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Does Exercise Strengthen Speech Muscles?

You already know that specific exercise will strengthen your skeletal muscles—for example leg muscles for running, football—both soccer and American football– and  arm muscles and upper body exercise for many sports, including tennis.

  What about muscles for human speaking?  Skeletal muscle is found throughout the body, attached to bones via tendons. It is also present in tongue, lips, cheeks, attached to the jaw,  the cricothyroid muscle attached to the vocal folds for voicing, the esophagus, and the diaphragm.

 “The Human Tongue Slows Down to Speak: Muscle Fibers of the Human Tongue” by Sanders et al 2013 found that the average percentage of slow Muscle Fibers (MF) in adult and 2-year-old muscle specimens were 54% compared to  newborn human which was 32%.  In contrast, tongue muscles of the rat and cat have no slow MFs and macaque monkey  28% slow MFs; the MFs of rat and cat tongue are exclusively fast MFs.  Distribution in humans of slow MFs in tongue was found medially and posterially.  Special to adult human tongues  were MF-type grouping, large amounts of loose connective  tissue and short MF branching.   Relatedly by way of explanation for the similarity between  percentage  of  slow MF  for two-year-olds and adults,  by two years of age, human toddlers have been vocalizing (crying) since birth, babbling often since 6 months of age and speaking words for up to a year—largely through employing the same muscle structures they used for feeding.  But the movements and stiffness or tenseness of  these muscles, the tongue and lip muscles, for example, are different  for speech compared to the suckling from birth. 

An old adage: if you want to strengthen the muscles for an activity, say bicycling, swimming, or “whatever,”  then do that activity.  Such is the same for human speaking and muscle fibers in the tongue, especially. 

The importance of slow MF tongue muscles for North American English speech is that of the 25 consonants,  17 have a lengthened duration (slow consonants), and out of 14 vowel sounds,  10 vowel sounds have a lengthened duration — so it stands to reason that production of these 24 English speech sounds are associated with  using slow MFs (also called slow twitch muscles).   The lengthening or longer duration of specific English consonants and vowels can be measured via acoustic analysis (Johnson, 2000), and the need for 2nd formant change for “long vowel” production is likewise well documented.   By way of contrast,  consonant and vowel sounds for many other languages have significantly shorter durations compared to North American English speech.  (Spanish and Japanese have been described as the fastest spoken languages in the world with all or virtually all consonants and vowels spoken quickly.)

Positioning or placement of the tongue and tongue shape, are critical for accuracy of speech sounds recognition by listeners.   For example, the Spanish and other spoken languages such as Mandarin  produce “f” and “v” sounds with a short duration via the action of pushing air through partially open lips.  For North American English, the “f” and “v” sounds are prolonged—thus likely physiologically using slow MFs for the jaw  which holds steady the position of the lips with the position of upper teeth resting on lower lip)  to allow a more prolonged push of air and air friction through the lips, and prolonged voicing for the “v” sound via action at the vocal folds via the cricothyroid muscle.

Two forms of muscle movement (loading the muscles) have been identified to “grow” slow MFs and fast MFs (aka slow twitch muscles and fast twitch muscles, respectively).    One is lengthening the muscles and the other is isometric action (stiffening or tensing the muscles).

Lengthening movement forward of the human tongue is used for specific English consonants and vowels.  For example, for accurate articulation for the North American “L” consonant sound, pushing the tongue forward to touch the lower lip and holding it there makes for the producing a “L” consonant sound which is consistently recognized by human listeners as the “L” English sound.  For accurate recognition of  the “L” consonant sound, it must have a lengthened duration.  Based on our assessments, other positions of the tongue are less consistently recognized as an “L” speech sound, probably due to coarticulation effects from preceding and following speech sounds in a word with the “L” consonant sound.

To jump forward to answering the question first posed for acquisition of clear North American English,  muscle strengthening of the skeletal muscles of especially  the tongue, lips, jaw, and the cricothyroid muscle attached to the vocal folds  can be accomplished through two means–  accurate pronunciation of  English speech sounds in words and, as we now understand,  via muscle exercises specific to slow MFs  and fast MFs.

In the last year, our coached instruction for acquiring clear North American English speech for nonnative-born speakers of English has included vocal exercise aimed at strengthening slow MFs (slow twitch muscles) and fast MFs (fast twitch muscles)  for selected consonants and  vowels.   Those exercises have enhanced speech intelligibility outcomes, that is, measured word and speech sound intelligibility have increased substantially for those doing our coached courses.

Next time—description of specific exercises and speaking tactics during  home practice (also called, aka, direct practice) for words and sentences to grow slow MFs and fast MFs (slow twitch muscles and fast twitch muscles respectively).

