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  • This is a line from later in this video.

  • If you can improve your placement, you will immediately sound more natural every time you speak English.

  • I've been making videos on American English on YouTube for 11 years and this is probably

  • the most excited I've ever been about a video.

  • There's one thing that affects the sound of the voice when a non-native speaker is speaking

  • American English more than anything else. And it really affects whether or not someone sounds American.

  • It's placement. Maybe you've never even heard this word before.

  • Not many teachers talk about it and I will say it's one of the hardest things to teach.

  • But today, we're going to talk about it.

  • We're going to use a mixing engineer and a scientific paper to understand what is placement.

  • Here is a taste of what we'll explore.

  • Hi! Hi!

  • I had the mixing engineer change the placement. Thank you, Sendai Mike!

  • We're going to get to the details of all of this

  • but I want you to know that almost all of my students need to work on their placement.

  • It doesn't matter what your native language is. By the end of this video, you're going to understand

  • what placement is and be able to change your placement

  • to unlock a more natural American voice within yourself.

  • And please remember, if you like this video or learned something,

  • be sure to like it and subscribe with notifications. Thank you guys!

  • Several months ago, I asked you to send in videos of yourself saying a dialogue

  • so I could use your examples to teach here on YouTube. Thank you!

  • All of the examples in this video, including the one you already heard came from you guys.

  • And by the way, if you didn't see last week's video, that is a great one where

  • I used your videos to teach about American English pronunciation, be sure to check it out!

  • Placement affects the overall quality of the voice.

  • Almost all of my student's placements are too high.

  • It doesn't matter the native language: Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese,

  • Thai, Arabic, Hindi, Spanish, Portuguese, French, and so on.

  • The natural production of these languages is different than English.

  • So I found a mixing engineer here on YouTube who could play with the formants of the voice.

  • In a minute, we're going to talk about what that means.

  • But first, I just want you to hear the difference.

  • So he took the person we listened to, whose native language is Chinese, and changed the formants.

  • Hi, what do you want to do tonight?

  • Hi, what do you want to do tonight?

  • The first one is her voice as she recorded it.

  • The second one has a different quality because Mike played with the formants of the sound.

  • What do you want to do tonight?

  • What do you want to do tonight?

  • Then he took my voice and he did the opposite.

  • We'll call the student that we're working with here V.

  • He took V's voice and played with the formants for it to have a more American quality,

  • then he took my voice and did the same thing in reverse

  • to try to make the quality of my voice reflect the quality of her voice.

  • What do you want to do tonight?

  • What do you want to do tonight?

  • What do you want to do tonight?

  • What do you want to do tonight?

  • Changing the formants really changes the quality of the voice, doesn't it?

  • Listen to my whole mini conversation with that formant shift.

  • Hey, what do you want to do tonight?

  • I don't know. I feel like just watching TV.

  • Sure!

  • So what is a formant and how does it change your voice so much? It's not the pitch.

  • The pitch or the fundamental frequency is the same.

  • The vocal cords vibrate at a pitch. Aaaahh. Uhhhh.

  • Those are two different vowels on the same pitch.

  • Why did they sound different? Because of the shape of my mouth,

  • my tongue position was different, my lip position.

  • Aaaahh. Uhhhh.

  • What the vocal cords were doing didn't change. The pitch was the same

  • but the quality of the sound was affected by the shape of the vocal tract,

  • which affected the sound, part of the sound called formants.

  • Formants are frequencies of sound above the fundamental frequency, that's the pitch.

  • If this feels kind of technical, stick with me, the payoff in this video,

  • what you're going to learn to do with your voice, is going to be huge.

  • Okay, so the vocal cords make the fundamental pitch and the shape of the vocal tract makes the formants.

  • The formants are what make different sounds like: ahh, uhhh, ohh, as my pitch stays the same.

  • But they can also affect the quality of the vowel.

  • So you can either sound very natural speaking American English, or not very natural,

  • depending on what's happening with your vocal tract.

  • So you may know exactly the tongue, lip and jaw position for an American vowel,

  • but if the rest of your vocal tract, your throat isn't shaped right,

  • you'll never be able to get the American quality of that vowel.

  • So we can change the formants of a sound by changing the shape of the vocal tract.

  • In a minute, we're going to tell you what you want to do to sound more American.

  • But we can also change the formants by recording a voice and having a sound mixer play with it.

