What The Press Says About Us
Michael Wells relaxes at the Interpreting division event on voice and Stress Management
Ahem! Ahem! Clearing the throat and getting ready to speak clearly and precisely is what interpreters do at the start of every working day. Looking after your voice and avoiding potentially stressful situations was the subject of the Interpreting Division’s seminar on 19 November, which seemed a well-chosen topic asthe conference room at Novotel London City South was filled to capacity. Officially titled ‘Voice and Stress Management forInterpreters: Optimising and protecting your voice – one of your most precious assets’, the day began with a talk by Frances Parkes (pictured). The voice coach from maxyourvoice.com gave a fun, interactive presentation about how to relax and get the best from your voice. She had the room hanging, humming and haaaah-ing;not, perhaps, what everyone expected, but some useful exercises in treating your voice as the precious instrument it is and understanding it better. Frances gave an overview of the importance of voice quality and the way actors use breath, tone and timbre for different vocal effects. The Interpreting Division seminar was a great example of how much fun learning can be, and an enjoyable social occasion to boot.
Having a strong accent can set you back in your career, according to new research which has confirmed the findings of previous studies. Should it be dismissed as stupid prejudice, or should you attempt to do something about the way you speak?
Jenni Hunt, a lawyer from Wimbledon, and originally from Worksop used to speak with a south Yorkshire accent, but after leaving her hometown 16 years ago, she says she ditched her twang. “I wanted to be taken seriously and to take myself seriously. I am pretty sure that it has helped my career,” she says. In an attempt to boost her other career performing voiceovers, she is having one to one sessions with Frances Parkes, a voice and speech coach, and head of www.maxyourvoice.com “When I ring up agents I speak with my lawyer’s voice, the one I use for meetings,” says Ms Hunt. “People make assumptions about you based on your accent,” says Ms Hunt. “Every accent has a stigma attached to it in various ways. I don’t want people to think about my accent, I want them to focus on what I am actually saying.”
Voice like an old croak? Here’s seven steps to sounding younger
Can I keep my voice young without resorting to the knife?
Frances Parkes, a vocal expert who runs the clinic Max Your Voice in Harley Street, says she’s seeing increasing numbers of women who feel their voice is letting them down when they hit their 40s. But she assures me there is, thankfully, plenty we can do before having the fat sucked out of our tummies and injected into our throats.
‘With a few small changes, voices can defy time,’ says Frances. ‘If you listen to some of the best voice coaches, they might be 80 but sound 30. That’s because they know how to look after their voices.’
So, for now, my tummy fat can stay where it is. Here are other, non-costly ways to sound eternally youthful .
Take deep breaths
‘When we breathe shallowly, our voices sound breathy and weak,’ says Frances. ‘So the first thing to do is breathe deeply. Letting the air into the diaphragm rather than keeping it in the upper chest makes your voice sounds resonant and strong.
‘Sophia Loren has a great voice. She sounds sultry and sophisticated, but not old. If you look closely, you’ll barely see her cleavage move when she’s speaking. Her breath control — long, deep breaths, not gasps or shallow breaths — is fantastic.’
Ditch the curries
Diet plays an important part in how we sound. Spicy or acidic foods can damage our voices because as the stomach attempts to digest them, unpleasant gases are produced that can travel over the trachea and vocal folds, irritating them. The voice then sounds phlegmy and croaky.
Frances advises: ‘If you do eat spicy or acidic food, try to drink plenty of water to neutralise the effect.’
Dairy products including milk chocolate should be eaten sparingly — they are hard to digest, producing acid in the stomach. So dark chocolate is fine.
Red wine is better than white because it is less acidic, while tea and coffee shouldn’t be drunk to excess.
‘Caffeine is a diuretic and can be dehydrating,’ says Frances. ‘Dehydrated vocal folds leave the voice sounding dry and raspy, so always have a glass of water with your coffee.
Luckily enough, carrying a bit of weight benefits our voices because fat cells provide a good source of oestrogen. This hormone is essential for lubricating our vocal cords, keeping our voices rich and young.
‘It’s far better for your voice to keep a few extra pounds on board,’ says John Rubin. People with barrel chests have greater lung capacity than the ultra-skinny Victoria Beckhams of this world, so more resonant voices.
If you are naturally slim, aerobic exercise — such as running, dancing and swimming — will improve your lung capacity and give your voice depth.
Mr Rubin says: ‘We lose 50 per cent of our lung capacity between the ages of 20 and 80 but you can improve capacity by physical exercise. More lung capacity means a richer, more powerful voice.’
Feeling low expresses itself in your voice.
One of the symptoms of depression is a flat, listless voice. This is due to lack of energy, which makes the muscles around the vocal cords slacken off.
