5 Ways Young Actors Can Improve Their Diction

Article Image
Photo Source: Pexels

Having clear and proper speech is essential. It’s how we communicate and share our ideas, and, more importantly, it lets us express emotion. For an actor, the voice and the body are tools that work together to tell a story. If one can’t be properly understood, how can a young actor do their job and get an audience engaged? Many of my younger students have trouble understanding and controlling their voices. Here are five ways young actors can improve their diction.

1. Tongue Twisters
“I want a cup of coffee in a proper coffee pot.” The first step to mastering diction is making your tongue flexible and the best way to do that is by exercising it, just like any other muscle. Start with something slow, making sure you’re enunciating the vowels. Then speed up and try to keep your jaw relaxed without dropping any syllables. If you want to work on controlling your voice quality (which actors can change to convey emotions), slow it down and assign different emotions to the tongue twister, noting how your voice changes with each. These can be really fun ways for students to gain better control over their voices.

2. Breath
Voice is produced when the air in the lungs passes over the vocal cords, making vibrations. If an actor doesn’t have proper breath support, they won’t be able to control their vocal intonations and will probably get tired more easily, too. But there’s good news! You’ve been breathing since you were born, so you’re already a master. First, make sure you have good posture. This will help you to maintain good vocal health. The voice can only be produced by an exhale, so actors need to work to build their breath support in a way that gives them better control (this is true for singers as well). Try placing a hand on either side of the area below your rib cage. Stand with good posture, inhale slowly, and hold your breath without straining for a count of six. Then exhale slowly while you count to 15, then 20, then 25, etc. This will help you to build your stamina and give you better volume onstage without needing to strain your voice.

3. Relax
Having a relaxed throat, lips, and tongue is the key to maintaining a healthy voice. Just make sure that before you begin any exercise or performance, including tongue twisters, your body and throat aren’t tense or strained. This will prevent you from being hoarse when you speak and sing.

4. Dialects
“The rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain.” Dialects are diverse and specific. Even if we say we can do an English accent, it’s unclear whether that means Southern English, Midland English, Northern English, Cockney, Geordie, or any one of the numerous tongues specific to the region. As such, to really master a dialect a young actor needs to have an ear for intonation, cadence, phrasing, inflection, and pitch. Working with a coach can be a great place to start, but there are also numerous books and CDs available to help (some personal favorite authors are Edda Sharpe, Jan Haydn Rowles, and Jerry Blunt). Make sure you have a solid grasp on the basics of diction before you begin. This will make it easier to start developing more fine-tuned skills.

5. Voiceover Work
We’ve seen a huge spike in voiceover work for actors during the pandemic, and we don’t predict this increase will dwindle any time soon. Voiceover work is a great way for young actors to flex their diction muscles once they understand diction because it relies solely on voice. It requires a good command of speech, tone, and inflection, but couples that with a need to understand character and intention. Voiceover work requires training and effort before it can be mastered, but when you think you’re ready, it can really help you to use your voice creatively which will help you master other work as well.

In our classes, we always start with a vocal warmup to wake up the lips, teeth, and tongue. This is because diction and vocal control are paramount to a good performance! When an actor can enunciate and use their voice to convey emotion, they can form deeper connections with viewers. If they start building these skills when they’re young, they’ll be unstoppable in whatever career path they choose.

Looking for remote work? Backstage has got you covered! Click here for auditions you can do from home!

The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

Author Headshot
Denise Simon
Denise Simon is a New York-based acting coach and career consultant who has been involved in the entertainment industry for more than 30 years as an actor, teacher, director, casting director and personal talent manager.
See full bio and articles here!