Accent Reduction For Professionals (2015)
Chapter 4: Considering the Soft Palate
You probably have heard of the soft palate, even though you may not know exactly what it is or even where it’s located.
In simplest terms, it’s the delicate piece of cartilage located between the roof of the mouth and what’s known as the uvula. That’s the fleshy extension that hangs in the back of your mouth.
If you’re curious enough, you can place your finger in your mouth, touch your top teeth, then reach back a bit more. Now, you should be able to touch the gum. Don’t stop here, though. Continue to reach up and back, past the roof of your mouth. You’ll notice it feels a bit wetter and softer, the further back you go.
Congratulations! You’ve found your soft palate. Now, forget you even have it. Well, almost forget. This portion of your anatomy is the key factor why your voice may sound “nasal” when you speak. That nasal sound, in turn, may be causing your accent to be heavier than it needs to be.
That’s because the palate is responsible for separating the oral cavity from the nasal cavity.
When you lower the soft palate, you allow air to pass through the nose via the nasal cavity. This causes you speak with a nasality – or a distinct nasal sound. If, though, the soft palate, remains in the original position, in which it would separate the nasal cavity from the oral cavity, air is trapped. In simple terms, the air can’t travel through the nose.
If not the nose, where?
Instead of going up the nose, the air goes up through your mouth. This means you’re producing a sound that’s not nasal – as not as strong a nasal sound as when the soft palate is lowered.
It only seems logical that enunciating weaker vowel sounds would have the sounds traveling up the back of the throat and closer to the nasal cavity. This adds to the nasality of the sounds. Stop and think for a moment, if you will, where your vocal folds are located: They are positioned toward the front, close to the bottom of the mouth and in the throat.
When this occurs you’re producing a nasal-like quality when you speak. You’re lowering the soft palate during the course of your talking.
The goal is to sound less nasal. In order to do this, you’ll want to consciously not lower your soft palate when speaking.
The most efficient way to do this is by speaking more from your throat or at a minimum, speak from the lower part of your mouth. Make a conscious effort not to speak through the upper portion of your mouth.
When you try this, you may be confronted with an Irrefutable law of nature: It seems impossible to speak without moving your soft palate – at least a bit.
Limited Jaw Movement
Before you say “there’s nothing I can do to reduce this,” I’m going to say, “Yes, there is.” When you’re not moving your jaw much, you’re enunciating less and producing weaker vowel sounds. This could be a large part of your nasal sound which, in turn, contributes to your accent.
Your goal should be to produce vowel sounds that are stronger. In order to do this, you’ll need to enunciate more clearly. You’ll discover you’ll have to work harder to produce the sound by moving your mouth and lips. In you do all of this, you’ll be speaking with more definition. This may mean you’ll need to adopt a slower speech pattern.
Speaking slowly general frustrates advanced English students like you. But be patient. It won’t be something you’ll need to do for a long time. Consider it a temporary trade off.
Another bone of contention for many individuals who speak English as a second language is that pesky “r” sound. Getting the pronunciation is a bit more difficult than many individuals believe. But it can be accomplished. Visit the next chapter to learn the way to do this.