Phonics is essentially The Science of Sound. It is a system or
interpretation of spoken sounds. MSE uses a combination of number
symbols and primary color-coding that provides a practical
guide to these sounds. It demystifies the arcane IPA and other academic
systems, and works in a much more direct and intuitive manner.
Structure (Spoken Fluency)
The subtitle of this program is “Feeling Phonics”. The phonics system
here is based on feeling, not listening. Feeling the sounds is
what counts. So get “out of your head” and remember that learning takes
place in other parts of the body as well. The Preparation area of
DVD-1 offers some natural warm-ups for relaxation and breathing.
Professional speakers and performers are aware of how valuable these
methods are. You will be too, if you do even a very quick physical
warm-up before starting. A little yawning, stretching, and shaking does
more to put you in shape for speech than you would ever think it does.
The vowels e, a, and y are your tonal anchors. They are
the most strongly vibrating sounds in this system. They begin as
vibration in the vocal chords, but become greatly enriched as you learn
to focus the sound waves on the hard palate, and more particularly on
the gum ridge behind your front teeth. When you can regularly produce E,
A, and Y as strongly vibrating tonal
vowels, it is the single biggest contribution you can make to improving
every aspect of your speech . . . for being understood clearly:
distinguishing between long and short vowels (like date and debt) . . .
for clearly producing the second stage of 2-stage vowels: I (6Y)
OI (3Y) . . . for providing added resonance to all
vibrating vowels and consonants. And last but not least, for infusing
good sound quality and control into all your speech, keeping it
anchored in good tonality, at a low register (a lower pitch range)
which opens the higher pitch range for intonation and making your
speech more expressive. Mastering E, A, and Y
will take you a long way.
DVD-2 covers the Structural Vowels, the
vowels that have a shape or structure that you see and feel. In this
system they are assigned a number corresponding to the size of their
lip shape. #5--AH is one of the largest, #1--OO is the smallest, so a
#51 is AH/OO or OW. #21 is OH, #3--AW is the midway position, #4 is O
as in “odd”, #6 is A as in “add”, #6Y is I, #3Y is OI. Giving good lip
shapes to these vowels not only provides good pronunciation, but helps
create a voice box or megaphone behind the lips. This is how actors
project their voices to the back row of a theatre, without shouting,
with no apparent effort. And good Structural Action will enable your
voice to “carry” effortlessly in a public speaking environment . . . or
when you want to be heard over the background noise on a busy street,
or in a noisy restaurant. In an increasingly noisy world, being able to
project your voice is a real advantage. All these major vowels, both
tonal and structural, are color-coded in yellow.
The short, grunt-like neutral vowels we call Neutral-1,
2, 3, and 4: N1—oo, N2—ih, N3—eh, N4—uh, are often interchangeable. The
important thing is to keep them very short, treat them very different
from the major vowels. On DVD-2 you will learn that one way to do this
is to focus vocal energy on the surrounding consonants. Play the
consonants on either side of the neutral vowel and treat the vowel like
it is the shortest distance between two consonants. Another
technique, and this is specifically for foreign or regional accent
reduction, is to color one neutral vowel with another. For
example, pronouncing “took” as “tuck” and “tuck” as “took” resists the
tendency to slip into speaking a larger vowel. And that leaves the less
troublesome Neutral Diphthongs: ND1—oor, ND2—ear, ND3—air,
DVD-3. The consonants are color-coded in green
or red. Green are the legato, sustainable, or continuant
consonants—green for GO, continue the sound. Red are the staccato,
plosive consonants—red for STOP, feel the drumbeat. They are studied in
voiced and unvoiced pairs, like Z/S, D/T.
Consonants are wonderful things—and they are generally underplayed by
speakers who don’t realize their great musical values. In the consonant
lessons we practice the full musical values followed by
a repetition using the consonants to convey meaning.
Following each video lesson you can select More Practice Material which
uses the same structure of a list of operative words, followed by those
words in sentences, all repeated in 2 or 3 stages of vocal energy.
DVD-4 and DVD-5 put a lot of emphasis on Connected
Speech, and utilizing monologues, dialogues, and movie scenes
for practice. Now you will see a blue-underline where
words are connected. Get used to pronouncing these underlined phrases
like they were one word. Getting a feeling for connected speech is the
key to getting a natural smooth-flowing style of speech. If English is
your second language, connected speech is also critical to developing
your listening and comprehension of spoken English—because
people do not speak in separate words, they speak in logical connected
groups of words. Those who grew up speaking English use connected
speech all the time, but even they sometimes stumble over their words
because they are not aware of the little tricks for avoiding pitfalls.