Slack muscles, whether they be on your tummy or in your throat, are very ageing.
So perk up and smile. It will not only actually lift your mood, it will add youthful brightness to your tone.
‘Practise great big smiles while speaking on the phone and no one can see you. You’ll definitely hear the difference.’
If you stand tall with good posture, you make more space for breath — and more breath means stronger, richer tones. The Alexander Technique, which voice coaches use to help actors achieve rich tones, like those of Dame Maggie Smith, is great for posture and voice.
Imagine your shoulders are totally relaxed and someone is pulling a piece of string from the crown of your head towards the ceiling. Lengthening the body means the diaphragm can move properly, letting in more air, so your tone is clearer and more powerful.
Practise humming. This gets the vocal folds moving and keeps your voice young and supple.
Frances says: ‘Humming the sound “Mmm” up and down the scales is great. It brightens the tone because it encourages the vocal folds to relax.’ If you hum then sing for a few minutes every day, you should notice an improvement within three weeks.
No shouting or whispering
Shouting strains the vocal folds and, more strangely, whispering does, too. For me, as a harassed working mum of a six-year-old, whispering is not an issue, but I have been known to raise my voice on occasion. Perhaps this is what has caused me to sound like Dot Cotton on a bad day.
The Linguist – Interpreting Division by Christine Pocock
The second part of our report on the Interpreting Division covers the talks given by Frances Parkes and Paolo Cortucci. Frances has a reputation as one of the foremost trainers in voice and communication in the business world, and is demand as a voice and dialect coach for professionals in TV, theatre and film. She designs and runs courses to improve vocal communication. Frances is an exponent of the Grotowski technique which brings out the fullness of the voice and strengthens the meaning of the words and is an invaluable aid to communication in general. She works as a voice analyst for TV and radio. She also designs and runs INSET voice and speech days for teachers. She is a visiting lecturer on the MA Interpreters course at the Metropolitan University. Many of the techniques used by actors and singers use to deal with emotion can be used equally well by interpreters. Frances talk followed very neatly on from the talk by Najiba Kasraee, a journalist from the BBC. She also talked about ‘compartmentalisation’ of thought to prevent emotion interfering with the task in hand – such as conveying the emotion of a speaker at a conference or a defendant in court, where the subject matter may be harrowing. This is when the amygdala situated deep in the brain “hijacks” the ability to speak. Frances explained that it’s possible to regain control of the voice by using breath and mentally adjusting the area of resonance. However it’s always best to practise the technique beforehand. The interpreter overcome by emotion might have to hand over in the booth or ask for a short break in court. The audience was then invited to try out various breathing techniques which help to refocus the mind and return a “wobbly” voice to normal.
A brief discussion arose about the use of chuchotage (whispering) during which Frances expressed her concern that whispering for several hours at a time (in court or at meetings) is very bad for the voice. She recommended that it should be avoided if at all possible and interpreters should try to use a very low volume with exaggerated diction rather than actually whispering. They should also drink lots of water or/and sip pineapple juice! Frances recommended the book Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman.
Roger Curtis – Article For Institute of Translators and Interpreters
Voice is a wonderful gift, which few of us know how to use to its full potential. Frances explained how our voice projects our personality, our feelings and attitudes. Through a series of relaxation techniques, called the Alexander Technique, we all relaxed on the floor lying on mats wearing loose, comfortable clothing. Part of a series of exercises concentrated on two members projecting their voices across a room full of 14 others talking in their own loud voices. By first emptying our lungs, taking a fresh breath and then focussing our voice directly at the other person, we had to make ourselves heard. Many found this to be an amazing revelation since we could actually hear each other over the general discussions. I think we all came away much better informed on what our voice can really do in the hands of an expert. Clearly as a voice coach Frances has a head start on the rest of us but those of us who attended the workshop went away determined to develop this part of our make up, knowing there is a lot more to our voice than we thought. We were fortunate to meet Frances and be set on a new path where we can project ourselves more confidently by keeping an audience’s attention or simply by keeping our voice calm and in the right pitch and register, qualities essential to the modern interpreter.
Westminster and Pimlico News
What do you do if you are a teacher with a soft voice? Faced with a class full of pupils who are not taking you as seriously as they might can be a problem. But help is out there – in the shape of voice coach Frances Parkes. The teacher sought advice from the expert and now the pupils are sitting up and taking notice. She is just one in a long line of people advised by Frances.
After training as an actress at the Guildhall School and television and theatre roles, she married a writer and began translating his work. This led to a fascination with how we use language, voice and sound, then a masters degree in interactive communication, specialising in voice production. She says the celebrated Polish theatre director Grotowski was an inspiration to her through his vocal techniques.
