Teachers of English from different parts of the world often attend the Speak English Clearly course here in London. Usually they come individually or in small groups to a course that coincides with their holidays.
It’s an added bonus for us here at Max Your Voice because we get to hear more about the places they come from: Jersey, Japan, Italy, France, Nigeria, India, Malaysia, China, The Seychelles and Hong Kong to name but a few. The standard of English grammar among these teachers is always high. Having met quite a few Spanish teachers of English on the UCL Phonetics course, it was a pleasure to be invited to take the Speak English Clearly course to Elda in the south of the Valencian Community in Southern Spain. The three main teachers from the school would have come over to a course here in London but 11 other teachers of English from the same region also wanted to receive coaching in Standard English pronunciation. One teacher wrote: “Many students depend on us, so for me pronunciation is very important.”
The head of the school, Francisco, was included in the group. This was nerve racking as it transpired that he’d taught English to all the other teachers on the course, including his son, from the age of 9. His knowledge of English grammar is profound and his students are a credit to him. Over lunch at the Santa Ana where I was staying, he told me of his early years spent in Hampstead and of the work he’d done in London and the English exams he’d taken. J Clifford Turners Voice and Speech in the Theatre was the text book he used for English pronunciation. This is the black, early 80s edition, with the introduction by Dame Peggy Ashcroft. J Clifford Turner set the benchmark for actors in his time, including Laurence Olivier, and his textbook was the first voice and speech book we were asked to read when I studied at the Guildhall. Standard English speech has moved on by eons unless you’re an actor in Downton Abbey. Francisco took some persuading that RP has had its day in contemporary English speech. He also took some persuading on how to achieve fluency and intonation in contemporary Standard English. I admire him so much because the reason why he chose the Speak English Clearly course was because the course has its roots in vocal communication. Not just in English, but in any language or dialect. His inner struggle was letting go of the English accent he’s had for so many years and taking on board the new flow of English sounds and rhythms. The process of how the voice is made, is key to fluency with bilingual speakers. Some Spanish speakers find the letting go of their Spanish accent while speaking English especially hard, because of the joy in their culture of expressive communication in Spanish. Letting go of the Spanish accent with the wonderful breathy tongue sounds and back rs, runs deep into psyche and sexuality. You can always tell when there’s resistance. The concentration on individual sounds persists long after the all the sounds are perfected and the speaker would normally just “let go” and speak English. Eventually, it’s consideration for their listeners that motivates people and once they’ve achieved clarity and flow in spoken English, their confidence grows along with their inner security, as did Francisco’s.
Speak English Clearly – next course August 17th and 18th, Harley Street, London W1