English for German First Language Speakers


Fred Thompson – Head of English at the University of Koblenz – Landau

As teachers for English, we are always thrilled when our German pupils come to class well prepared as well as bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.  Our enthusiasm, however, can be dampened whenever we hear a sentence like the following one from a pupil:

“I have made my homework last night at home”.

While this utterance should not cause a major breakdown in communication, it does lack a certain degree of accuracy in Standard English, especially with grammar and linguistics. In its written form, we have problems with verb tense, collocation and word order. And in its spoken form, the pronunciation of final voiced consonants will most likely need some more attention.

To begin, German speakers often confuse two English tenses: the present perfect and simple past. The usage of the present perfect in the utterance above (i.e. have made) may appear to match perfectly with the German perfect form or Das Perfekt (i.e. habe gemacht) as both tenses in these languages contain an auxiliary verb and past participle. This assumption, however, is a pitfall. The German perfect form is always used for completed past actions; English uses the simple past (not the present perfect) in similar cases. The English present perfect, in contrast, describes events that begin in the past but have some connection to the present moment of speech. It should be noted that there is no exact German equivalent for the English present perfect.

Another mistake in the original sentence is linguistic, specifically choice of verbs. The English verbs make and do can cause problems for German speakers. Whereas we do our homework in English, Germans use the verb machen or make (i.e. die Hausaufgaben machen) with this expression. This explains the odd combination of made my homework above. It is not always easy to know which of the two English verbs should be used, as direct translations can sometimes work. In both English and German, it is appropriate to say to make a mistake (i.e. einen Fehler machen) or to make fun of someone (i.e. sich über jdn lustig machen). In other expressions, however, we must know that only do can be used in English, for example to do the shopping (i.e. die Einkäufe machen).

Word order is also problematic. The specific order of adverbs in the end position of an English sentence can be particularly tricky. In contrast to German where adverbs of time usually precede any other type of adverb, English speakers generally prefer having adverbs of manner first and then having adverbs of place and time. In the original sentence, last night should actually follow at home.   

Turning our attention to pronunciation, we must concern ourselves with the “notorious” devoicing of final voiced consonants, especially with plosives and fricatives. Final devoicing or Auslautverhärtung is a common feature of L1-German speakers. Instead of articulating /meɪd/ for made in the original sentence, /meɪt/ (or mate) is usually uttered. Mate and made are two separate words in English. Likewise, the devoicing of have will create a new word: half.  Concentration on saying I have made and not I half mate will increase intelligibility between both the speaker and interlocutor. Needless to say, had the correct word order in the original sentence been used in the first place, we would have avoided at least one articulation problem with have!  

Fred Thompson – University of Koblenz – Landau

Voices are Designed to be Sexy


“The larynx is hormonal dependent and evolves with time and the sexual life of each individual.”  Jean Abitbol MD
If a woman has a smear test from her cervix and from her vocal folds, they will be almost identical because both the vocal folds and the cervix have oestrogen receptors.  Voices are designed to be sexy.  Females use the left and right parts of their brain at the same time, but men use only one side of their brain at a time.  Another reason why real men are feminists.  Most women, it seems, prefer sexy audio stories to porn.  A recent BBC study showed that 50 per cent of females felt that porn dehumanised women.  Voices change when you are aroused.  If you meet someone, in public and you find them very attractive, rather than stand there with your mouth open, you’re more inclined to laugh at something innocuous that someone says.  It’s no wonder then that Dipsea – the site that sells sexy audio stories in an app, is so appealing to women.  Eroticism and seduction together with a good story does wonders for your libido.  I also like what the Dipsea site says:
“Feeling turned on is more than a wind up to sex.  It’s a way to feel more alive, heighten intimacy, unlock confidence and cultivate your wellbeing.  Dipsea empowers you to tap into those feelings.”
Dipsea stories have different time frames and different moods.  You can choose from lesbian and heterosexual themed stories.  You can listen to three stories for free before you start to pay a subscription.  They have sourced some good voice over actors.  Alas, they won’t be able to afford Miriam Margolyes, who paid her bills when she was just starting out as an actor, by doing voice-overs for porn/sexy films.   I bet those would be fun to listen to.  Click on the photo for the link to Dipsea

Gina Gutierrez and Faye Keegan

Mental Health & The Desire to Achieve Perfect Balance


There is a word in Swedish – Lagom, which means something like – just right – in English.  Tim Bergling, the DJ Avicii was under a lot of stress to get it right.  So much success, so young and such high expectations of him.  A treadmill without much fun.
There are different ways that you can look after your mental health in stressful times.  Be open to irony.   An old poster on the underground at Mornington Crescent saying “Warning -The Light at the End of the Tunnel Has Gone Out” laughed me out of a dark moment.   Maintain your self-worth.   Boxers and athlete’s are told to keep something, no matter how small,  in reserve.  I ask clients who are crazy, busy – please never let your voice run on empty.   Kind words and phrases like “cheer up love it might never happen” are clichés but still supportive.  When you are submitted to times of extreme, ongoing stress, it can take hold of you and you don’t hear anything but the voices in your head and you don’t feel anything except the inability to cope.  You may try ways to alleviate the stress and it still won’t go away.  Suicide is the biggest cause of death of people under 35.  Everyday more young lives are lost to us.