Trained actors, of course, are able to deliver lengthy, complex, even
tongue-twisting passages flawlessly. This is not a gift. They have
simply learned the rules for linking one word into another with
intention. Fast thinking, or fluent-thinking persons should never be
forced to slow down, they must simply learn speaking skills that will
enable them to keep up with their fluent thought processes. When they
have learned to articulate their consonants, and to link them together
skillfully, their problem is solved.
Intonation and Rhythm Patterns go a long
way in carrying the meaning across in English. You can be speaking with
perfect pronunciation, but put the wrong stress on a syllable, and your
whole statement may go without being understood. Likewise with how and
where your pitch and inflections rise and fall, and the tempo-rhythms
of your speech. Americans are used to hearing a familiar pattern or
music in their speech. When you have learned to use the American pitch
patterns to call attention to the important words in your speech,
you become immediately more understandable. You should exaggerate these
patterns and pitch jumps when you practice, especially if English is a
second language to you. You may think you are using enough pitch, when
you are really using hardly any. When first learning these pitch
patterns it is better to over do them until you really have
some mastery. Later on it will be easier for you to recognize the
subtleties of intonation, and how the same words can carry either a
very precise meaning, or even multiple layers of meaning. Remember,
it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.
Phonic Structure (Reading Fluency)
We don’t talk, read or spell by saying and thinking names of letters. Phonograms
are letters and combinations of letters that produce a single blended
sound. Sounding out these phonograms lays a foundation for reading
fluency. This feeling-based phonics system is a direct aid to
mentally imprinting these phonograms through sense-memory. The
phonograms here are taught with animations that show where the points
of vibration and feeling are, along with description of the
feeling-sensation. Live-action speakers work through a structure of
word lists, sentences, monologues, dialogues, and finally movie
scenes—utilizing a triple-repetition, in 3 levels of vocal energy. The
phonograms are color-coded in 3 primary colors: Yellow are all the
major vowels. Consonants in green are legato, or sustainable—green for
GO. Consonants in red are staccato, or plosive—red for STOP.
--DVD-1 TONAL VOWELS -- Y, E, and A are the
strongly vibrating tonal vowels.
--DVD-2 STRUCTURAL AND NEUTRAL VOWELS -- The structural vowels are
largely defined by their lip shape. The number assigned to each simply
corresponds to the relative size of the lip opening. Neutral vowels are
the short vowels.
--DVD-3 CONSONANTS – covers all the individual consonant phonograms.
--DVD-4 CONNECTED SPEECH AND INTONATION -- has consonant clusters that
represent blend phonograms. Connected speech deals with linked phrases.
Attention to: Weak Forms, Contractions, and Linked Phrases is another
aid to building speed and comprehension in reading.
--DVD-5 PRACTICE SCENES -- has movie scenes from two feature films. One
is a movie made for people learning English, the other is a Hollywood
movie. These scenes are completely broken down for practice into: word
lists, sentences, tonal and structural vowels, consonants, weak forms,
and linked phrases. All the dialogue is color-coded, and performed in
the familiar triple-repetition, in three-stages of vocal energy.
This feeling-based system has
advantages to all ages and reading levels: K through college, gifted,
school children, home school, career advancement, reading-skills
enhancement for college and high school, special education, remedial,
dyslexia, ADD, ADHD, ESL and EFL students.
Accent modification is the most accurate
terminology, because you are really learning to change, alter, or
modify your native accent or dialect. You never lose your
native dialect, it will always be a part of you, but you learn
techniques to modify it. It is more accurate to say you are learning a
new accent, than eliminating your own.
Pronunciation describes an end result, more than it does a process. The
act of pronouncing words, however carefully, does not produce any
meaningful change in one’s speech. This is mere repetitive practice as
implemented by most English teachers, and creates no lasting results.
MSE teaches the dynamics of speech production, using a
feeling-based system that creates a sense-memory of the phonics.
Keep in mind that Master Spoken English is organized like a
reference work. It’s organized by sound. While there is a
certain logic to proceeding from DVD-1 beginning to DVD-5 end, your
best advantage is to mix things up, experience the benefits of
cross-training. A good analogy is how athletes train: alternating
running, swimming, and bicycling. By training different muscle groups
in different patterns, you experience improvements in all areas without
overexerting in any one area. Speech is synergistic. It’s an organic
process. You are not just a machine where you can put oil on a squeak.
It’s the same reason I suggest alternating among the Three Energies:
Tonal Energy DVD-1, Structural Energy DVD-2, and Consonant Energy
DVD-3. Each is a different type of vocal dynamic, and is an organic
process. Each improvement in one dynamic is going to bring better
performance in the other dynamics. Often sudden, unexpected, and
wondrous improvements, when suddenly the synergy happens.
A typical cross-training session might include: 1 tonal vowel, 1
structural vowel, 1 legato consonant, 1 staccato consonant, linking
practice, intonation practice, consonant clusters, and a movie scene.
