Acting to be Normal

TheaterI have had a few revelations this week in regard to my ongoing adventures with Foreign Accent Syndrome. As I was doing some voicing exercises to try and elleviate my foreign accent (or at least diminish it), this thought occurred to me. I have to ACT, to sound “normal”.  I have to be fake, to sound right.

In order for me to reduce my heavily accented words with their often misplaced stresses and intonations, I have to “make myself” think something different. If I imagine that I am stuck in traffic and so I grow more and more irritated and to the point of speaking angrily, THEN I can say the word “people”.  This is one of my hardest words to say right now. You would say it PEE-pul.  I would say it PE-Pooo.

In otherwords, if I became a method actor and placed myself into a fake situation and really pretended, I can produce speech that is more normal. There are only two problems with this technique. Number one, I am not an angry person; and, number two, I absolutely hate lies. To me, this pretending is acting dishonestly and therefore a lie.  That is troublesome. I realize that I am not “really” lying, yet it really does feel like I am being dishonest, so it hinders me a bit. I have to then talk myself into acting in my head in order that the sounds might come out more acceptable to the expectations of my Midwestern United States of America audience.

I think of my vocal singing work over all these years. Music directors would tell us to do some alterations to our regular pronunciations so that the audience would better understand what we are singing. Here’s an example you might understand. Great is Thy faithfulness, oh God, our Father — would be sung: GrA Tiz thigh FAith foolness; oh gah—dour Fath-er.  Hopefully, some of you understand the concept.

In a similar way, I must now do a bunch of behind the scenes gymnastics with syllables of sounds to try to just speak without such a strong foreign accent. This week in one of the speech sessions I was to pronounce the two words “POOL” and “PULL”. However, when I pronounced them, they sounded pretty much the  same. The two speech therapist ladies tried to correct my pronunciation of the “u” in “pull”, but I could not hear the difference. I could mimic her, but not just catch and apply the proper sound of the vowel. Finally, it dawned on me that the vowel sound should be closer to the sound in the word “pole”. So I said the three words, “pool  — pull —- pole.” THEN, I got it.  The vowel sound in “pull” just feels slightly more toward the sound I make in the word “pole”. So I use this exercise to hear the tiny difference and make it easier to pronounce the word “pull”. A lot of work for one little word, huh?

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