Does Singing in a Foreign Language Affect Your Voice?

Does Singing in a Foreign Language Affect Your Voice?

When we learn to speak in a new language, we not only struggle with vocab and grammar but also with pronunciation. It’s not only about WHAT sounds we should make but HOW to produce them.

The more different the new language is from your mother tongue, the more probable it is that we have to use different facial muscles to pronounce the words correctly.

Our tongue, lips and jaw physically shape our pronunciation. To speak a new language, you physically need to train your muscles. Like with a new sport or an instrument, you will apply muscles that you’ve you have to train the muscles involved first.

Not practising to speak the language before diving into singing your first song or aria would be like picking up a musical instrument you’ve never played before and trying to perform in front of an expert player.

Ignoring the strain on your facial muscles and starting to sing in a new language too early may lead to tensed muscles, jaw tightness and eventually to throat tension – and we all know that this is lethal for a singer!

What’s more, we have already developed unconscious speech habits when we learned our mother language. These speech habits make pronunciation in a new language so difficult.

In a TED-talk, Chris Lonsdale talks about how anyone can learn a new language in 6 months. Now, I don’t know if he’s right with that statement but at 11.34 he talks about the difference in use of facial muscles when we speak a new language. He even says: “When your face hurts, you’re doing it right.”

That said, the answer to this post’s titel is: Yeah. Singing in German – or any language you are not familiar with – may indeed have a negative effect on your voice.

The good news is that there’s a cure.

By observing a few simple steps, we can avoid any negative impact a new language may have on your voice:

What can you do?

Warm-ups

Every athlete has to warm up and it’s no difference to us singers.

Since pronunciation is part of speaking (or singing for that matter), it’s also physical. To pronounce a new language, we need to (re-)train the muscles we use to speak. As a singer you are already familiar with vocal warm-ups. To speak a foreign language, you must also warm up your facial muscles. Here you’ll find some exercises.

Listen to recordings

Listen to good (!) recordings of the spoken (!) text. At best, you have two versions at hand: one with the text spoken very slow so that you can get a good idea on correct pronunciation. The second version should give you the text in a natural speech rhythm.

Listening to recordings of the sung text, that is the aria or song you want to work on will not necessarily help you with diction. On the contrary: you may perceive a very distorted pronunciation.
By the way: Audio recordings of aria and song texts you want to work on are included in some of my offers. Just saying…

Speaking practice

This is such an important part, and yet many singers want to skip it and start to sing immediately in a new language. To achieve flawless and perfect diction in singing, however, you must make yourself familiar not only with the technicalities of producing the right sounds but also with the speech pattern of your new language. Knowing about rhythm, syllable stress and intonation in spoken language will help you tremendously in singing.
Also, pay close attention if you feel any tension in your face or throat while speaking. If so, speak slower, pronouncing every syllable clearly. Make sure the start and end of each word are crisp. Repeat phrases until your muscles loosen, speed up the speaking tempo and slow down again when you feel tension.

Record yourself speaking

If you are lucky enough to have a professional recording of your texts, you can compare that with your recording. That’s definitely a good start and the more familiar you become with the language the faster you develop “an ear” for its sound. Alas, the most serious pronunciation issues are the ones we are not aware of.

For example, people who speak Spanish already make sounds that resemble the German [b] and [v]. In Spanish, however, those sounds are allophones, that is variants of the same sound. Spanish hearers may not notice the difference, because hearing a language – like speaking it – is a habit we form early on. If a difference is not significant in our mother tongue, we may not notice it in the new language.

Watch yourself speaking

Practice speaking and singing in the new language in front of a mirror or even record yourself on video. That way you can see very quickly if you tend to tighten any muscles in your face or throat or make any involuntary movements with your head that may lead to tension.

Work with a coach

Although this may not be the cheapest method, it’s the safest (and fastest) way to achieve correct and eventually flawless diction. In a 1:1 tuition you get immediate feedback on your pronunciation, thus erasing mistakes before they can manifest in your muscle memory. Further, you can watch how a native speaker produces certain sounds which, by the way, is how we learn our mother tongue: not by imitating the sounds but the facial movements of the people surrounding us.

