Recently, I received a call from a friend who was listening to one of Adele’s CD’s. She was curious as to why Adele’s speech sounded so much less accented while she was singing than it had when she heard her speaking in an interview. This was not the first time that I had been asked this question. It’s often noticed that when non-native speakers are singing, at best, they sound like they are using Standard American English and otherwise they have a subtle, but significantly reduced accent. How can the discrepancy between a singer’s speaking voice and their singing voice be explained?
Accents are defined in their rhythm, intonation, and the length of the vowels. The rhythm of music leads you and helps you to pronounce the words with the correct speed, intonation, and stress. Intonation helps you to find the music of English; it allows you to stress the important words to create a certain mood or meaning for a song. When somebody sings, they elongate their vowels. This technique helps to create emotion and ultimately, it results in the vowels sounding more like Standard American English.
Singers Training Ears to Hear and Modify Voice Patterns
Traditionally, singers from throughout the world have wanted to have a presence in the American music world. To do so, they often grow up listening to American singers and imitating their recorded songs. Some of these singers will produce covers of songs that were originally sung with Standard American English so that the accent pattern becomes more familiar to them and they become facile at reproducing it. Essentially, they are training their ears to hear and their articulators to feel the difference between the sounds that they typically produce and the modified sounds that produce a Standard American English pattern. When they move on to learn subsequent songs, the American sound becomes more and more familiar to them and easier to reproduce. This explains why non-native speakers sound less accented when they sing, but how can this information be used to help reduce an accent?
Imitating Rhythm, Intonation, and Melody of a Song – A Useful Technique
When I’m working with clients who have successfully learned the individual sounds of Standard American English but continue to sound accented in ongoing conversational speech because they fall into the rhythm and intonation of their native language, singing is a very useful technique. When imitating the rhythm, intonation, and melody of a song, my clients start to understand and begin to feel the liason between words. Picking any song melody and singing common phrases to the melody (ie. How are you? It’s so nice to see you.) helps to facilitate the smoothness of English.
– Try singing a phrase two to three times and then immediately after, just say it. You will notice that it sounds smoother and much less accented.
Over the years, singing has been used as a successful therapy technique by Speech Pathologists when working with stroke patients and with stutterers. The power of music and its unique rhythm and intonation can also be used as a successful technique for non-native speakers who are still struggling to reduce their accents. You may not have the vocal talents of Adele, but you can find the smooth vocal patterns that she does and sound much less accented when you speak.