“Wait — you’re not Hugh Grant? Whoops.”

Teddy Wayne pens a fantastic, farcical tips article for public speaking.

One of my favorite tips:

Focus on one person in the middle of the crowd throughout your speech. Afterward, trail him home. Knock on his door. Offer an introduction like, “Hi. I’m from the speech. Earlier.” He’ll reply with something along the lines of, “I know. Um…what are you doing here?” “I thought”—you’ll stammer, searching for the right words—“I just thought we could hang out, maybe, and be friends.” “I have friends,” he’ll probably say. “And I’m with my family now.” Blurt out, too quickly, “I’m not trying to replace your family!” He’ll close the door in your face, gently, more out of pity than fear. Don’t use him as a crowd-focusing person for the next speech, because it would be weird.

If you are looking for more effective, less flippant public speaking strategies, you can always work with us here, either in person or via Skype coaching!

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“Moles live in holes.”

Why is it important to learn a poem by heart? Robert Butler interviewed a painter in his mid 80s who had W.H. Auden as a teacher in the 1930s:

He also said that Auden would insist that the boys in his class learn poem after poem by heart. Even parrot-fashion. Auden said it didn’t matter whether they understood them. If they learnt the poems now, they would not forget them and maybe, later in life, they would understand them. “It’s true,” the painter told me, “I can still remember them.”

Why does learning a poem by heart help us understand it better? It’s because poems are meant to be spoken and heard as opposed to read, just like choreography is meant to be seen and music is supposed to be felt and listened to. A poem should not just go into our eyes and then into our brains. It should be breathed and experienced in our bodies. Memorizing it puts it into our bodies, into our nervous system. And the chance of finding more of its sense will be much greater. This dude remembers lines of poetry he memorized 75 years ago. They are in his bones.

The Chameleon Effect

A study done at the University of Canterbury in NZ has been researching:

… a phenomenon known as the chameleon effect, in which people subtly shift their body language and speech pattern to imitate others.

Voice teachers and other practitioners who work in a psychosomatic way are already aware of the connection between our bodies, our voices, and our interpersonal experiences. I’m interested in the cross-cultural implications of these types of findings. Does this happen just as much when two people meet from vastly different countries? Are there effective ways to train, for example, the international business sector, to do this respectfully and effectively?

“I’m a burger.”

Pakistani-born writer Omar Akhtar reflects on how his Pakistani accent has become Americanized from living in the US.

Nothing wrong with an American accent on its own. But for someone like me, who had grown up in Pakistan, there were all sorts of connotations. I was a sellout. I must be ashamed of my own culture and identity. I must think I’m better than everyone else. I’m a burger Back home, there was a special kind of loathing reserved for kids who had American accents. British accents were acceptable since all our post-colonial teachers held it as a gold standard and we still related to that culture. But if you had an American accent, it conjured up the most irrational rage in the people around you.

These are great reminders as to how we make cultural judgments based on how a speaker sounds, particularly if they used to sound like us and don’t anymore. This is a common experience for acting students who go home to see their families after they begin training in a ‘standard’ stage accent such as Received Pronunciation or General American.

Akhtar goes on to question the change in his accent:

I justified it to myself saying that I spoke in an American accent to Americans while maintaining my native accent when speaking to friends or family from home. But isn’t that sort of phony as well?

No, it’s not phony. It’s code-switching and we do this all the time depending on the status of the person we’re speaking with the relationship between us. Sometimes it’s just a matter of tone and vocabulary, but it can also shift into accent/dialectical changes as well.
The rest of Akhtar’s article discusses why many of us shift our accents to succeed in things like getting jobs and improving our credibility. It’s well worth a read and is a good reminder that it is the listener who has the power to make judgments about a person based on how they sound, whether they are consciously doing it or not. As Patsy Rodenburg says, “To the ears of others we are what we speak.”

Why blog?

After 2 decades of playing Puerto Ricans and Mexicans, my first role as a Korean-American. photo by Jeanne Modderman

After 2 decades of playing Puerto Ricans and Mexicans, my first role as a Korean-American. photo by Jeanne Modderman

I’ve started this blog for a number of reasons.

  1. I like to share stuff. Like good poems. And avocado recipes.
  2. After years of collecting internet bits and bobs, it will be helpful for my research for me to have them all in one place.
  3. Talking about race, identity, and privilege is hard. There is still an outdated belief that if you bring these things up, you are racist yourself. So instead, as educators and those working in the theatre industry, we stay silent, we don’t engage. If we are teaching our students to use their literal and figurative voices, shouldn’t we be using ours to pursue our epistemological curiosities?
  4. I’ve found that teachers and those in the creative arts can actually be the most resistant to examining privilege in their own practice. Working in theatre or working in higher education can give someone a grand sense of progressiveness that can convince us that we are the ‘good guys’ when it comes to horrible things like cultural marginalization. After all, we are smart and we are artsy! I’ve been guilty of this in the past, myself. This can be incredibly insidious and therefore, much harder to address and examine. I hope that some readers will be able to reflect on their own practice within some of the contexts I present or in light of some of the questions I raise. And I invite you to engage and call me on my own bullshit. Because this is still a process for me, and I openly and happily admit that I know very, very little.
  5. If I am to support and nurture my students in a way that encourages them to use their own voices in a truthful way, I find it difficult to reconcile the fact that I must assimilate my own figurative voice for a still very conservative academic context. If I want to write for a journal or give a presentation, I often need to adhere to specific guidelines in order to legitimize myself academically (there are some enclaves of academics and creatives who are getting together to revolutionize this! More on that soon!) I know I’ll need to assimilate at times, but this blog allows me to write in a way that is free from such constrictions. And perhaps there I will be able to experiment with other ways to legitimately express oneself academically while still being creative, unconventional, and myself.
  6. bell hooks was devastated when her White teachers told her that people who looked like her didn’t have much to offer when it came to good writing. I hope to post lots of amazing text, voicework, and poetry from all over the world. This begs the question, however, of cultural appropriation in our classrooms and when/how it is okay to use something from another place. I’m looking forward to this discussion!

You will probably dig this blog if you:

  • are a voice teacher. Or if you just are interested in the voice. Or sociolinguistics. Or accents. I  will post loads of voicey things and good poems to use in your classes that are hopefully not mostly written by White, dead, men (maybe some, though. I do love me some Jack Gilbert. And he is newly dead, so).
  • are interested in exploring your own identity and relationship to privilege.
  • are an English language teacher and are concerned with your role within an international context. Are you empowering or disempowering your students by continuing to teach English as a tool for success?
  • are someone with a pluralistic background and are interested to see how identity and voice intersect. I’m interested in this myself. It’s pretty much my jam.
  • like interculturalism. Or if you really hate the term ‘interculturalism’ because it connotes that cultures can manifest some sort of authentic essentialism and borders (pssst: I don’t think they can).
  • are a pedagogue who is interested in ways to be more inclusive to diverse student bodies.
  • aren’t too easily offended. My household is full of New York/Glasgwegian cussin’.
  • like avocados as much as me. If that’s the case, we’re pretty much BFFs already.

Soooooo enjoy. And engage. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.