Suicide is a taboo subject and seriously at-risk people find themselves isolated.   Young people who are at the most risk of suicide will often try to hide their needs and see suicide as the only self-empowering option left to them.  They have an outward appearance that is smart and happy looking, and they will joke with you.   When their voice sounds forced and jarred and they won’t get involved in conversation that involves anything apart from banter, stay with them.   Look out for your friends, make it easier for them to talk to you.  Most of us have been affected by suicide and yet it still isn’t spoken of in everyday terms.  You can’t stop something happening by ignoring it. The Tim Bergling Foundation is a mental health and suicide prevention charity set-up after his suicide.  As Avicii, the Swedish DJ, his music and persona were massive and influential, especially among young people.  His music is beautiful, his lyrics poetry.  In the end he gave it all and had nothing to sustain himself with.  Avicii’s album Tim has been released posthumously and the proceeds will go to this foundation. Click on the pic to listen to his music.

The agencies listed below work to help people move away from suicidal thoughts.

The Late Tim Bergling

Rosmersholm by Henrik Ibsen


This version of Rosmersholm by Ibsen is wonderfully adapted by Duncan MacMillan and directed by Ian Rickson.  Ibsen, the Danish master playwright of the 19th early 20th century was clear sighted about the injustices of society & the human foibles & insecurities that helped to keep them in place.  Rosmerholm is a dark play that contains a lot of humour and often in this production, the humour is there.  When Giles Terera came on stage as the politician Andreas Kroll I could hardly believe my luck.  Straightaway there he was filling the stage, perfect timing, wonderful voice mastering the lines and sparking the laughter.  I loved him in Hamilton & I love him in this.  All the acting is of a high standard.  A balance between the surpressed and the spoken, has to be kept for the play to work.  It may have helped if at the beginning we had had a glimpse of the ominous in the dialogue between Rebecca and Mrs Helseth.   Some Grotowski voice and body work may have helped.  There is always a risk that an Ibsen play can tip over into parody because of the time when the play was written & because of  Danish directness.  Tom Burke as John Rosmer bravely and convincingly uses a “piping” tenor voice throughout, which gives us a clear picture of his days as a clergyman giving sermons.  It also makes the conversion of his values –  influenced by Rebecca, easier to accept.  Thanks here to the wonderful voice coach Patsy Rodenburg.   As you wouid expect all the voices are as clearly heard.   You can see where Hayley Atwell is taking the character of Rebecca West and I think that she will reach this full smouldering woman pretty soon.  I didn’t feel that the end was inevitable and I was sad, but then I remembered that it is all part of why we want to see Ibsen.  The audience lapped it up.  It is a grand production and credit must go to the set designed by Rae Smith.

Tom Burke as Giles Rosmer & Giles Terera as Andreas Kroll



The National – a Theatre for Everyone.


Rufus Norris has stuck to his values and made the National Theatre a place of entertainment rather than elitism.   In spite of the jibes about cronyism (who doesn’t work better with their friends and partner around them) in three short years, he has brought about changes in the repertory that have made the National a place of real and diverse entertainment.   Mosquitoes, Everyman, My Country, The Threepenny Opera.   He has brought in productions that challenge audiences.   Follies directed by Dominic Cooke – the best production of the musical that I’ve seen.  When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other directed by Katie Mitchell.   Simon Godwin, an Associate Director, brought Anthony and Cleopatra into a new dimension.  Seemingly spontaneous, the whole of the movement of the production signalling ever present love and death and the unrelenting changes from youth to age, from victor to vanquished.   The verse was timeless and the beauty of Enobarbus’ speech
“For her own person,
It beggar’d all description; she did lie
In her pavilion, – cloth of gold tissue, –
O’er-picturing that Venus where we see
The fancy outwork nature;   “

blended into the whole as did Cleopatra’s

“His legs bestrid the ocean; his rear’d arm
Created the world:  his voice was propertied
As all the tuned sphere’s, and that to friends; ..”

Anthony’s voice work, played by Ralph Fiennes was truly wonderful, I suspect that was down to his personal voice coach.  So what if some of the accents were slightly wonky and some of the soldier’s work slightly hurried.  In the end it made for a wonderful ensemble production.  When Dame Judi Dench played Cleopatra last at the National opposite Sir Anthony Hopkin’s Anthony, the essence of the play was lost among the stars.