This kind of session might take 30 minutes in self-study, or 50 to 90
minutes in a classroom setting. Initial training sessions, include work
on: tonal vowels, structural vowels, neutral vowels, consonant energy,
connected speech, and intonation.
Consonants not only shape and articulate our speech, they have great
musical values that often are overlooked by untrained speakers.
Realizing these musical values makes your speech not only more
understandable, but more sonorous, more persuasive and impressive. Just
learning to sustain the legato qualities in the N and the M
is very pleasing and musical, and brings a fullness to your speech.
Consonant Clusters (DVD-4). These “tongue-twisting” monologues are
meant to be fast moving. Grasp what you can, as you get
familiar with the linked phrases, and eventually master these.
If you can grasp only one phrase, or even one vowel or one
consonant—that’s progress! With practice you’ll pick up more and more,
and when you can go through an entire scene with all the vowels,
consonants, linking, and intonation in proper play, you will have
accomplished a very demanding exercise. Don’t feel bad about taking
this step by step. It is important that you feel the focus of your
points of vibration. As you get to know the scene try to stay “in
synch” with the speaker and “mirror” the form and feeling of the
speaker. There is some fun in discovering the rhythms of longer
dialogues as you master the linked phrases, and a sense of
accomplishment in being able to repeat these articulate and fluent.
Intonation Preparation: Review the Y-Buzz Siren (on DVD-1).
This teaches how to feel pitch change. Foreign students should
go for extremes in feeling a jump up / step down in pitch patterns.
Later, after feeling the extremes, it’s much easier to modify
intonation to more subtle expressions. Note all of the variety in pitch
and rhythms used throughout the program.
Practice Scenes (DVD-5). You could start a session with a movie scene,
then go back and work technique from earlier in the series. Right
before you play a program, go to the blackboard and quickly outline the
main ideas, just to reinforce what’s coming. Discuss key phrases, like:
feeling, vibration, sensation, stretch, stage 1, 2, and 3. Offer advice
like, “Work at your own pace. Just grab as much as you can . . .”
During faster-moving scenes (especially from DVDs 4 and 5) each student
should just do as much of the scene as he can do . . . completely, with
energy. Even one vowel, or one consonant, or one connecting
link executed correctly marks progress.
“Instant gratification” comes only so far as feeling the energy
while you practice. Then one day, you begin to notice a different
quality and clarity gradually entering into your speech. More and more,
without even thinking about it, the synergy is setting in, and your
speech has made a dramatic and permanent improvement.
This is not brain surgery. It’s making sounds. It’s learning to make
sounds very well, and connect them together nicely. Something as simple
as the sound “air” has a name like “Neutral Diphthong”—but learning the
name is not important. Also, the structure of this program is . . .
large. Don’t be intimidated by that. Just because something has an
elegant structure doesn’t mean it has to be any more complicated than
breathing. You can ignore all the theory in this program, and gain much
more from just doing the practice. But doing the repetitions and the
practice cannot be ignored. Practice, practice, practice.
Consider first, a classroom schedule. Your class only meets once a week
for a two-hour session. If you can only spare 15 minutes of that
session, then make it the first 15 minutes of every
session. Remind your students to carry-over the good speaking skills
from that little 15 minutes—throughout the rest of the class session.
For example, if I took them through tonal A sounds that day, I
would caution them to make good tonal A sounds throughout
the session, even as we move on to another English subject area.
While we are on the subject of classroom teaching, teachers: when the
DVD is playing it acts as the master teacher—freeing you to become a
side coach. Move around the classroom and give your students
individual attention. Listen to the sounds they’re
producing, check for good physicalization.
Now regarding the independent student engaged in self-study: The only
thing important is to get in the physical practice of producing
the sounds. Think of these programs as exercise videos. And get
creative. You could even play your own music in the background. Most
programs are simple enough that you can even divide your attention,
multi-task. Especially as you become familiar with the course. Practice
while you’re making dinner, exercising, or even while cleaning house
(use an iPod, or other mobile device to play the programs). Stay
relaxed, but energized. Be sure you feel the lip shapes and points of
vibration. Enjoy all the stretching, and get into all the sound-making
exercises. Remember, sometimes it’s the seemingly silliest things that
really work. That’s certainly true of speech; so loosen up, enjoy it,
and produce amazing results.
The history of speech and voice
training goes back further than the Renaissance, although it started
becoming more systematic from that time forward. Early Greeks and
Romans took the subject as mandatory. Politics and stage acting were
central to these cultures. In today’s culture, in politics and
business, in the arts, and even in common daily exchanges, a good
speaker excels in most situations. The strong advantages of public
speaking skills became obvious in the 2008 elections.
Actor training is the foundation for
most of this training. Actors don’t care about theories or
methodologies. They need something that simply works. Their
performance is the only thing they are judged on. And whatever
it takes to get there, that performance is all that matters.