  • I'm going to let Sendai Mike explain this more. He's a recording and mixing engineer in Seattle.

  • Then we're going to get into a lot more real life student examples

  • so you can start to find the right shape of your own vocal tract.

  • Most you all are probably familiar with pitch shifting.

  • Pitch shifting especially downwards has become really popular in hip hop and rap music.

  • So pitch shifting, uuhhh, is when you change the fundamental frequency of your voice.

  • And we will talk about using that to sound more natural in this video,

  • but at the moment, let's hear about formant shifting.

  • Now, format shifting is similar to pitch shifting, but the difference is when you format shift audio,

  • the note, and I mean the note like the note you would play on a keyboard,

  • stays the same but the tone gets deeper or higher depending on which direction you're formant shifting.

  • So if you're formant shifting, you could sing a constant note

  • and it would stay in key as you format shift up and down.

  • Okay he did a lot of formant shifting and that's what he did earlier to V's voice and my voice,

  • so we could really see how it affected the sound,

  • and it either made the sound thinner or heavier.

  • And as we'll see in the students that we're going to study, most people have a sound that's too thin.

  • I've been in touch with a few students in my academy who've mentioned recently the idea that they had to

  • use a different voice, which I would say is a different shape to their vocal tract,

  • in order to speak American English.

  • One student said:

  • One of my American friends told me that my presence and my voice doesn't match for American people.

  • My natural Japanese voice is pretty high.

  • So the pitch of American English is often a little bit lower than what my students want to do.

  • And the placement, the quality of the sound affected by the formants is also lower.

  • Another student said:

  • Your advice to keep low placement in mind has helped me a lot.

  • My native language is Russian, we came to the US seven years ago and unlike me,

  • my son picked up the American accent very quickly.

  • Every time he heard me speaking English, he asked me why I was changing my voice to the higher pitch?

  • And I didn't. I just used my Russian voice coming from the front part of my mouth, and it didn't sound very good.

  • So she was making all the sounds of American English, tongue position, lip position, jaw drop,

  • but the rest of her vocal tract was in the shape of what she would use for Russian.

  • So that made her American English sound higher and thinner because in American English,

  • we have a lower placement.

  • So how can you get a lower placement?

  • Let's look at a scientific paper.

  • I'm going to put the full name of the paper and the authors in the video description.

  • To understand this paper, let's do a very quick anatomy lesson for the voice.

  • This will help you picture what you need to change in your throat in order to sound more American.

  • The vocal cords are here, they're what vibrate and make the fundamental frequency or

  • the pitch when your air comes up from your trachea.

  • Aaahhh. Aahhh.

  • Your pitch changes as your larynx, which is this bigger thing,

  • moves in ways that make the vocal cords change in tension or thickness, this kind of thing.

  • Think of it as a guitar string, it makes a different sound depending on where you put your finger on it

  • when you pluck it, as you affect the length of the string.

  • So the air comes up from your lungs through your trachea, vibrates your vocal cords,

  • and creates your fundamental pitch.

  • But the key to changing your sound is knowing that your larynx here, also called voice box, can be moved

  • by the complex series of muscles in your neck that attach it to the bones.

  • It can be moved up or back down, it can be moved forward,

  • it can be moved backward,

  • and all of these things affect not the pitch, because that's the vocal cords,

  • but they affect the formants, the other sounds above that frequency, and those

  • formants are what will give you an American voice or not.

  • So in order to have the right shape of the vocal tract to sound more American,

  • you want a lower larynx or voice box.

  • Your native language may have your voice box in a slightly different place in your throat.

  • That will change the way you sound.

  • So if you think of a wide open neck,

  • I think that helps my students release the muscles in their neck

  • which then helps the larynx or the voice box drop down.

  • And that gives your vocal tract the right shape for the American placement.

  • Since we're here, let's just talk about a few other things that can affect your sound.

  • We have these open cavities in our mouth, and then our nasal cavity, and

  • an open cavity is where sound will vibrate and it will change the quality.

  • So in American English, none of our vowels are nasal vowels.

  • That means here's our hard palate, our roof of our mouth, there's also a soft palate,

  • and when that's raised, it prevents air from going up into the nasal cavity.

  • But when it's down, air can go up and it can change the sound. So aaaaa becomes aaaaaa.

  • So the soft palate being closed or lifted is also very important in where your voice vibrates,

  • where your placement is. We want to avoid nasal vowels in American English.

