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3 Tips for Sounding Clear and Expressive While Wearing a Mask

In these crazy Corona times, wearing masks helps us save lives, but as some of us have realized, there’s a downside to wearing them. They muffle our voice, and make us sound less clear just by the mere fact that people can’t read our lips or see our facial expressions.

As non-native speakers of English, we sometimes feel that we already experience some communication barriers. Usually, without a mask, it is manageable. But wearing a mask can make it a lot more difficult. This is why it is important to know that there are some things we can do to work it out and gain back your clarity.

How? First, remember that clarity is more important than accuracy. For example, without a mask, reductions are great, but when having a mask on, they might compromise your communication. In addition, you need to remember that speech sounds are not equally important. You definitely want your consonants to be clear (without dropping any consonants). And when it comes to vowels, it’s ok if not all of them are accurate, as long as the vowel of the primary stress of the word is clear (as you’ll see in the video).

Also, you don’t want to invest too much energy on every single word. This is true in general, but all the more relevant when wearing a mask. Make sure to take deep breaths in order to support your voice and your message. Then, focus only on the words that drive your message forward. The stressed words should be longer, louder and higher in pitch.

And finally, use your voice in a way that supports you. Head resonance carries your voice a lot better than chest resonance when you have a mask on!

To learn more and to see examples, watch my video:

TRANSCRIPT

Hey everyone. Today, we’re going to talk about how to communicate effectively in English, even with a mask on. The good thing about this is that it can save lives. The bad thing, that it kind of jeopardizes your communication. Because when you put a mask on here’s the problem: first, it muffles your voice and it is not as clear and loud and present as it is without the mask on.

“One-two, one-two. Can you hear me? Can you hear me? One-two, one-two. Can you hear me? Can you hear me?”

Second, once you put the mask on, people can not read your lips. And it’s so interesting how reading lips is a huge part on how we understand the language. So people cannot read your lips or see your facial expressions. And that, again, compromises so much of our communication. Because communication is not just the words that we use, it’s our expressions, and body language. And when we put a mask on, not only that it takes away a lot of it, it also makes us feel like we are locked in a small room. So the tendency is to not even try to communicate as we normally would without a mask on.

Now, as a speaker of English as a second language, sometimes you may anyway experience some communication barriers when speaking in English, because you might be carrying over some patterns from your native language, or you might be using sounds that exist in your native language. And when you don’t communicate with a mask, it is manageable. But when you put a mask on, it prevents you from being the clear speaker that you are.

So, in this video, I’m going to share with you a few tips when it comes to pronunciation, voice, and energy, that will help you communicate with a mask a lot more effectively. And also these tips are going to help you feel a little less exhausted at the end of the day after putting your mask on all day long.

When it comes to pronunciation, I want you to remember two things. One – clarity is more important than accuracy, and two – some sounds are more important than others. Let me explain. First of all, vowels versus consonants. When you speak inside a mask, make sure that all your consonants are perfectly clear. You want to enunciate those consonants with a little more effort than you normally would.

Also, vowels are important, but consonants are more important if you want to be clear. If you speak slowly enough, if your consonants are clear and crisp, even if your vowels are not 100% accurate, you will still be clear. If you drop consonants, if you mispronounce some of the consonants, even if your vowels are really clear and accurate, overall, you’re going to be less clear.

When it comes to vowels, not all vowels in a word are equally important, but the vowel of the primary stress is probably the most important vowel in the word. So in terms of hierarchy and what you want to focus on, cause you can’t emphasize every single thing and you can’t make sure that everything is super clear, but if you just make sure that your consonants are clear and that the vowel in the primary stress of the word, and ideally, it’s not important for every single word, but the word that drives the message forward – that’s what’s more important.

Now, when I say “clarity is more important than accuracy”, it means that a lot of the things that you have learned in your speech work and working on your accent – American accent, British accent, whatever accent – then remember that you shouldn’t apply everything that you’ve learned, if you want to be clear when you have a mask on.

So for example, reductions. Reductions are great when you have that freedom of communication. But you don’t want to use complete reductions or drops of consonants. if you speak with a mask on, you’re going to sound less clear. So even for native speakers, I would recommend not reducing words so much, but lengthening the sounds and speaking clearly, annunciating words, not separately, but at least clearly every single word. Because we want to make it easier for the person listening.

Now, while usually the listener will be able to see you and kinda like detect and analyze what’s important and what’s less important, that component is taken away once the mask is on. And the person is listening with a bias anyway. Anyway, they’re listening feeling like it’s hard to communicate. So you just want to make it as simple as possible for the other person to hear you and to understand you.

Let’s look at an example where I use reductions, held sounds, and the flap T. And then we’re going to look at the same example where I don’t use all of those elements and you decide what is clearer.

“Can I get a cup of latte?” “Can I get a cup of latte” Now, as you can see, yes, it’s a lot clearer if I enunciate every sound and I drop the idea of the held sounds and the flap T’s and the reductions, because it doesn’t serve me when I speak with a mask on.

