Every now and then I am confronted with certain prejudices against German pronunciation. Some can be easily cleared; others are more persistent and harder to explain. Had they been questions, I would have integrated them into the FAQ-list of this website.
However, people often state them as facts or certainties, and I do not want to leave it at that. Especially since all of these ideas severly manipulate your mindset towards neglecting more than one aspect of your art. At worst, this could lead to bad performances and thus prevent your success!
For this reason, I have chosen to “demystify” the three most common myths about pronunciation coaching:
#1 German is Difficult
Well, yes, it is.
No use to sugar-coat it.
But so is Russian. And French. And baking a cake. And walking…
The truth is: everything new and unfamiliar is difficult at first.
I once listened to a speech of a man who had managed to speak Chinese fluently within half a year (!):
he said the trick is that no matter what language you learned, you should speak it as often as you could. Not only to learn the words and become fluent but also to get used to the way they are pronounced.
Furthermore, he said, it is vital to have someone you could talk to and who would correct you immediately.
He told that his jaw, tongue and lips muscles had been sore when he had started to speak Chinese because the way he had to use them in order to speak was so unaccustomed!
What we learn from this story is that everything can be acquired with a bit of dedication, constant practice, and the help of a good coach.
#2 I Can Learn Correct Pronunciation by Listening to YouTube Videos
YouTube is a very good source for recordings of any kind and if you just want to be sure about the pronunciation of a single word for example, it may be enough. BUT: never ever fall into the trap of thinking that listening to a recording can replace a live teacher! Mistakes, once acquired, are hard to eliminate and it will take you way more time to get you where you want.
Let me tell you a story about one of my experiences with a similar example: some years ago, I decided I wanted to learn tap dancing and I was quite clever to learn it online. I chose a free course on YouTube and for several weeks I practised like mad. After some time, I found a tap dance teacher, Albert, not far from where I live and one Saturday morning, we met for my first lesson.
After five minutes, Albert told me very gently that none of my steps was carried out correctly and that I would have to start learning from zero. I was devastated! In the end I agreed, but it took me a good deal longer to erase the wrong movements from my brain and body and learn them properly than it would if I had taken a good live teacher from the beginning! Albert did what no video or recording can give you: watching me carefully, immediately interrupting when he saw a mistake, correcting it patiently by showing me and telling me exactly what I should pay attention to and kindly motivating me when I got frustrated.
#3 The Focus Should Be on Singing – Text is Secondary
Ah, the old question of the hen and the egg or rather: what’s more important? Music or text? Singing or pronouncing? And the simple answer is: neither!
I know, you are SINGING your part in an opera and you will have to make yourself audible above the orchestra sound. But no matter whether you are singing an aria or an art song, you are singing text. Even if we as audience do not hear every nuance of your articulation, we will note if the overall sound, that is for example the colouring of vocals, the “t”s (or the lack of them) and the “ch”s are performed correctly. If you are merely singing vocalises without paying the words proper attention, your Performance will be boring!
The second point is that you need every word of the text and its meaning to understand the character you are playing and the sentiment of a song or aria. When you reach that level where you actually use the words for your interpretation, that’s what stunning performances are made of!
You see, there is no shortcut to success. Go “back to school” and practice to speak in the foreign language.
You did not learn how to sing all on your own, did you? Why would you consider doing so when it comes to pronunciation?
It’s not easier or harder to learn, nor more or less important. That said, take the same steps that you have taken with singing: get a teacher, study your texts well with him or her and practice.
Still looking for that shortcut?
Well, here is my advice:
Do not regard learning as necessary evil but try to have joy in what you are doing!
When you switch your mindset towards fun, you will reach your goals faster and make your performance outstanding!