Sophie Okonedo as Cleopatra and Ralph Fiennes as Anthony

Sounds Like A Winner: What Voices Have To Do With Politics


This podcast centres around ancient biological rules (voices included) that tell us who’s in charge. I suspect it has been inspired by Donald Trump’s voice which has the ring of “listen to me, I’m the boss” about it.  This is in his unaltered pitch and rhythm throughout.  He may pause when he’s questioned, he may even allow a smile, but he’ll come back with the same unvarying loudness, pitch and rhythm.  The pace is medium to slow throughout, mainly because of the mouth movements he uses to form his words.  This could be because of the Scots accent of his mother.  Whatever the reason the outcome is the same – it allows us to hear him clearly and feel that he is being considerate to his listeners.  This inspires the listener to believe the speaker is solid, safe and not someone who can be trifled with.
Preferred voices may not lead us to the most skilled leaders.  Hitler was a great, inspiring orator, but when you see and hear images of him delivering speeches, you realise that he was offering a roaring authoritarian strength to people who were weakened and looking for direction.  Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is a another great authoritarian orator who gathers crowds to listen to his speeches. 
Great speakers in English, who inspire, persuade and uplift us, are thin on the ground.  The last great speaker that I can think of was Nelson Mandela.  When you listen to his speeches, the words, the variety in his voice, his ability to frighten or move people was second to none.  The key here is the variety in his voice.  He was a transforming speaker.  When you listen to a politician decide if they really know what they’re talking about?  Do they always sound the same?  When they offer compassion is there a cadence or a real breathing into the words of compassion.  Do they pause because they’re considering the weight of their words or because they haven’t been briefed on the subject?  Could they deliver a speech outlining their beliefs? Are there different levels (pitch and loudness) in their voice and do these levels match what they’re talking about?   Is there real strength in the sound of their voice or is it just conviction made loud? Someone pointed out to me last month that Nigel Farage looked and sounded terrific on U-tube.  His voice has some variety in loudness and intonation, but it always has the same repeated rhythms.   When he’s asked to listen to a question which he’s not prepared for, he sometimes appears petulant and pleads that he is being unfairly vilified.   The key to people’s voices is to really listen deeply to them and if they are on film to watch and see if their expressions meet what they are saying.
In the Hidden Brain podcast, Casey Klofstad says that voice pitch influences perception to lead, in both men and women.  I think that it is the confident voice that influences us most. The legend of Margaret Thatcher and how she lowered her voice pitch is true, but she didn’t have many voice coaching sessions and once she discovered that it made her sound and feel confident, she went with it.
My thanks to Paul Carroll for bringing this podcast hosted by Shankar Vedantam from Hidden Brain, to my attention.  You can listen to the whole podcast by clicking on the left picture below.

Casey Klofsted, from the HiddenBrain podcast, hosted by Shankar Vedantam

Donald Trump makes a statement on the end of the U.S. government shutdown

A Life-Coaching Approach to Screen Acting


Daniel Dresner’s a life coach, an actor and a tutor and he puts the cream of what he’s learned from all three of these professions into his book:  A Life-Coaching Approach to Screen Acting.
It’s a good example of the exhilaration of playing like a child, while being aware of the sense of order and discipline of an adult.

For me, the later chapters on practical things are most useful, like line learning “do not colour the text…..learn your lines like data in a monotone robotic voice with either no inflections or a variance every time you repeat them…..if you believe in what you’re saying there’s no wrong way to say them.”

His approach as a life-coach is extremely useful for actors.  There is a chapter on Saboteurs and Limiting beliefs, which seems to have been influenced by NLP training.  His breadth of knowledge is wide and more enjoyable for the bon mots from Lee Strasberg, Stella Adler and Sanford Meisner:  “The text is like a canoe, and the river on which it sits is the emotion.”

Daniel’s  a successful acting coach and having seen him in action I feel admiration for the tenacity he has in helping actors achieve their goals.   A Life-Coaching Approach to Screen Acting, will be a book to keep for reference throughout your career.