Now, talking about energy, at the same time, you don’t want to invest energy on every single word and just to start speaking out loud and say everything really, really loud. And then by the end of the day, you just want to stop speaking forever and ever. Right? So how can you balance being clear and putting the focus on what matters, and at the same time, not losing your power and strength? So here’s how you should go about it.

First of all, as we talked about, when we talk about intonation, not all words are created equal. So yes, you need to change your voice a little bit – and we’re going to talk about that in a second – to be clear, and it doesn’t mean to be louder – it means to project your voice more. So wait until I talk about the voice. But first make sure that you take a deep enough breath and you support your voice with a breath.

Now, this crappy little thing that saves our lives, prevents you from taking a really deep breath, right? It already compromises your oxygen levels. So make sure that you’re not taking short, reduced breaths, but you take a deep breath that goes into your belly and you have enough breath to support what you want to say.

So if you have a lot of things to say, take a deep, deep breath; and if you have just a short phrase or something short to say – a short thought or an idea – then you can take a medium breath. But remember that you need to breathe in more deeply when you have a mask on. And the breath supports your voice, so your voice is going to be weak if it’s not supported by the breath.

Now, like we said that the vowel and the primary stress of the word is more important than the rest of the vowels, then the key words in a sentence are more important than others. So you can use other elements in your body and in your face to indicate that these are the key words.

So, how do we do that? First, by changing your pitch. When you hit a stress word, you want to make sure that it is longer and higher in pitch. That’s what happens without a mask on, so even more prominently when you have a mask on. You want to make sure that the shift between the stressed words and the unstressed words is super clear.

So you want to raise your pitch and slow down on the word that you’re stressing. “I would like a latte, please.” So yes, you do want to speak a little louder and to change your voice as we’re going to talk about in a sec, but it doesn’t mean that everything needs to be really loud, but only the words that are going to deliver the message. “only”, “words”, “deliver”, “message”. Even if you don’t hear everything else or you hear that it’s a little muffled, that’s okay. Because the listener is going to hear those key words better, and it’s a lot easier to only stress 5 words out of 10, rather than saying loudly every single word.

So let’s talk about one last thing, which is your voice. A lot of people feel that they need to speak louder when they speak with a mask and then they lose their voice or just feel exhausted. So here’s something about the voice. A lot of times people use their chest resonance, especially if you are told that you need to change your voice to fit it into English. And then you tend to go a little too low. Or because you are shy, or just habits, you drop your voice below your optimum pitch level.

Your optimum pitch level is where your voice is most comfortable at. And it’s usually a little lower or a little higher than what we’re used to. A great way to recognize what your optimum pitch level is by, first, humming. This is where you want to speak. “Hey, what’s up, what’s up?” “Hey, what’s up, what’s up?” So that’s where your voice is more comfortable.

If you tend to go way below that hum, then that means that you are less likely to be clear with a mask on. Because higher resonance – and funnily enough, it’s called mask resonance, where your voice resonates in your head, right: all the nasal cavities and your nose – that is carried over better with a mask on than when you only speak with your chest resonance.

So again, if you have been practicing to shift your voice into your chest more, then when it comes to speaking with a mask, forget about it. Be clear, clarity is more important than accuracy. And if you have a tendency of being a little more nasal – good for you, you’re probably going to be a little more clear when speaking with a mask. Okay?

Now of course, by the way, as a side note, it would be a great exercise for you to put on a mask and to record yourself speaking about something. And when you’re like, “I don’t even know what I was saying there”, then this is what you need to explore. And what were you doing there that made you sound a little less clear, and how can you change that, taking into consideration everything that we talked about here.

So now I’m going to give you two examples: one with my chest resonance and one with my mask head resonance. And I’m going to use the same volume, I’m just going to change the placement of my voice. Okay? So you tell me what is more clear.

“Hey, what’s up? Today we’re going to talk about how to speak clearly with a mask on.” “Hey, what’s up? Today we’re going to talk about how to speak more clearly with a mask on.” “Hey, what’s up? How are you doing? Today we’re going to talk about how to speak clearly with a mask on.” So, which one was more clear to you?

In the first one I only use my chest resonance: “Hey, what’s up? Today we’re going to talk about how to speak clearly with a mask on.” So, most of the vibrations that I felt when speaking were down here, and you can put your hand on your chest and actually feel it. Then I moved into my mask resonance: it’s kind of like, think about  pushing the voice forward. right, and feeling the voice resonating here. You can start with a hum and just like, “Hey, what’s up? What’s up?” And usually the note is a little higher when you speak with your mask resonance.

And the last one was more nasal. I was speaking with my nasal voice, right, where most of my voice resonates in the nose. You can hum and then start speaking and try to get as many vibrations as possible into your fingers. Now while a lot of people may tend to shy away from it and even not to like it when speaking, hey, it serves you really nicely when you have a mask on cause that means you’re going to be a little clearer than everyone else.