Conclusion

You see: there’s no reason to fear that singing in a foreign language may have a negative effect on your singing. Do your warm-ups, listen attentively to good spoken (!) recordings and practice speaking (thus strengthening your face muscles). Hire a good coach; that way making sure that your pronunciation is correct from the start.

And don’t forget to have fun! That and the joy in learning something new are priceless for achieving your desired results.

The German Affricate PF (or: Flatten Your Tire)

The German Affricate PF (or: Flatten Your Tire)

What are affricates?

The German letter combination PF is a so-called affricate or combination consonant.
This term describes a sound that combines a plosive (T, P or K) with a fricative consonant (S, F or V).

In German there are six combination consonants:

[ps] (as in Psalm), [pf] (as in pflücken”), [ts] ( as in “Zeit”), [tʃ] (as in “deutsch”), [ks] (as in “Hexe”)  and [kv] (as in “Qual”).
(For more information about the German Z, read this article.)

The challenge with affricates is that the shift from one sound to the next must be carried out so smoothly that the listener perceives one single sound.

In this article, you will learn about the [pf]-sound which you know very well already: think of a tire letting of air.

Even though [pf] is represented by the combination of two letters, it should sound as a single combined sound. So, whenever you see a PF in a German word you can be almost sure that you must pronounce a combination consonant. Form the [pf] by pronouncing P and unvoiced F in seamless succession, thus making it one combined sound.

I have made you a list with spellings in German that indicate the affricate [pf]:

How to pronounce the German affricate PF

Pronounce [pf]

in all spellings of the letter combination pf in one element:
Pforte (door), Pflanze (plant), tropfen (drop), Kopf (head)

 

There is a small difference in pronounciation, depending on the position of the PF:

Pronounce it short and sharp when PF ends a syllable:
Kopf (head), Sumpf (moor), Topf (pot)

 

Pronounce it a bit softer when a long, closed vowel follows:
Pferd (horse), Pfeil (arrow), Pflege (care)

 

❗️ Attention: When the prefix “ab-“([ap]) is followed by an F, both letters are pronounced individually:
Ab/fahrt (departure), ab/federn (to cushion)

Summary

Pay attention that the affricate [pf] is not interrupted by an aspirated P! In fact, make sure that the position of the lips when pronouncing the P is similar to the position for the F and support the latter by using the diaphragm.

This may require a bit of practice, for example by imitating the sound of a flattening tire: pffff, pffff, pffff…

Have joy in singing German!

How to sing German Consonant Clusters (A step-by-step guide)

How to sing German Consonant Clusters (A step-by-step guide)

German is famous, or rather infamous for its consonant clusters which would be enough of a nuisance if you were to learn German as a new language. When it comes to singing, however, German consonant clusters have the potential to break your neck!

Just kidding. They’ll only get you boo-ed off the stage.

animiertes-spass-lustig-bild-0146

Waaaait! Stay with me and we’ll sort out how to sing German consonant clusters step-by-step.

Consonant blends

In German, we have the phenomenon of two or more consonants forming ONE sound, for example CK [k] and SCH [ʃ].

On the other side, we also have single consonants that represent TWO sounds, for example X [ks] and Z [ts]. (You might want to read this article on the German Z).

And then, there are the blends, that is groups of consonants in numerous varieties:

bl, br, chs, gn, nk, pf, ps, spr… to name only some.

They all have in common that they are usually spoken rather rapidly and that every sound must be articulated audibly. Do not give in to the temptation to omit any sound. Neither insert a shadow vowel between consonants or after a final consonant. Your audience will notice it.

How to sing German consonant clusters: step-by-step

1) Spelling

When it comes to singing German consonant clusters, first have a very sharp look at all the letters. Which of the consonants in your text are single consonants which are combined consonants or blends?

The next step is to break the cluster down into sounds:

Zä r tl I ch en

Sch i m pf st

Clusters are mainly a visual problem, so I recommend taking this step literally and marking the sounds in your text with a (colored) pen.

2) Sounds

Make sure you know how every consonant or consonant combination is pronounced correctly.

For example, is there a Z in it, indicating two sounds [ts]?