Daniel Dresner


Glottal Start- Finding out about Research into the Larynx


Nothing beats a study day when it’s diverse (sometimes challenging, sometimes mind changing) never boring – on a subject that absorbs you – and – there’s no exam afterwards!
These are the sort of study days that the British Voice Association run.
If you’ve ever marvelled at the strength of a singer’s voice above the music  – as true for songwriter singers like Adele as well as opera singers  like Lenneke Ruiten then you understand why the BVA gave the study day: “Glottal Start – Laryngeal science into practice”.   There were presentations on “Advances in the Understanding of Laryngeal Anatomy” by Prof Jose R Sanudo, “New Insights in the reinnervation of the larynx” by Prof Teresa Vazquez,  “Laryngeal physiology – truths and untruths” by Prof Stephen McHanwell, “Pathology of the larynx; how should this affect treatment?” by Dr Justin Weir

Dr Justin Weir Consultant Head and Neck and Oral Pathologist and Dermatopatholog

and “Modern techniques in Laryngeal Examination: optical ‘biopsy’ by Dr Taran Tatla.  All of this, while technically and medically centred will feed into a collective knowledge of the voice and speech exercises that you give for recovering voices and for healthy voice maintenance.  The added benefits of a BVA day include knowing who to refer clients to if you detect any sign of something irregular, like a polyp or cyst on the vocal folds.
The final submissions for the Van Lawrence prize  included a look at vocal tract resonance with Dean Adams.   Dean gave examples of how ‘tube’ length from larynx position to lip potrusion affects resonance and voice classification – “sometimes vocal folds and resonance fight each other”.  A great presentation from an independent, highly skilled music practitioner, who clearly enjoys hearing great tone.   Anna White, who’s specialist area is “Pre and Post Operative Voice Therapy”, showed what a massive difference voice therapy can make to a patient’s confidence and vocal recovery.   I have helped clients with pre and post operative exercises.  Very occasionally, actor trained clients get impatient to use their voice to the full again after an operation and pre-operative exercises also help them to recognise and work with the healing process.

Red at Wyndham’s Theatre


I didn’t see the original production of Red at the Donmar in 2009 and I never went for Rothko’s art before I saw Red, but now I can’t wait to see Rothko’s art again.  In John Logan’s play, directed by Michael Grandage, we get a flow of speech and action between Rothko, played by Alfred Molina and his assistant Ken played by Alfred Enoch, which is a work of art in itself, creating a rhythmic expression of the thoughts and painting of Rothko.  There is a whole world within the studio which is the set of the play.  The action, which runs over 2 years is centred around the commission Rothko has accepted to create a series of pictures, the Seagram Murals, for the walls of the new Four Season’s restaurant.  I think the part I loved the most was Rothko saying how a painting needs to be looked at – that contemplation was of equal importance to the deed of putting on the paint.  He hopes that people will be kind to his paintings once they’re hung.  Ken offers the energy of the young of the new and of change.  While Rothko accepts and encourages this, he is at pains to guide his young assistant into an appreciation of what makes art truly great.  He gives Rembrandt as an example and he describes the glowing light of a Caravaggio painting that he saw in a dark corner of a chapel.  He finds his art in light and dark – in the spirit of the picture and he cannot come to terms with the concept of pop art and the everyday images of Warhol’s work.  The writing is strong and Molina embodies the life in Rothko.  From the outside we see his struggle and all human struggle to be receptive and alive and creative when all the time we are aware of inevitable death.

Alfred Molina and Alfred Enoch as Rothko and Ken


The Father and other Theatre Translation


The Father is to be made into a film starring Anthony Hopkins with the writer Florian Zeller as director.  Anyone who saw the original stage play would celebrate that it’s being made into a film.  How much of the success of the play was down to the translation by playwright Christopher Hampton and his working relationship with Florian Zeller, is unknown, but I would think it’s 80%.  Any actor who’s laboured under the words of a bad translation knows the value of a clean well transposed/translated & adapted script.   Scripts that are translated, to sound stilted and remote  – giving signals of “look how intellectual we are” to a puzzled audience were blown away  all those years ago by Dorothy Parker in the New Yorker.
Richard Eyre’s adaptation of a translation of Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen was in the bone, crystal clear.  Ibsen, perhaps because there weren’t many translators into English from his Norwegian influenced  Danish, in the mid 1800s, was uneasily translated right up until the1970s.
In a letter written in 1872, Henrik Ibsen said that the translation of his plays was:  “not simply a matter of translating the meaning but also, to a certain extent, of re-creating the style and the images and ultimately adapting the entire form of expression to the structure and demands of the language into which one is translating.”
For a long time I’ve been interested in the adaptation of a couple of plays of Camus and was fortunate enough to meet an expert in Theatre Translation – Dr John Whittaker at a CIOL event, who sent me information on the background to Cross Purpose (The Misunderstanding) and a link to La Société pour l’étude de Camusienne, which gives a background to the impetus behind Camus’ plays.

It is quite rare for a living playright to offer their work to a translator without first knowing them.  It happened to a student of mine a few years back, who was asked by the literary department of the National Theatre to translate a play from the original French.  It was a success and a good experience for her, – she is a very good in-depth listener and would always read her work out loud.  She also works in voice-overs in Spain where she now lives.

Looking  forward to seeing  Anthony Hopkins star as Andre in the film adaptation  of Florian Zeller’s  The Father.

Florian Zeller with Christopher Hampton