English: Most common English diction problems
Herein is contained the various responses that I have received from my
query about common English diction problems. I did not receive any
responses concerning web sites. Thanks for all your assistance. You have
been very helpful.
P. Kevin Suiter, D.M.A.
Music Program Coordinator
Appalachian Bible College
Bradley WV 28642
(304)877-6428, ext. 3255
What are some of the most common English diction problems that you find
yourself correcting (recorrecting?) in rehearsals? Please share the
problem and your recommended solution. I'll compile a list and post if
there is interest.
Our wonderful vowel errrr.
For over eight I've been working to rid a church choir of this, yet with
every new text, it sounds as if I'm confronting a band of pirates.
That's easy! It's when my choir pronounces "angels" as "an-JELLS" instead
of with a schwa. The difficult occurs when the second syllable of "angels"
must receive a full beat.
Ruth McKendree Treen
I am always excising the hard "r".
I also struggle with the volume of the voiced consonants "d" and "g". I
sometimes try to move the placement of these to get them to pop a little.
I also need to work with my (mostly older) choir on moving quickly to the
vowel, especially where there are slow developing blends.
I work from time to time on singing on the front of the diphthong
(we are in Chicago)
too-strong retroflex "r" (to choir: leave off the "r" or flip it or roll
depending on the style and origin of the piece)
"oo" that sounds like "ewww" (as in "Yucky!") (to choir: sing "oo" as in
"moon"; round the lips as if you're using a large straw)
voiced consonants that are not pitched, so they sound unvoiced (i.e. "love"
(fix this with demonstration and repetition)
I'm sure these problems vary from region to region, and that there are also
some common problems.
Greetings, Kevin. My most common English diction problems are
1. The I and A diphthongs--teaching the students to sing the first
sound of the diphthong. I use examples of how not to do it. I tell my
students that if they recorded me saying a long "I" sound, it would
sound like AAAAAAAAHHHHHEEEEE. A long A sound would be EEEEHHHHEEEE. I
explain that going to the second part of the diphthong would make them
sound like some country-western singers. Then they understand what I am
talking about. We talk about Professor Henry Higgins in "My Fair Lady"
trying to change speech patterns of Eliza Doolittle.
2. Not putting ending consonants on words. So I pronounce the
text--overemphasizing the ending consonants and they have to repeat it
back to me exactly as I spoke it.
3. Singing UH instead of AH. I created the "Land of Ah's" poster
featuring "Dorothy and the gang"--on the yellow bricks we write the
words such as WAS, WHAT, THE, OF, LOVE, UPON, MOTHER, etc. So there's
the visual approach. Then I also pronounce the words like above and
they have to repeat it back to me. I recite the text with great
dramatic flair and the students like to repeat it back to me with great
dramatic flair. I also have a "Hot Tip" bulletin board featuring:
Never sing an UH unless you are substituting it for an ER like in RIVER,
EVER, FOREVER, EARTH, etc. and we periodically add new words to the hot
Moriarty High School Choral Director
Moriarty, New Mexico
My diction pet peeves:
- "let you" and other words ending with "t" followed by you or your
pronounced like "leh-choo" - it sounds like a sneeze in the middle of your
- "our" pronounced like the pirate's "arrr"! - please, sing it more like
any diphthong which includes the sustained "ah"
Mr. Suiter --
My most common problems are placement of final consonants (t, d, p, and s)
and 'hissing' [s]'s in words like "Christmas."
Craig C. Hawkins
I think this will depend on the language and social background of your
students (although not quite as much as with vowels). With US students I
often have a problem with the hard r sound. With English students, never.
With students from East coast US and English students whose parents speak
with what we call BBC english, a dropped t or h is less common.
In general, the most common problems tend to do with elision of final
consonants onto initial vowels. This can be taught quickly through
It's not - It's snot usually raises a laugh and the kids always remember
Gladly the cross I'd bear - Gladly the cross-eyed bear also works and a
littl more wholesome.
Getting the kids to find examples in the text where this could happen is
always interesting. You would think it was straight forward until you hear
some of the responses.
Choir and Assistant Band Director
Hong Kong International School
Off the top of my head (which is rather flat! LOL!), there's:
beautiful (byoo tee ful rather than byoo tih ful)
highest (high yest rather than high est)
Any word ending in "y" such as "Glory" (glo ree rather than glo rih)
Any word ending in "ing" such as "living" (usually sounds like a "y"
"Praise" usually sounds like "raise"
"Israel" (Iz rye el or Iss ray el versus Iz ray el)
To correct these things, I point them out, demonstrate, have them say the
word both ways, then sing it both ways so they can both hear and feel the
difference, then go with the correct way. I also use a tape recorder and
have them listen to a phrase or section and tell me what's "wrong."
Craig D. Collins
Director of Music Ministry
Mt. Zion United Methodist Church
19600 Zion Street
Cornelius, NC 28031