Do you have a SCH [ʃ] in the word?

ST and SP are sometimes pronounced [ʃt] and [ʃp] or that IG is sometimes pronounced [iç].

There’s quite a number of cases where pronunciation differs from spelling.

You can either look it up in a good (pronunciation) dictionary and/or ask someone to slowly and articulately pronounce every sound for you.

Lastly, there is always the possibility of having the text recorded (both slowly and in singing rhythm) by a professional speaker.

3) Practice

Practice the cluster words by speaking them very slowly and articulately. Then go on and speak the whole phrase, again very slowly.

The next step is to speak the text in the tempo and rhythm of the music. Again, start slow and accelerate the tempo until you have reached the right one. Practice that until you can do it in your sleep.

Only when you have mastered speaking the words, start practicing them in singing, again slowly at first and then speeding up to the final tempo.

Listening to recordings is only partly recommendable: it is possible that you might either not hear every sound well (especially when it’s a fast piece) or – even worse – you end up listening to a not-so-well-instructed singer with wrong pronunciation.

That said, if you want to become confident with your pronunciation skills and save time in preparation, hire a good pronunciation coach. You already know where to find one :-).

Not sure, if you need one? Read this article.

How to Sing German Diphtongs

How to Sing German Diphtongs

Singing German diphthongs is slightly different from singing diphthongs in other languages.

One reason for this is that German diphthongs sound different than for example an English or Italian diphthong.

The second is that the ratio between the length of the first vowel compared to the second is different depending on the language you sing in.

But let us define the term first:

What are diphthongs?

The term “diphthong” describes the combination of two adjacent vowel sounds within the same syllable.

A “monophthong” on the other side is the term for a single vowel sound.

As far as I know, English is one of the very few languages where ONE written vowel is pronounced as TWO sounds, gliding from one into the other.

In other languages, German amongst them, TWO vowels must be spelled to indicate TWO sounds.

The different German diphthongs

There are three diphthongs in German:

[ae]

Pronounce [ae]

▷ in spellings of the vowel letter combination EI

Examples: mein (mine), Eifersucht (jealousy), Weise (melody)

Audio recording “mein, Eifersucht, Weise”

▷in spellings of the vowel letter combination AI

Examples: Mai (may), Hain (grove)

Audio recording “Mai, Hain”

▷ in spellings of the vowel letter combination EY

Examples: Meyer (German surename)

Audio recording “Meyer”

▷ in spellings of the vowel letter combination AY

Examples: Bayern (Bavaria), Bayreuth (German city)

Audio recording “Bayern, Bayreuth”

❗ Please note that there is a difference between an English and a German second or vanish vowel:
The English word “mine” for example is pronounced [main], whereas the German equivalent “mein” is pronounced [maen].

[ao]

Pronounce [ao]

▷ in spellings of the vowel letter combination AU

Examples: Traum (dream), blau (blue), Taube (dove)

Audio recording “Traum, blau, Taube”

❗ Here, as above, English and German pronunciation differ slightly: when you take the example of “house” you will notice that in English it is pronounced [haʊs], whereas the German equivalent “Haus” is pronounced [haos].

[ɔø]

Pronounce [ɔø]

▷ in spellings of the vowel letter combination EU

Examples: scheu (shy), freuen (to be happy), deutsch (German)

Audio recording “scheu, freuen, deutsch”

❗ Exception: When E and U belong to separate elements of a word, for example a prefix and verb, they are pronounced separately.
Examples: be/urteilen (judge)

Audio recording “beurteilen”

▷ in spellings of the vowel letter combination ÄU

Examples: träumen (to dream), Sträucher (bushes), läuten (ring)

Audio recording “träumen, Sträucher, läuten”

❗ Again, the German vanish vowel differs from the English equivalent.
Take the examples of “boy” and “Beute” (loot): while the former is pronounced [bɔi], the latter is pronounced with [bɔøtə].

How to sing German diphthongs?

When it comes to singing German diphthongs you may apply the following rule of thumb:

When a diphthong is to be sung, the first vowel sound should last for roughly three quarters of the note. Then make a smooth transition to the second vowel and finish with the final consonant.

