I mentioned 'flow' in my last blog.

I mentioned 'flow' in my last blog.  How do teachers establish the right atmosphere for achieving a flow state in their classes.  Well, one component is the way they use their voices.  A tired flat voice is guaranteed to close down access to flow!  But a vibrant voice, full of energy and life is one way to enagge positively with learners.  Just think back to your own learning history and visualize a teacher who had a memorable voice (either positively or negatively). 

It is particularly important for language teachers to use the resource of their voice well.  Learners will inevitably associate the impressions they have of your voice with their overall impression of the language they are learning. You can literally turn them on - or off - by the way you sound.

In view of this, it is scandalous (in my view) that teacher tyraining courses do not incorporate a voice training element in their programmes.  Your voice is your number one resource: it sets the tone for everything you do; it identifies you as an interesting or a boring person; it gives your students a model to work towards.  What is more, if you misuse or overuse your voice, eventually you will have serious problems.  And your voice is not like a car - when it breaks down, you cannot go out and buy a new one.

I believe it is high time we atarted to take our voices seriously.  How about you?

Alan's now finished blogging on the site - check the Guest Writers page to see contributions from other guests.


Dear Alan,I agree with you that 'voice training' should be included in teacher training programmes. Often during training programmes, I have had to incorporate activities where participants talk in whispers, stand in diagonally opposite corners of the room and have a conversation with each other etc. to drive home the point that they can use their voice effcetively even if they haven't been trained to sing!Best wishes,Shefali 

Dear Alan,I have read your entries with absolute interest. In my blog, I have made some comments on the points you've forwarded concerning the 'flow situation' - you can also see them below. I would like to come back with some more comments on ER.Please visit my blog, where you can also read my previous entries. I would be very honoured to receive comments from you, a very experienced person in ELT, on issues I am raising concerning ELT in developing contexts like Ethiopia.Nigussie Comments from my blog:I have been reading your entries very keenly. I would like to make some comments on the teachers’ responsibilities one of which is creating the ‘flow.’ Yes the teacher has very many and complex responsibilities. For me the challenge becomes too much if they have students who are not, for various reasons, motivated to learn. Teaching as creating conducive environment for learning becomes easy for them if the students are motivated or hungry to learn. In some contexts there are established education practices or students’ cultures that teachers should deal with.  I have thought of Csikszentmihaly's description of flow situations in terms of the learner’s state of engagement. Now you present the teacher’s role in creating the flow atmosphere and you mention the voice factor. I do agree voice use can put of or attract listeners. Yes training in this area can add to what Dick Allwright calls the teacher’s ‘receptivity’ by the students. After all other professions, such political carrier teach public speaking and using the voice to that effect. Of course as you have rightly indicated, teachers who, of course doing public speaking in their own ways, are not trained to exploit their voices.  Reflecting on my experiences as a student, a teacher and now a teacher trainer, I have realized people naturally prefer deep and sonorant or ‘radioic’ voice. But what happens to some naturally squeaky ones? In some contexts, teachers (of English and other subjects) seem to be respected and therefore listened to, based on how well they speak the language, especially if they have standard British or American accent. But sustaining the flow situation in lessons goes beyond good pronunciation and voice. The teacher should have good contents to deliver at the level appropriate to the students.  What do you think?Nigussie

Dear Shefali,Many thanks for your supportive comments.As you say, there is no need to have been trained as a singer. (In fact, the techniques for using the singing voice a re a little different from those for the speaking voice.)  The main thing is to offer a range of activities for teachers - physical and vocal warm-ups, exercises for developing breathing support, for volume and modulation, for clear articulation of consonants, and for expressivity and variety.  I can't describe all these in detail here but I put a lot of them in my book 'The Language Teacher's Voice , which is sadly but predictably, out of print. With best wishes Alan

Dear Nigussie,Thank you so much for introducing yourself and for drawing my attention to your blog.  Also for your comments.You are right of course, that creating 'flow' is not easy, especially if you have a class which is unwillingly being forced to learn something they dislike.  Even in cases like this though, some teachers do manage to find the right button to push which opens the door to their students' interests and channels them positively.  But I agree, it is easier said than done.  But in order to affect the students' 'receptivity' (which you aptly mention) the teacher has to be in a state of receptivity herself, open to what happens, in the manner of the clown I mentioned elsewhere. (Adrian Underhill's recent series of articles in the IATEFL Teacher Development SIG's newsletter deal in some detail with this quality of being available to act 'in the moment'.  If you can get hold of them, I recommend them.)Coming to voice, and the issue of squeaky, or other kinds of negatively perceived voices (nasal, adenoidal, scratchy, gravelly, forced, very high-pitched, etc.) we need to realise that a voice is something very closely bound up with our habits and personality.  As a result, it is very difficult to change the kind of voice you have, and it is certainly no quick fix.  The first step is to 'hear yourself as others hear you', that is to be aware that others find your voice ineffectual or even unpleasant to listen to.  Once you are aware of it, you can choose to do something about it.  One simple thing to do is to slow down your pace of delivery.  This gives you more control over your voice and your breathing.  Another is to speak less, with longer pauses.  This too gives you thinking time.  But to change your voice in the direction of a deeper, more mellifluous vocal delivery is a hard and long road to travel.  As most writers on voice point out, what is habitual in voice use, is not necessarily natural, so that many of us have got used to speaking in a certain way, which feels normal but which is often putting unnecessary strain on the voice.  But changing a habit...is not at all easy. I think I should stop here before this turns into another book on voice!  If you have other questions, do ask though. Best wishes Alan  

Dear Prof. Alan, our voice contains unspoken communication, such as our mood, our personality, our health status and so on, which means our voice can be influenced by many factors. Voice training for teachers should be attached great importance to. Unfortunately, not many teacehrs have been lucky enough. Luckily, I got your book Teachers' Voice when I was in Thailand. Thank you for your guidance. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Dear Alan,
Indeed, this is a very important point to consider. I myself have just finished my teacher training courses at my university, and I can count myself lucky. I have been participating on a project involving drama and English teaching, so I have had drama lessons including breathing, pelvic floor and voice; however, I still haven't managed to get used to doiong it! (And it has been more than a year).
I do know what one is supposed to do, but can't manage to do it naturally, asi you said, it is difficult to change! Once I realise that I am loosing my voice when am teaching, THEN I start doing it... (baaad, I know!)
Also, the teachers at my uni have realised about this problem and now have included more drama courses for the students where the breathing techniques are "taught", and I just hope that we stop being "unconscious" and start taking it seriously (and maybe practising every day? I know I don't do it...)
Well, thanks for making me think about it again.. I guess I'll better practise a bit now, hehe

Dear Meng Tian,Yes.  Our voices are an infallible sign of who we are and how we are feeling.  A kind of barometer of the state of our well-being, as Patsy Rodenburg calls it.  Your voice print is every bit as individual as your finger-prints. best wishes Prof. Alan.

Dear Kathy, Good for you if you have been doing that drama work!  it is important to persist though because, as you have realised, making changes are a slow business.  But at least you have mmade a start! Best wishes Alan