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Speed Up Learning Clear English Speech- Grow Tongue Muscle Fibers via Exercises and Tactics

Speed up Learning  Clear English Speech — Grow Tongue Muscle Fibers via Exercises and Tactics

We will describe specific exercises and tactics which have speeded up learning and increased accuracy of English speech sounds for our student-learners (measured by assessment).

First, scientific physiological information.  If you know the “why” you will understand the “how.”  For skeletal muscles (tongue muscles are skeletal), there are two kinds of muscle fibers, slow twitch muscle fibers and fast twitch muscle fibers  Scientific evidence indicates average percentage of slow twitch muscle fibers in human tongue is 54% — two-year-olds and adults (Sanders et al 2013).   Most English consonant and vowel sounds have an extended duration in time, double or more, compared to the quick consonants or vowels.  Additionally, when  the task is to speak clearly,  English talkers do feature enhancement— for slow English consonants, they extend the duration and articulator movements (which is congruent with the task-dynamic model of speech production—Kelso & Tuller, 1984).  Getting the English duration and position of articulators is challenging to the nonnative speaker. That is so critical, we teach that right away.   Of course for some speech sounds, the positioning and speed of  the articulators are the same  as for other languages.   It’s where English is different that makes the challenge.

TH both voiced and not voiced and L are high error speech sounds for nonnative speakers.

To acquire  clear, easy to understand  TH  or L speech sounds require the tongue to be extended forward and for the duration of the speech sound to be extended  for at least double or greater duration than a quick English sound such as the consonant sound D.   With the eye, humans can’t see the slow twitch muscle fibers in the tongue.  But it stands to reason that slow twitch muscle fibers are activated to push the tongue blade forward and to extend out  or stretch out the tongue tip to extend to the front of the mouth.

We teach the position of the tongue tip for the TH sounds and the L consonant sound to be the same—push forward  the tip of the tongue so it goes between the upper and lower front teeth or, better yet, to touch the lower lip.   Those consonants are slow in speed with durations lengthier than the quick consonants.  The action of pushing the tongue tip all the way to the position of between upper and lower teeth or all the way to touch the lower lip gives sensory feedback to the brain when the target has been reached— and it takes time— milliseconds—which adds to the duration.  Thus you as speaker are taking advantage of biomechanical characteristics of movement of the tongue forward to extend the duration of the speech sound for the slow consonants TH and L.  Likely your brain processes the task of pushing your tongue forward to  the lower lip or between top and bottom front teeth  and activates exactly the correct slow twitch muscle fibers.  The central nervous system and the slow twitch muscle fibers must learn this pattern for easy to perceive North American English consonants TH and L.  To make that tongue gesture and movement habitual takes much repeated practice.

So where does muscle strengthening come in?  Lengthening muscle fibers, in this case slow twitch muscle fibers, will make those fibers grow in length.   Maximum extending of the tongue muscles for maximum lengthening we call workout practice—like going to a fitness center and doing exercises like boat rowing  or doing yoga exercise muscle stretches to build muscles.   Maximum stretch for many people is to push the tongue tip down past their lower lip and down the chin.

Specifically, for TH and L stretch out forward  the tongue blade  and direct the tongue tip to go down  — to extend between the top and bottom front teeth  and go down toward the bottom of the chin as far as you can for workout practice.   Do this during home practice—direct practice and during coaching sessions (for our student-learners).

However, in daily life English speaking, do not stretch your tongue out and down toward your chin as much as you are able—too weird.  Do that for  home practice and with your coach.   For speech in daily life for conversation and presentations, push your tongue forward to go between your upper and lower teeth or to go to your lower lip.   I personally like lower lip best because  the sensory system feels the tongue muscles stretch forward and feel the  tongue tip on the lower lip.   

Tactic advice. For any practice with reading words and words in sentences, do the  maximum extension exercise/training  called Workout Mode for home practice.  When in public or friends, extend tongue to lower lip or between teeth– we call that Leveled-Up or Careful Leveled-Up Clear Talk Mode. 

The longer you extend the duration of the speech sounds TH and L, and hold onto the extension of the tongues slow twitch muscle fibers, the more you are loading the muscles, and the more muscle growth you will get for slow twitch muscle fibers.  Enhance the feature of lengthy duration of the voicing for the  consonants TH and L to at least double the speech sound length compared to English quick consonants such as  D or B.

Tongue strengthening exercises.  In the last year we have had student-learners add to their vocal strength exercises (5 days a week), tongue strength exercises where they  do the sounds for TH with a voice and TH with no voice, and L using the extended tongue to as far out and down  to the chin for as long in duration time as they can.  Their homework assignment includes doing that 3 times for each speech sound consonant  of  L, TH no voice, and TH voiced for 5 days a week.  Maximum time for this tongue slow twitch muscle fiber exercise is  3 minutes total.

Yay for students.  In 2003,  a student from South Korea taught me the position of the tongue for TH  and L she had learned as a teenager —it worked!

A video is worth a thousand words— so imitate our You Tube English speech tip videos so for direct practice you can see and hear the  exact positioning of the tongue for  L and TH.  The biomechanical extension of the tongue along with the action at the vocal folds for a voice automatically renders the feature enhancement for clear, easy to understand English speech sounds L and TH.  YouTube videos  English Speech Tip Number 35 for L, in the words “file” and “value.”  Following that  are English Speech Tip video 45 for voiced TH in “that” and unvoiced TH in English Speech Tip 53 for “thirty” and “thirteen.”

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