Vocal tone. What does Arnold Schwarzenegger have to teach us about this?

I am sure you have noticed that different languages come with different vocal tones. By vocal tone I mean voice quality.

You know how some languages or accents seem to be spoken generally with a much lower tone, or some with a more nasal tone, or even a more high pitched tone. This can even vary from region to region in some countries.

Think of how Arnold Schwarzenegger, you know from the Terminator movies, sounds when he speaks English.

But more on him later.

One definition of vocal tone is: a particular quality, way of sounding, modulation or intonation of the voice.

Another definition of vocal tone is: a characteristic mode of sounding words in speech.

Voice is made in our throat, in our larynx, and the tone or sound varies depending on how tightly you pull the vocal cords in your larynx, or loosely you hold them or how long, short, thick or thin they are.

Male voices are usually a deeper tone because the vocal cords in the throat are physically larger that a females.

But this isn’t the only factor.

We add elements to the sound of our vocal tone by constricting or relaxing different muscles in our throat, nose and at the back of our nose. We also resonate our sounds differently in the various spaces in our face, head and throat as part of our vocal tone.

Vocal tone. Why is it important for clear English speech?

Yes. Pronunciation of sounds and words as well as correct stress patterns and melody, rhythm and intonation are all extremely important for clear English pronunciation. And, so is the underlying vocal tone we use.

Vocal tone runs under and through clear pronunciation like a base on which the pronunciation sits. It goes hand in hand with the way we pronounce our words. It gives a language part of it’s characteristic sound.

For example, as a broad general observation, German is spoken with a much lower ‘sound’ or vocal tone to it than English.

Tagalog, spoken by Filipino speakers, has a different tone to English as the muscles at the back of the throat and nose are pulled tighter than when speaking English.

British English has a different tone to that of Australian or American English. The tone and resonance of British English is generally resonated more fully at the back of the throat with the back of the tongue down more than in Australian and American English, for instance.

Of course tone can be very subjective, and not everyone who speaks a particular language always has the same vocal tone as others from that language background. Generally speaking though, you have probably noticed particular vocal tones go with particular languages.

So why is vocal tone important for clear speech?

Remember how Arnold Schwarzenegger sounds?

He speaks English well and pronounces the sounds clearly. He still has his Austrian vocal tone when he speaks English, which sometimes makes him difficult to understand.

When you are practising your English pronunciation, don’t forget to pay attention to the vocal tone the trainer uses as well as to the words and sounds.

Whether you are using the Speak More Clearly English pronunciation course (PUT LINK IN) and mimicking the trainer, or mimicking someone on the radio or TV, also pay attention to their vocal tone.

Ask yourself: is it higher or lower in pitch than yours? Is it more, or less ‘nasal’ than your language’s vocal tone?

As vocal tone can sometimes be difficult to hear, and if it is a big factor in your background language and is making your English speech unclear, you may need to seek professional advice from a speech therapist who works with accent modification, or an accent coach.

Otherwise, just begin to pay attention to the vocal tone of the English pronunciation trainer while you are practising, so that your ear is attuning itself over time to English vocal tone as well.

Best wishes and bye for now,


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