  • But the main takeaway of the paper is your larynx should be in a lowered relaxed position

  • in order to give your throat the right shape for American English.

  • You want to let go of the muscle tension in your neck to try to let your larynx lower and find that right placement.

  • With a raised larynx, a sound with the same fundamental frequency will sound thinner and less resonant,

  • and that's not what we want. To match the American quality, we want it warmer and more resonant.

  • The main reason for this perceptual effect is that larynx raising can cause a rise in the frequency of the formants,

  • which gives the sound a different quality.

  • So in your own native language, you have the pitch, the fundamental frequency, that's natural for your language,

  • you have your articulators, tongue, teeth, lips that you use to shape and create the different sounds

  • of your native language. But then you also have the shape of your vocal tract that affects the formants

  • of the sound, and therefore the quality of the sound. And most people, when they're learning English,

  • learn about and think about just the articulators, tongue position, lip position, for a sound.

  • But if you don't change the shape of your vocal tract, of your throat,

  • and you use the shape that's natural for your own native language, then you'll never have a truly American quality

  • to your voice, and that's why we work on placement right away in Rachel's English Academy

  • because why work on all the sounds if you haven't first worked on the overall quality of the voice?

  • So that's what we're going to do here today. We're going to work on the overall quality of your voice.

  • It affects your sound every time you speak English.

  • If you can improve your placement, you will immediately sound more natural every time you speak.

  • When I work with a student on placement, what I do is this:

  • I have them say something in English, anything, and then I try to imitate them.

  • I imitate their placement, and I alternate between that and a more American placement,

  • and I talk about what I'm changing.

  • What you need to do as a student is this: use your ears to notice the different qualities of the sounds,

  • and then play with your own voice, tense in places, relax in places, think of being wide and low,

  • try to find as many different kinds of voices as you can.

  • Okay, let's jump in with a student. We're going to go back to V.

  • We're actually going to come to the desk so that we can watch these students together.

  • I feel like just watching TV.

  • I feel like--

  • I feel like--

  • I, I, I, I feel like

  • One thing I want to say is we should all be imitating together.

  • Try to imitate the students and try to imitate me imitating the students, and try to imitate me when I am

  • putting in a more American placement. Imitating and playing with our voices and trying to match things

  • is the best way to find a new placement I think.

  • I feel like just watching TV.

  • I feel like

  • I feel like

  • I'm trying to place that really high here. I feel like— I feel like

  • To do that, one of the things I do is I bring a little bit of extra pressure here to the front of my throat.

  • I feel likeit helps me throw it into this part of my face more.

  • I feel like— I feel likeand if I let that go there, then it lets me lower my placement. I feel like

  • Now I do want to say I think her pitch is a little bit higher than what would be more natural for American English.

  • I feel likecan instead be: I feel like— I feel like just watching TV.

  • So my pitch is lower now it used to be when I was working with students I would say:

  • don't worry about your pitch, it's placement, it's the sound, the formants.

  • But then I realized that yes, they're two separate things but often lowering their pitch,

  • their fundamental frequency, helped with the overall tone because all of those frequencies were also lower,

  • gave them a warmer tone and that's really what we want.

  • Also I do think in general, a lot of people's natural pitch for American English is a little bit high,

  • so lowering the pitch can bring the fundamental frequency somewhere that is a little bit more natural,

  • but then it also has that nice effect of warming the voice more.

  • So try that, try recording yourself saying something, just listen to the phrase, and listen to it so many times

  • that you have the melody in your head, and then try to bring the pitch down a little bit.

  • I feel like— —

  • You can do a sliding thing down to try to find a lower pitch and you know, go as low as you can.

  • I feel like— I feel like

  • You're probably not going to speak from there but the more range you find,

  • the more you're going to be able to play with your voice and find something that's comfortable.

  • Okay so for Vivian, I had to try to release some tension in the front of my neck.

  • I can't say that that's exactly how she's producing that sound, but I do know that if she thinks of a

  • wide open neck, and lets things sort of sink down, that that will probably help.

  • Okay our next student's native language is Hindi.

  • I feel like just watching TV.

  • Just watching TV.

  • Just watching TV. Just watching-- just watching-- To me, the place where this can resonate is very narrow.

  • Just watchingjustjustjustjust watchingjust watching

  • It's all here, and if I let my throat and neck relax, it opens up this part down here and it