Monday, May 1, 2017


“Tongue tied” means unable to speak, usually from being nervous. This week, we give a special slant to this expression --when you can’t speak because the words themselves seem to be tangled up in your mouth, getting in the way of each other.

Talking about how you must adopt a special “mouth shape” for clear English, we move from the lips (last week’s posting) to another critical mouth part, the tongue.

Like lips, the tongue must be free of tension (Russian speakers especially!). It should rest in a concave shape, with the center lower than the edges, somewhat like a bowl. When not speaking, an American’s tongue falls into this “default position,” relaxed at the bottom of the mouth with the tongue tip (the “front edge of that bowl”) touching the back of the lower front teeth.

This resting position makes it easy to say “uh” (technically called the “schwah”). We use “uh” all the time…when we’re thinking before speaking (uh, well, uh, let me think about that); when we say any vowel sound in an unstressed syllable (“photography” becomes “phuh – TOG – ruh – phy”); and as a common vowel sound itself (punish, double, flutter).

The tongue tip is used more than any other part of the tongue for many troublesome consonants in English, such as the D, T, N and L –especially hard for East and Southeast Asian speakers. To get this right, you need instruction and practice, but even then, it’s possible only when your tongue starts from a concave position.

And the TH – EVERYBODY’s problem—requires your tongue tip to touch lightly between the upper and lower front teeth. Looking in the mirror, you must see that tongue tip jutting out between your teeth for just a second, to get the English TH right.

Next week’s tip concerns two final ways to add power and confidence to your American English speech: opening your jaw more broadly than ever, and “power breathing,” as opera singers and Olympic swimmers do best!