuously or only when voice-activated (masking only occurs while the person is talking). Both DAF and masking are available in the plugged-in Facilitator or when the instrument is worn as a battery-powered, portable assistive device.
Metronomic pacing. Some people can improve their voicing-speaking performance by changing their rate of speech. The metronome has been found useful over the years in helping to slow down or speed up the rate of speech. The clicking rate on the metronomic pacing unit of the Facilitator may be set anywhere between 50 and 150 beats per minute. Wearing headphones and using the Facilitator as a portable device can provide the individual who is working on rate some needed pacing feedback in real-life speaking situations.
Using Auditory Feedback in Reducing Accent and Dialect
The term "accent" is used to describe the speech patterns of people using a second language, blending the sounds of their first language with those of the second language. For example, the woman from Paris, France, who speaks English in Des Moines, Iowa, may be said to speak with a "French accent". Perhaps a more accurate term for describing the sound and language differences would be the term "dialect". In dialect, there are not only differences in the sound and rhythm of the language but there are recognized semantic or word differences as well (3).
The rhythm of the language, its prosody, and the pronunciation of words are obviously influenced by auditory factors. While the written second language of a "foreign-speaking" person may appear identical to the language of someone who is a native user of language, there will be noticeable differences between the two speakers in how the language sounds when spoken. Individual sounds or phonemes may be different; for example, the Spaniard speaking English is used to speaking with only five vowels in contrast to the 16 or more gradations of vowels in English. Or the nasal-oral resonance may be different; some Chinese dialects, for example, have severe nasalization, while in English there are only three nasal consonants. The rapidity of how fast language is spoken differs, as do the stress markers within the sentence. Two languages spoken back-to-back might have considerable differences in overall melody or prosody.
The following auditory feedback modes might be useful in changing accent or dialect.
Real-time amplification. Developing an awareness of the auditory features of a language may be facilitated by wearing headphones and listening to real-time amplified speech.
Immediate loop feedback. The prosody of a spoken language can be best evaluated by listening back immediately to what was just said. After hearing the playback once, the trainer and the client should critically evaluate the match between the model and the playback. A new, corrected version is then recorded and then played back. This process can be repeated as needed.
The same record/playback teaching model can be used for articulation, word-choice, or any other parameter of dialect.
DAF. Some persons working on dialect might have difficulty dropping their old dialect. Such persons might profit from speaking under delayed auditory feedback conditions, such as with a 300 msec delay. This DAF experience would so alter the old prosodic patterns of the primary language that it would become easier to introduce the melody of a new acquired language.
Masking. Speech-range masking at relatively low-intensity levels can also serve as a way to extinguish old accent and prosody patterns.
Metronomic pacing. In the United States there are regional differences in the pace or speed of spoken English. For example, in the large cities of the northeast, speech is more rapid (in excess of 150 words per min); in some of the rural southeastern towns, the speaking rate is much slower. General American English to roughly 150–160 words per minute. Changing speaking rate can often be facilitated by the pacing model of a metronome.
Using Auditory Feedback in Training the Professional Speaking Voice
The professional user of voice has to have a voice that is always there, a voice that is pleasant to the ear, and a voice that carries the sound of one’s profession. Professional users of voice include actors, ministers, teachers, sales people, physicians, executives, broadcasters, politicians, and lawyers—these are all people who use their voices as part of their professional work. Career success is often dependent on how well the professional communicates. Speech and voice are the cornerstones of that communication.
More and more, aspiring professionals not only train themselves in their professional specialties but are working to improve their communication effectiveness. They read speech and voice self-improvement books, seek the help of speech and voice coaches, and enroll in voice and articulation courses. Basic to improving one’s communication effectiveness is finding out how one sounds and what one may need to do to improve one’s speech and voice. The five modes of auditory feedback available on the Facilitator may each play a valuable role in the training of the professional speaking voice.
Real-time amplification. Listening to one’s own voice on headphones as one speaks is a valuable exercise in developing voice awareness. With self-amplification, the individual seems to concentrate more on the sound of his or her own voice. Perhaps related to the Lombard effect (cited earlier in this manual), with amplification, speakers talk louder with increasing loudness playback of their own voices. For some speakers, a louder voice is a more resonant voice. A tape recording should be made of the student reading aloud under conditions of amplification; if increased amplification produces a better voice, that voice should be recorded and used as a model in subsequent voice training sessions. Or the voice under increasing loudness should be recorded on the Facilitator’s loop playback, stopped and played back immediately so the student can hear what he or she sounds like when speaking under increased real-time amplification.
Loop playback. Hearing immediately back what was just said is a powerful teaching tool for developing better voice and speech. Such loop playback allows the student to hear not only voice pitch and quality, but can provide insights as to one’s loudness, rhythm of speech, speaking rate, possible accent, and voice resonance. The instructor should provide the student specific things to listen for on playback. Particular dimensions of voice and speech can then be isolated, worked on, said again, and then be played back once more for further student and instructor critique. The student working on training the professional voice may learn to use the loop playback independently, using the immediate playback for his or her own self-improvement.
Delayed auditory feedback. There are occasional people working on developing a good professional voice who profit from listening to themselves under DAF conditions. Certainly, if rapid speaking rate has been identified as a speaking problem, DAF can provide good practice in developing a slower speaking rate. Normal speakers find that listening on headphones to DAF as they are speaking is very disruptive to overall speech fluency. The DAF can severely alter one’s normal speaking mode. For the professional speaker who wants to start over in remaking his voice and speech, the DAF playback can serve as an excellent method of extinguishing old voice-speech patterns. These old patterns must be replaced with more optimal methods that are provided the student by using real-time amplification and immediate loop playback.
Masking. The use of masking for the student developing a better professional voice is best used with no introduction. Rather the student is asked to read aloud a passage in a "natural" voice. About five to ten seconds into the oral reading, speech-range masking is introduced. With the masking noise preventing the student from hearing his or her own voice, there is an immediate change in voice. Usually under conditions of masking, the voice will be louder and more resonant. The voice that is uncovered during masking should be recorded and later used as an improved-voice model. Changes of loudness and when to turn on the masking should be in the hands of the vocal coach or teacher, not controlled by the student. Some people, however, find that wearing the portable Facilitator with headphones and masking is an excellent way of establishing an improved voice in out-of-the-studio situations—at work, at play, or at home.
Metronomic pacing. The professional user of voice who works in radio or television frequently must change his or her rate of speech. For example, an announcer who is reading a spot commercial must match the textual reading to the exact number of seconds available for the recorded spot. Moderate changes in rate may be helped by speaking against the beats of a metronome. On the Facilitator, the student or instructor may select the frequency of beats from an available range of 50 to 150 beats per minute. Matching the pacing click that the student hears is a red monitor light that blinks to help the instructor monitor the click rate with the speed of words being said.
Certain auditory feedback features on the Facilitator will be helpful for particular students. Practice sessions in the studio may employ that auditory mode, using both instructor and student mikes with both wearing headsets. Or the student may practice alone in the session, using a particular mode for extensive practice. Or the battery-powered instrument may be worn with mike and headset and used as a portable assistive device out of the studio. Extensive use of battery power will require the student to recharge the Facilitator, following the procedures for recharging described in Section 10 of this manual.
(1) Glenn, E.C., Glenn, P.J., and Forman, S.H. (1989). Your Voice and Articulation, 2nd Ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
(2) Boone, D. R. (1997). Is Your Voice Telling on You?, 2nd Ed. San Diego, CA: Singular Publishing Group.
(3) Stemple, J.C. and Holcomb, B. (1988). Effective Voice and Articulation. Columbus, OH: Merrill Publishing Company.