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Resources to improve diction, clarity etc for radio?
September 20, 2004 9:15 AM   Subscribe

Reading aloud: I am training a junior news reader on a community radio station and she needs to improve her diction, clarity, pace etc. Any suggestions or online exercises/resources that will help, or is it just a matter of practice?

Stuff I've found so far is aimed at children learning to read aloud.
posted by penguin pie to Writing & Language (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
just quickly (although i think i've already gone too far today taking up space in the last hour):
i find if the person does what you tell them, record it and let them listen to it. if they can hear and identify what they have to work on, it's half the job. then learning mike distance and stuff works itself out. like singing, problems often stem from people not hearing themselves.
very breakfast at tiffany's, but some times if they have a mouth posture problem, an accent or other language can help one pace and phrase, paying attention to tongue position, distinct stresses, etc.
for singers i often tell then to block at least one ear to hear themselves.
other things often advised rushing to mind have more to do with projecting and lack of mike stuff (mind is a bit in a tizzy)

practice is important but mindfulness perhaps as much.

maybe my fair lady is the more apt audrey reference.
posted by ethylene at 9:25 AM on September 20, 2004

A little pricey, but this was the textbook I used in a college class I took. You may be able to find it used.
Repeating things like these into a tape recorder as ethylene suggested above, might also be helpful.
posted by FreezBoy at 9:36 AM on September 20, 2004

You might also want to search for acting exercises, rather than those for reading out loud. You'll probably find more resources. (A lot of acting is really just learning to speak loudly, clearly, and slowly, and most acting and vocal exercises are directed to that end.)
posted by occhiblu at 10:42 AM on September 20, 2004

What occhiblu said about acting excercises...if there's an acting school or a college with a good acting program nearby, look for classes like "voice for the actor." We had to take at least one at Northwestern and it was very helpful. Things like proper mouth position for vowels, projecting from the diaphragm, etc. If you find an experienced teacher in this, they can tell you what specific things your news reader is doing wrong and suggest the right excercises for it.

(I still remember the one the teacher told me to do all the time: "The erratic band manager was shocked frantic and angered at the masterfully planned pamphlet which automatically attacted the talented young actress, barring her from acting the important part in the show." Can you tell which vowel I had trouble with?)
posted by dnash at 12:45 PM on September 20, 2004

The best book I've ever used for this (in training adult ESL learners, but it might possibly be of some use with native speakers, to make them aware of stress and rhythm and the underlying concepts that shape them in English) is called Clear Speech, by Judy Gilbert, from Cambridge University Press.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:11 PM on September 20, 2004

If you have limited resources and time, I'd suggest focusing in on one thing - what is it mostly - diction, clarity, or pace? The more specific you can be, the better. "Read aloud better" is daunting, "take your time" may be do-able. Diction is probably the most difficult aspect of the three to correct. As far as clarity, you might suggest emphasizing the important word in the sentence, or simply varying pitch or pace sentence to sentence, or when reading a list. The ear likes variety. Good luck!
posted by rainbaby at 6:24 AM on September 21, 2004

You could try transcribing and recording news read by model female newsreaders. Have her map the model's intonation and stress contours onto the transcription -- in other words, leave space above the line of text to draw a continuous line above it that represents the up-and-down pitch variation that happens over individual sentences.

Then have her try to imitate that model exactly, record her doing it, critique and re-record, and so on.

She should look for what's called the "walk-jump-step-fall" intonation pattern, which is employed heavily in newsreading. That means the pitch for the first approx. 2/3 of the sentence is "neutral," then there's a jump way up, a small step down, then a fall at the end. Of course, there is variation over the course of the story, but this is a basic pattern for a statement (rather than a question or some other sentence type).

I'm a speech pathology student and ex-linguist and I have to say that I don't know what people mean by diction. If you speak a language natively, you know "proper mouth positions" for its vowels and consonants. The only thing I can think of is that newscasters in the U.S. use a more formal register of English, and that some words are pronounced differently. If so, than you can go back to the recording of the female model and have your junior newscaster go word-by-word and note how the person pronounces words differently than her. Things to look for might be the g's on the end of -ing words (which we usually drop in casual conversation), t's and d's where we usually do "flaps" (as in "butter"), etc.

But, I suspect that "diction" and "clarity" are more a function of having the right intonation (pitch variation), stress, and loudness patterns than they are areas to target themselves.
posted by kmel at 7:20 AM on September 21, 2004

kmel, "diction" in the acting sense is saying a word clearly so that your listeners hear it correctly. (The opposite of clear diction would be mumbling, I guess.) Exactly what you're saying about hitting consonants strongly and correctly. While the mumbling we all do everyday may count as acceptable diction to a linguist, it's unacceptable diction to a vocal coach.

penguin pie, I don't know if it's possible in your scenario, but the best exercise I ever had for improving my diction was giving tours to an international mix of English speakers -- it was truly amazing how careful I had to be in my pronunication to make sure that Americans, Brits, Australians, and the occasional Swede all understood what I was saying. But it generally boiled down to: Hit all the consonants in a way that sounds pretentious to American ears (geTTinG, not "ged'in"), don't fall off in volume too much at the end of a word or sentence, and speak slowly.
posted by occhiblu at 9:33 AM on September 21, 2004

You also might want to check out "Voice and the Actor" by Cicely Berry (I think she was actually the vocal coach at the Royal Shakespeare). I haven't used this book, but her "Text and the Actor" is wonderful. I've seen both books in most major bookstores, in the Drama sections.
posted by occhiblu at 9:39 AM on September 21, 2004

By diction I guess I meant the same thing as clarity, or - as occhiblu described it - hitting all the consonants and word ends clearly rather than running words together. The person in question has a tendency in normal speech to gabble lots of words together into one breath and speak very quickly.