Just so you know,  we have identified 14 dimensions for successful acquisition of clear North American English speech by nonnative-born speakers of North American English — from over 20 years of instruction and scientific assessment.  Success is defined as optimally efficient learning which is long lasting.  The Clear Talk Mastery method of instruction and learning is both an art and a science— the art is in getting to all 14 dimensions.  In this article, we are describing one dimension.

Be sure to check out our coached instruction- go to www.ClearTalkMastery.com and click on “Services. And be sure to check out the weekly self learning program, our proven subscription called ClearTalk Weekly—video and audio tutoring– you access 24/7 www.subscription.cleartalkmastery.com It works for people new to the admirable goal of making their English speech better for career and for life. It works for people who have done a coached course but was to rev up their accuracy.

©Clear Talk Mastery, Inc. 2023

Accent reduction: Key Skill- Get the Vowels

Accent reduction: Key Skill – Get the Vowels


Have you noticed that people are most likely to say to you “What?”  “What did you say?” after you have said a multiple syllable word?

Critical information for multiple syllable words– each syllable has a meaning and there are 14 vowel sounds (some people say 17) for North American English and 5 letters –a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes y.

Pronunciation Alert: Say each vowel in a multiple syllable word clearly.

When ESOL (English Speakers of Other Languages) people speak multiple syllable words in English, they often shorten or reduce unstressed syllables to a very short vowel sound. They do this because it is easier not to move the tongue very much.  In fact, sometimes the speaker moves his tongue so little that  the vowel is so short in time that the listener is actually unable to determine which vowel letter it represents in the word– (a, e, i, o, u– short vowel pronunciation or long vowel pronunciation. The academic term for that is “schwa vowel.”

However, studies show that when speakers are aiming to talk more clearly, they will say the vowels more clearly. When they say the vowels more clearly, listeners say, “It is easy to understand you.”  This is true for clear speech in English and in other languages.

For our training for clear American English, we train speakers to make all vowels in a word more accurately to match the written vowel.  For example,   the “ment” in “appointment” would be pronounced as “ment” with a short vowel “e” and not “mint” with a short “I”  or a schwa, which is an indistinguishable vowel.  By aiming for accurate pronunciation to match the written vowel letter, the speaker makes it easier for the listener to process accurately “ment.” This is a suffix which often changes verbs into nouns.

Also, by paying attention to the vowels and saying them more accurately, the speakers are anchoring better in their brain the accurate spelling. One important reason to master accurate spelling is that the meaning of the syllable is in the spelling.  For example, “ment” is a suffix which takes a verb and makes it a noun.  “Mint” is a flavor  such as in “peppermint” or “spearmint.”

The prefix syllable “ex” is another example.   Saying the short American vowel “e” in “ex” clearly makes it easy for listeners to process the prefix “ex” and understand the meaning of the prefix with the rest of the word.  For instance, “exit,”  “extreme,” “extend.”   If the speaker made the vowel sound like a short “i” as in “ix”  or an indistinguishable vowel  as in a schwa  and closer to “uh,” then the listener would not know he was hearing the very common prefix, “ex.”  Being able to easily and quickly process the “ex,” means that the listener can identify the word right away and combine it with the other words in the sentence to easily understand the information of the entire sentence.

Here is a second  important practical reason to master spelling. In the last 10 years, more and more employers are asking us if we can help our students-learners (and their employees)  get spelling more accurate because it is embarrassing to them when emails go out with inaccurate spelling.

Yay, yay.  The extra effort to speak the vowels very clearly has big time benefit  — to the speaker, the listener, and also to the employer and the individual’s career advancement.

Be sure to watch our English Speech Tips videos and Accent Reduction Tip videos  for more English pronunciation and accent reduction exercise.

Check out our  “ever better!” coached courses by clicking “Services” on our website www.ClearTalkMastery.com. For first time English Clear Talk pronunciation learns and to efficiently renew your coached course learning, check out the subscription program called ClearTalk Weekly, www.subscription.cleartalkmastery.com

PS- It really is true that we have made exceptional strides in our teaching for mastery and long-term learning in these pandemic years with gains previous thought impossible (even by us!).

Get “s” and “z” for Grammar “s”

Surprising but true, along with “r” and “l” pronunciation, “s” is most difficult for native-born children in North America. It’s critical for grammar for plurals, subject- verb agreement (“I sit” but “she sits”) and for possessive (“The house belongs to Sam” and “Sam’s house.”