Today Frances spends much of her time advising actors – often at the Actors Centre in Tower Street, Covent Garden – and corporate business clients on voice projection. “The whole body is a tool for communication,” she explained. “You should be comfortable, relaxed and feel free around the neck and shoulders. Take a couple of minutes to allow yourself to breathe freely. Feel the openness of your throat. Mentally place where you want your voice to be heard and allow your body to be an amplifier to your mouth. Everyone is different, but we must breathe out enough and allow our breath and speech pattern to synchronise.”
She said influences on the voice included the psychological, social, work environment and physical. “Emotion could often be heard in the voice,” she added. “People may have a downwards voice inflection, with depression obvious, when they have lost confidence.” Frances said the work environment could affect the way we speak. In the fast paced computer world people often communicate electronically and very quickly and repeat this in speech.
She said: “The problem is listeners might not catch all they are saying. Often the solution is making sure firstly that they have enough breath and then varying speech and length of sentences. People sometimes feel they have to get out all their ideas at once. They must allow their breath and speech pattern to work together.”
Energetic Frances also gives sessions at Grove Neighbourhood Centre in Bradmore Park Road, Hammersmith and Conway Hall, Holborn. She is also a member of the prestigious British Voice Association, the professional body which promotes the use of the human voice.
Voice Training for Teachers
There is a way of using your voice which actually imparts a feeling of consideration and care and authority, which is far more effective than having a shouting voice.
When I do work with children, who are supposedly difficult or whatever, yes they may be different towards me because I am not going to be there over a long period of time but they only seem to co-operate with me when I start to place my voice and use my voice in a connected way, and choose to resonate my voice in a certain way. Suddenly, their ears prick up. If somebody talks to you in a very harsh way, you still know what it is that they want you to do, but half of the message gets lost because you think ‘Aah they want me to do that, but they don’t think I want to do it’ – I have this all the time. But if somebody talks to you in a way that impresses upon you – ‘this person really wants me to do that because of this reason’, then I feel that they will get more of a response. We’ve done this with very small children and now some work is being done with secondary children.
We have so many different nationalities within our system that working with the voice definitely helps, because people pick up on different tones rather than words. You always know when you have a favourite teacher because somehow you can actually connect with them vocally.
You get teachers who need more help, it could be in sports. They know how to use their bodies, they know everything about physicality and yet vocally they are not able to be heard, especially in a huge gym environment with an echo. That is when vocal clarity is very handy. We can teach them how to use their voice in an outside environment and to reach levels they need without sapping their stamina.
I think there are other areas where we can really help. The fact that teachers have to do so much administration, and when they come away from preparing classes, away from form filling, they have to switch to an outside mode again. It is as if they are internalising, doing administration and then suddenly, they have to leave all that behind and go and teach a class and vocally they are just not prepared for it, because they’ve been having all this internal dialogue. It’s not easy to go vocally unprepared into class mode when you have been doing administration.
There are exercises to help with the switch. These help to prepare you physically and mentally as well as vocally. We give teachers a checklist, it just takes five minutes. (The tips below are nothing to do with the checklist, which only makes sense when you’ve done some training).
Check the way you stand and sit. If you hunch over, lean forwards or backwards, you’ll be putting pressure on your voice and that will lead to stress.
Check that your shoulders are relaxed. Imagine that the space between your ears and shoulders is getting bigger.
Make sure you always have water to drink.
Root your voice by feeling the floor firmly under your feet and imagining that your voice is coming from your feet.
Think of your speaking voice as a beam of sound words. Aim this beam towards imaginary dots (or actual dots) placed on the walls just above the heads of the pupils.
Rather than taking a deep breath in, empty your lungs completely by breathing out and then the air will rush in to the vacuum created and you will have plenty of fresh breath.
Teachers who have been taught vocal techniques, have said things like ‘”Thank goodness the pupils are now sitting up and listening to me and, at the end of the day, I have still got a voice”. There was one teacher who seemed to have a constant nervous cough. I think that part of it was her total anxiety of facing the class and knowing that she didn’t have the vocal strength. We talked a lot about alignment and found she had some restriction in the small of her back. Alexander and other posture exercises have helped her enormously and the cough only comes back to remind her that her posture’s out.
The best thing to do is to vocally train people as part of their training as teachers. Once they have the information and exercises, they will go on developing and developing vocally; it will be part of their own personal development. So instead of thinking ‘Oh no, I’ve got to get the class to hear me as well as to get my point over’, it will be ‘Hey, today, I said that across the room, when they were shouting and they heard me.’
Interview given by Frances Parkes to Scott Swindon – educationalist and judge in “Teacher of the Year” awards.
Article previously printed on government websites.
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