I should probably also have added the little detail that we have hundreds of miles of water between us and the nearest bookstore/acting school, which would both be Spanish speaking, which we're not (at least not on air..!) so online or DIY solutions are pretty much what I'm after.

Thanks for all these suggestions.
posted by penguin pie at 10:26 AM on September 21, 2004

In that case.... this PDF looks a little goofy, but it covers a lot of standard theater vocal exercises. It also has a list of questions to ask someone after they've done the exercises, which is key to actually coaching -- make them do the work to figure out what's going on in their bodies, and how they can improve it.
posted by occhiblu at 10:42 AM on September 21, 2004

This PDF (don't know why everything's in PDF today) might also help. It's talking about telephone-voice training for customer service people, but a lot of it might apply (and seem a little less diva-like than the theater exercises).
posted by occhiblu at 10:56 AM on September 21, 2004

In that case, I stand by my assertion that "diction" is a function of intonation, loudness, pacing (and social register), not an entity on its own. Again, people know how to "properly hit" the consonants and vowels of their language, but there might be some adjustments that would make them more resonant or sustainable.

But then, I imagine there's lots of difference between reading news into a microphone and reading acting dialogue onstage or into a video camera. A newscaster isn't singing or speaking loudly, so an actor or singer wouldn't be the best model. Not that there aren't things to learn from those disiplines (breathing especially).
posted by kmel at 10:58 AM on September 21, 2004

Well, that's fine, except that "diction" is a commonly used term in theater, public speaking, and singing, and if someone's doing a search for help with all the areas you're talking about, it's probably the term they want to be using.

And since penguin pie wants to improve this student's performance, not describe it for a linguistics panel, we probably want to be talking about exercises to improve diction.

Sorry -- I used to get into similar vocabulary huffs with an ex-linguist roommate. Just because a word means a specific thing in linguistics doesn't mean that it loses all other meanings, or that every other profession or colloquialism that uses it is using it incorrectly!
posted by occhiblu at 11:19 AM on September 21, 2004

I just mean that I don't think this person will need to target diction specifically, that it will probably fall into place if she gets the pacing and intonation down.

I was just trying to understand what people meant by "diction" because I honestly didn't know -- I was going on the assumption that we're talking about the same thing in different ways, and trying to give my perspective as someone who deals with certain kinds of voice issues.
posted by kmel at 11:29 AM on September 21, 2004

I guess what I'm trying to say is that if you're looking for exercises developed by theater / public speaking experts, you should be looking for exercises that help what those experts call "diction," because that incorporates all the areas mentioned as needing help.

And I think you're saying that if you're looking for exercises developed by language teachers / linguists, then "diction" has no meaning and the search terms should be different.

Does that work? My point is only that "diction" (in its theater-y meaning) is something that vocal coaches specifically target, and that there are many established exercises for targeting it. And a Google search proves that you're certainly right that it's not a helpful term at all when dealing with language learning & production.
posted by occhiblu at 12:41 PM on September 21, 2004

Actually linguistics wouldn't have anything to offer on this subject. Speech pathology would though, and you're right, searching for "diction exercises" there wouldn't get you very far. Maybe "voice quality."
posted by kmel at 2:07 PM on September 21, 2004

Well wouldntcha know? Sometimes the answer is staring you in the face and you just need AskMeFi to point it out to you.

After the suggestions about acting schools I thought I should ask the local amateur dramatic society if they had any useful exercises or information. The president of the am drams is also the head of medical services (and a part time presenter on the radio station: SmallCommunitiesFilter) and said "Aha!" (although that may just be me inserting an amateur dramatics flourish). "Aha! I've been expecting your call. I think the speech and language therapist could probably work on those [insert term here meaning the last consonant sound of a word, which I daren't guess at for fear of inflaming the occhiblu/kmel discussion which is interesting in itself but count me out...]s"

So looks like we might get a bit of free professional training. Thanks people.
posted by penguin pie at 3:31 PM on September 21, 2004

Congratulations! Glad it worked out for you (and sorry to have contributed to highjacking the thread with a vocab argument!).

Also, a friend points out that no one asked the IMPORTANT question here, which was clearly: "Where are you that there are hundreds of miles of water between you and a bookstore and that that bookstore would be strictly in Spanish, and CAN WE COME VISIT?"
posted by occhiblu at 7:39 AM on September 22, 2004

Come on over!
posted by penguin pie at 8:31 AM on September 22, 2004

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