Lastly, I want to remind you as a non-native speaker English – if you struggle to speak clearly or you feel that people don’t always understand you, and they ask you to repeat yourself, even when you don’t have a mask on, don’t let it prevent you from speaking up because you have a mask on.

Always speak up. You’ll learn how to communicate your thoughts, you’ll learn how to be clearer with a mask on. And let me tell you this: when COVID is over and you will be able to walk around without our masks on, your voice is going to be a lot clearer because you will have practiced it with a mask on, which is like running away weights. And then taking off those weights will make running a lot easier. And that will be the same thing for your speaking.

So, you are a courageous, amazing human being. And even though you struggle with it, don’t let it prevent you from advancing and improving and pushing forward, and being heard. Because that is the most important thing.

Okay, that’s it. Let me know in the comments below, which one of those three elements was the most meaningful one for you, and you’re going to change upon that. Was that pronunciation, voice, or energy? Let me know in the comments below, and of course share it with your friends, and like it, if you liked it.

Stay healthy, stay safe, and speak up. And I will see you next week in the next video. Bye.

The InFluency Podcast
The InFluency Podcast
64. 3 Tips for Sounding Clear and Expressive While Wearing a Mask
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The most important thing – wear a mask to stay safe, but don’t let it hold you back. Interact, speak up, and be the best version of your masked self in these crazy times.

Love,
Hadar

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13 Responses

  1. Hello Hadar! Thank you for sharing this information. I feel identified with this video because I use mask in my work and by the time I have to teach Spanish I use face shield and I have noted that wearing it I speak a little louder and I think it is not necessary because students can hear me speaking on my regular voice. Also the most mindful thing for me when I speak is the pronunciation and voice since I am more aware about it because sometimes I feel people en general do not understand me very well and that make think that I need to improve my english and speak slowly and clear. Thank you for all you are doing for me to learn more English.

  2. Hey, Hadar!. I thnk this topic is really appropiate in these days, specially for us that we need to speak English as a second language with all your tips we gonna know how to use it from now on When it comes to speak English. In my case, I am taking risks because what I do is taking it off. I do not feel that my message is clear and it is true as you said the effort is doble when yoy have the mask on. On the other hands, there are things that I have noted is having to use the mask is really affecting our communications with others, but I guess it will not last for so long , so no matter what eventhough is difficult to wearing all the time is just for one reason saving our lives and it is a shame having to wear the mask also is affecting our health, so I want to take this opportunity to advice all of you that avoid as much as you can the mask only wearing when you are around people.

  3. Hi Hadar ! I feel I have to make a supplement to my comment I made yesterday to avoid any misunderstanding. What I wrote, it doesn’t mean that the importance of spoken languages, e.g. the high importance of spoken English would decrease. Just the opposite. The significance of beautifully spoken English will enormously increase. The English spoken that way may be understandable through the face mask, as well. (Accompanied maybe by “The Silent Language” of gestures.) Laszlo Latzkovits

  4. Thank you for this great tips, Hadar. By the way, after Covid finish, you rigth, our way to talk, it’ll be easier to express,

  5. The other day I run into this problem at the medical office when I came to the lab appointment. The receptionist was mumbling something through her mask and I wasn’t able to understand a single word, so I asked her to repeat and concentrated completely trying to catch what she was saying. This is another COVID-19’s set back.

  6. Dear Hadar ! Thank you for the new superb exhilarating, “made by Hadar” video. I think your video touches the spot on one of the most important problem of human communication in the future. At present the majority of our Globe’s inhabitants believes that the “Covid-19 epoch” might be long but will end some day. Unfortunately, may be this hope is not true. We have to try to adopt the thought that in the future, like at present, we often will be forced to use face masks, if we don’t want to risk our lives. (Our knowledges about the RNA viruses are still relatively quite sparse. The member of korona-virus family causing Covid-19 is an RNA virus.) Of course, our using languages should be changed. We have to apply perhaps more new gestures. (See: Hall: “Silent language”) Laszlo Latzkovits

  7. Very Useful Video ,
    I think the pronunciation is very important when we have the mask on and the Voice should be emphasize the consonants, sometimes the people doesn’t like hear which other speak with energy so I think we have to avoid speak loudly in many places, but like you said it is really dificult to hear another people when is talking with a mask on, so I choose the pronunciation.

    Thanks hadar for your video

  8. Amazing! Thank you very much !
    The thing about the consonants was a revelation actually ☺ never thought about them this way…
    And about resonating too,very useful.
    Sadly I have noone to speak English with☺. Just learning it as Benedict Cumberbatch’s fangirl( fan old women?) with a hope my knowledge could be helpful to my little grandson when he’ll start to learn English ☺

  9. Nice artical. Even in Covid pandamic nice to see the creative artical and understanding the pain of communication. This is a brilliant example you expressed how masks are important for living and simultaneously you expressed how difficult communication without lips and facial expression. You proved that it’s just language won’t help without human expression.

    Keep posting this kind of expression to understand real hurdles of language communication.

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