Monday, 22 June 2009

I have a lazy soft palate

I now it sounds at best like something rude (and vaguely pornographic) and at worst like some alien deformity of the maxila but it's neither. It's a concept that comes up when you're doing voice or pronunciation exercices or - as in my case - taking accent lessons.
First of all, let's define "soft palate". Run the tip of your tongue (try not to do this in public) from the back of your top teeth towards the back of your throat. At one point, you'll find the palate lifts a bit and becomes spongy - rather than hard. That's the soft palate.
Some people are can raise and lower their soft palate very easily. Some of us struggle with this - because we have a "lazy" soft palate. One of the signs of a lazy soft palate is an unwanted nasality (which means honking sounds through your nose) on some sounds. One way to check for this is to say: "fill this up" and then repeat it but this time holding your nose. If both versions sound the same, then there's no nasality, if they sound different, then you may have a lazy soft palate issue.
It's reversible, to a point. They give you exercises: gegegegegegegegege GA, kekekekekekekekekekek KA, etc... to wake up the soft palate and hopefully allow you to make certain sounds the way God intended.
Believe it or not - and contrary to what some non-native speaking accent coaches will tell you, not all vowels are nasal in the General American Accent. Actually, surprisingly few are. So if you pronounce them with nasality, you're off the mark.
In many ways, an actor's training is closer to an anatomy class than people realise. It's often about bits of your body that don't behave like they should. And here's the thing, they're not a problem in everyday real life. No one would notice a thing. But when it comes to acting, these little imperfections can really show up like great big flaws. None of them require surgery - plastic or otherwise - only good old practice and training.
And here's the catch: as soon as you stop practicing... the problem comes back! The body naturally gravitates back to what it's always done. So there's no letting up. It's practice practice practice, day in and day out. Whether you're working or not.
I have a lazy soft palate. Gegegegegegegegegegege GA!

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