Added to the pronunciation difficulty is that “Grammar s” is always written as an “s” letter, but has rules for when you pronounce an “s” with no voice or an “s” with a voice (which is the “z”) sound.

In general, the speech pathology and science field has much evidence that vocal strengthening tasks can affect speech production.

In particular, over the last month, I have been adding this exercise to daily practice for students enrolled in the coached course (see Services) — Do vocal strengthening for the “s” and “z” 3 times a day. Do this: “Take a deep breath and say “sssss” for as long as you can. And, take a deep breath and say “zzzz” for as long as you can.

The outcome has been noticeably strong “Grammar s” and other “s” and “s” with a voice and “z” pronunciation for all direct practice tasks (reading) and presentation and conversation tasks.

Try it, you’ll like the results!

100 Most Common English Words – And What To Do With Them -Yay!

BLOG #191   Friday, Dec. 11, 2020 100 Most Common English Words– And What to Do With Them- Yay

    In this blog you will find a list of the 100 Most Common English words.  Studies that estimate and rank these look at written texts. This list comes from the Oxford English Corpus (OEC) from 2 billion words ranging from literary works, novels, academic journals, newspapers, journals, blogs, chat logs, emails and even Hansard’s Parliamentary Debates 2013.  Another corpus which found similar results is from 1967 and is called the Brown Corpus, from Brown University, USA. Their findings were similar.

    Yay for 100 most frequently written English words.  But there’s more reason for you to read through these words both silently and aloud. (More  later about the tip to read this list aloud. And HOW to do that for best short term and long term pronunciation learning results.)  According to the Reading Teacher’s Book of Lists, the first 25 words in the OEC account for about one-third of all printed material in English. AND according to a study cited by Robert McCrum in The Story of English,  all of these hundred words are of Anglo-Saxon origin, except for “people”, which ultimately came from the Latin “populus” and “because” which developed from Latin “causa.”

  1. the
  2. be (all forms, is, was)
  3. to
  4. of
  5. and
  6. a
  7. in
  8. that
  9. have
  10. I
  11. it
  12. for
  13. not
  14. on
  15. with
  16. he
  17. as
  18. you
  19. do
  20. at
  21. this
  22. but
  23. his
  24. by
  25. from
  26. they
  27. we
  28. say
  29. her
  30. she
  31. or
  32. an
  33. will
  34. my
  35. one
  36. all
  37. would
  38. there
  39. their
  40. what
  41. so
  42. up
  43. out
  44. if
  45. about
  46. who
  47. get
  48. which
  49. go
  50. me
  51. when
  52. make
  53. can
  54. like
  55. time
  56. no
  57. just
  58. him
  59. know
  60. take
  61. people
  62. into
  63. year
  64. your
  65. good
  66. some
  67. could
  68. them
  69. see
  70. other
  71. than
  72. then
  73.  now
  74. look
  75. only
  76. come
  77. its
  78. over
  79. think
  80. also
  81. back
  82. after
  83. use
  84. two
  85. how
  86. our
  87. work
  88. first
  89. well
  90. way
  91. even
  92. new
  93. want
  94. because
  95. any
  96. these
  97. give
  98. day
  99. most 100. us

Congratulations, you got all the way to the bottom of this list of the 100 most frequently written words, Now—do consider reading this list of words aloud for practice in making your English speech more understandable to everybody and , if you want it– sound more like native-born North Americans.

Here’s an important hint. Based on our –Clear Talk Mastery’s– experience with one-on-one coaching of student-learners who are taking the format Gold, Gold Plus or Platinum,  the student-learners who used work-out mode practice for their homework/ direct practice did the best.  Hands down. 

Here’s a quck description of work-out mode practice—For fastest and long lasting results, including growing speech muscles,  when you practice some or all of these words do this:

  1. Pronounce each sound carefully and accurately
  2. Consciously make your speech muscles stiff and hard. Lips, tongue, even jaw muscles.
  3.  Consciously exaggerate the movement of your muscles—make slow muscles go at least double slow and fast muscles at least double fast.  Thus slow sounds like “th” make these very very slow.  And exaggerate the accuracy or placement of muscles. For example, for the “th” sound, push your tongue outside of your mouth and make the tip of your tongue go down toward your chin.   That will make that muscle grow in strength because you have loaded it.
  4. Importantly, make the muscles attached to the vocal folds stiffer and harder than you typically do.  You will know you have succeeded because the speech sound is louder. -30-

Speech Tip #1

English Speech Tip 1: l, r, e “clear”

In this video Dr. Antonia Johnson shows how to pronounce the American English word “clear.” She focuses on the English l, r, and long ē sounds.

Let us know what sounds or words you would like help with!