Do not put too much stress on the second vowel (it is called “vanish vowel” for a reason) and glide smoothly from one sound into the other with the least possible movement of the jaw.

Now that you know how to form German diphthongs correctly, I want to add a fun practice I found in Julius Hey’s book: the following text contains all German diphthongs and is quite a challenge, even for native speakers.

Have fun in practicing it!

Ein leuchtender Tau
Weilt heut auf der Au.
Der Eichbaum beut Rast,
Sein Laub beugt den Ast.
Ein säuselnder Hauch
Streift leise euch auch.

Audio recording “Ein leuchtender Tau”
The German affricate Z (Buy one, get one free! 😉)

The German affricate Z (Buy one, get one free! 😉)

The letter Z in German is a so-called affricate or combination consonant; this term describes a sound that combines a plosive (T, P or K) with a fricative consonant (S, F or V).

The challenge with affricates is that the shift from one sound to the next has to be carried out so smoothly that the listener perceives one single sound.

In German there are six combination consonants:

[ps] (as in Psalm), [pf] (as in pflücken”), [ts] ( as in “Zeit”), [tʃ] (as in “deutsch”), [ks] (as in “Hexe”)  and [kv] (as in “Qual”).

In this article, you will learn about the [ts]-sound, mostly represented by the letter Z.

So, whenever you see a Z in a German word you can be sure (and this is a rule without exception) that you must pronounce a combination consonant.

Form the [ts] by pronouncing T and unvoiced S in seamless succession, thus making it one combined sound.

I have made you a list with spellings in German that indicate the affricate [ts]:

Pronounce [ts]

▷ in all spellings of the letter Z in any position:
Zeit (sugar), tanzen (to dance), Kreuz (cross)

▷ in spellings of ZZ  in words of Italian origin:
Intermezzo, Pizza,

❗️ There are German words with double ZZ but they are always composite nouns and have to be pronounced with two successive [ts] sounds:
Glanzzeit (heyday), Putzzeug (cleaning stuff)

▷ in spellings of DS or TS at the end of a word:
abends (in the evening), nichts (nothing)

▷ in spellings of the letter combination TZ:
besitzen (to possess), Katze (cat), Dutzend (dozen)

❗️ Attention:
When TZ is a part of two elements (a prefix followed by a verb for example), prolong the T  and extend the stop until you release on the S:
Entzücken (delight), entzwei (in two pieces)
(Want to learn more about the German Ü? Click here.

▷ in words of Latin origin ending in -tion or -tient:
Nation, Patient, Ration

▷ in spellings of the letter C followed by E, Ä or I,  usually found in words of Greek and Latin origin:
Cäcilia, Cocytus

Conclusion

The challenge with Z, I guess, is not to produce the correct sound. After all, it’s only a combination of two consonants that lie very convenient for the tongue.

But in remembering that a German Z is always pronounced as [ts], no matter how much you might be tempted to make it a voiced S. ?

Have joy in singing German!

German mixed vowels: how to master Ö

German mixed vowels: how to master Ö

Easy instructions, excercises and audio examples for singers to master the German mixed vowel or Umlaut Ö with ease!

The German mixed vowels or “Umlaute” Ö and Ü sometimes cause confusion with non-native singers and they are often mispronounced or ignored and treated as O and U. Some even say that German Umlaute are impossible to articulate correctly for non-German singers. Which is not true!

I have been asked to write a summary on this topic and after the first part on the German Ü, here comes the second part.

We will clarify what mixed vowels are and then have a closer look at the closed and the open Ö.

You will get instructions on how to produce a beautiful, correct Ö and I will explain when to use which version.

Last but not least, I recommend listening to the audio recordings to get a good impression of the right sound.

What are German mixed vowels

There are so-called tongue vowels where – as the name states – mainly the tongue is involved in their production. In German these are the vowels e, I, ä and a

Then we have the lip vowels that are mainly produced by the lips like o and u

And then, you might have guessed it, there are mixed vowels where both lips and tongue are involved. Mixed vowels do not exist in English.

Mixed vowels in German are ö and ü. As you can see, they are written with two dots (or the diacritical mark) above o or ü, indicating that the sound is altered. O becomes Ö and U becomes Ü. The expression for these vowels in German is “Umlaut” which means altered sound.

You will have realized that I omitted the Ä which is also an Umlaut. However, it is a part of the lip vowels and thus does not count as mixed vowel.

When you write or copy German texts it is important to write the diacritical mark; otherwise, this could change the meaning of a word, e.g. “lösen” (release; solve) – “losen” (to draw lots)
or lügen (lie) – lugen (peek).

If you do not have the appropriate key on your keyboard, you can also write oe for ö and ue für ü instead. (ae being the correct alternate spelling of ä).

Mixed vowels in German, as well as lip and tongue vowels are always monophthongs, meaning that only one sound is to be heard. Depending on your mother tongue this might be quite a challenge for you. Never give in to the urge of pronouncing iu or ui instead of ü or oe/eo instead of ö.

Master the different variants of German Ö

How to form the long and closed [Ø:]

In order to form the [Ø:] place the tongue in the position for a long and closed [e:]. Say the [e]: and while continuing to do so round your lips for a long and closed [o:].

As with [Y:], there is no equivalent sound in English but it is very similar (if not the same) to the French “eu”-sound for example in “le feu”.

Be careful that no hint of an R-sound comes into this vowel. The German [Ø:] does not resemble the UR in “burn” (as pronounced in an American way) but must be pure with no suggestion of R.

Forming the [Ø:] requires a bit of practice at first. I recommend to always start with the e: position of your tongue than add the lip rounding. It is easier to start with the tongue first as the positioning of the lips can be monitored easier, e.g. by using a mirror.

However, you might want to try it the other way round, i.e. starting with the lip rounding for o: and arching the tongue towards the [e]:

When this is very new to you, singing [e:] – [Ø:] – [e:] – [Ø:] on a comfortable pitch is a good exercise. Practice with a mirror to constantly check your lip and (at least to some extend) tongue position.

You can also sing [e:] – [Ø:]  – rest – [Ø:]  with the objective to restart a clear [Ø:]  after a rest.  Having mastered these exercises, you can add [e:] – [Ø:] – [o:] and [o:] – [Ø:] – [e:].

When to use the long and closed [Ø:]

⭐ Pronounce [Ø:] long and closed in spellings of the letter ö

⫸ Before a single consonant letter:
schön (beautiful), flöge (flew), Ströme (streams)

⫸ In derivatives of “hoch” (high):
höher (higher), höchste (highest; at the most)

⫸ Before a single consonant letter and the diminutive suffixes -chen and -lein:
Röslein (little rose), Tönchen (small tone)

⫸ Before an ß followed by a vowel:
größer (larger), einflößen (inspire; frighten)

⫸ In spellings of the letter combination öh:
Söhne (sons), fröhlich (joyful), Höhle (cave)

⭐ In spellings of the letter combination eu in French loan words:
Friseur (hairdresser), Deserteur (deserter)

❗️ Attention: Unlike in French, the combination eu in German words is pronounced as the diphthong [ɔø]:
Freude (joy), deutsch (German), heulen (cry; howl)

How to master the short and open [œ]

In order to form this sound, put the tongue into the position for a short and open [Ɛ] and then round the lips towards a short and open [ɔ].

The œ is identical to the French “eu” in “jeune”. Although œ does not exist in English, it has a strong resemblance with the [ɜ]-sound in “turn”. However, pay attention that no hint of the English R sneeks in; the German vowel must be pure.

As an exercise, I recommend singing [Ɛ] – [œ] – [Ɛ]- [œ] on a comfortable pitch, checking your lip and tongue position with a mirror. You can also sing [Ɛ] – [œ]  – rest – [œ]  with the objective to restart a clear [œ] after a rest.

When to use the short and open [œ]

⭐ Pronounce [œ] short and open in spellings of the letter ö

⫸Before double or multiple consonants, including CH (except derivations of “hoch”) and SCH:
Töchter (daughters), löschen (extinguish), Götter (gods), gönnen (grant)

❗️ Attention: As in the case of Ü, no rules can be given for the length of Ö before ß or ST. Always check these spellings with a dictionary.