Sunday, June 07, 2009

Sotto Voce

Just back from church and another sunday school session where I once again almost caused myself bodily harm trying to make myself audible to my little class of 8 teenaged girls, some of whom by the way, are much taller than me even in my 3 inch heels. That's the story of my life. Not the everyone towering over me bit. At 5'2, I'm perfectly happy with my view of the ground. What I'm not so happy about is my aggravatingly soft voice.

For as long as I can remember I was always told, "Speak up. Talk louder, nobody can hear you." I was always having to repeat myself. It didn't help that I was one of those painfully shy children who hang their heads and just can't seem to bring themselves to say a discernable word no matter how much they're coaxed. Of course as you get older, you don't find understanding, sympathetic adults supervising and helping your every move so I somehow must have learned to make a few slightly more distinct sounds over the years as I grew up. I have fond, proud memories of loud laughfests with friends and family, heated arguments - even the occasional screamathon with siblings, and then standing up in public and saying things without help of an amplifier. I even ended up with a job that calls for good, loud speaking, of all things.

But my poor voice remains my bugbear. Even when I think I'm speaking perfectly distinctly, people say, "Sorry, what did you say?" My sister constantly tells me to stop mumbling and at work, I haven't been given a large class (meaning something in excess of a 100 kids) for quite a few years now. Even with my smallish, 10 to 20 elite Honours classes, I still occasionally notice kids with furrowed brows, obviously straining against the noise pollution outside to catch the pearls of wisdom dropping from the teacher's mouth :D

Once in a while I do try lung exercises - the deep breaths in and out thing, and once it struck me that blowing balloons might be a great help. But I can never really remember to do it on a regular basis. So much as I'd love to sound authoritative and commanding and have people in splits with sharp, sotto voced repartee, I think I'll just have to resign myself to speaking pianissimo and have people eye me dubiously and go, "Yes dear, what was that again?"


  1. A class of 100? Is there such a thing? And do you have a classroom that big? I couldn't say for sure if your voice is soft or loud, but I think you sound like a small girl, on the phone, at least. Me, I tend to overdo the decibels a bit,maybe I should try the breathing exercises to tone down the volume and hopefully whisper soft romantic words in hushed tones.

  2. Yep, some classes have even been known to have almost 200 enrolments. That's why our jobs are sometimes called tlangau hna! I know mesjay can tell you a lot about that hehe. The UGC says there should be only 50 in a class and our new temp principal is trying to see to that but when accomodation is a problem, the kids tend to get packed like cattle in the bigger rooms.
    Me sound like a small girl? Cmon. I wish my lungs would let me overdo decibels too.

  3. it pays to enrich ur vocabulary and i just did mine at least music-oriented-ly (and i just made up a new one)
    Seriously where did u dig up words like "pianissimo"
    I used to mumble a lot, but in the recent past few years have learnt to speak out
    Taking lectures and tutorials helped me rather
    I still wish to be a teacher of some sort

  4. speak up i cant hear what you just blogged about.

  5. Oh, I'm just a musical person, Op, I sing words like that every day :D

    Whaa-aa-aa-t, Mosquito? Can't hear you either.

  6. Wonder why educational institutions haven't thought of installing mikes in classrooms? And a class of more than 50 is way too big. As for church adult Sunday school, no one can hear nothing any way.

  7. Hey J,I have the same problem. I have a really soft voice and I keep getting asked to repeat myself. It gets tiring, and boring. On the other hand, I can't bear people with loud voices either.

  8. Money, mesjay, it's usually the root of all problems.

    I empathise totally, diary. Just hate having to repeat myself too.

  9. Z, pianisimmo is perfectly ok. Please do not change to fortisimmo. "Speak softly and carry a big stick: you will go far" was the African proverb that Teddy Roosevelt quoted. That is what mature people do I suppose. Just don't forget the big stick if you must speak softly.

    As for your young students not hearing properly perhaps it is all the iPods and personal music systems that has damaged their hearing power. I wish we and specially the younger crowd would listen more to nature instead and really pay attention to Newton's third law of motion.

  10. Nope, it's not perfectly ok, Loch. Especially in a classroom situation. I've always disliked barely there teachers who you have to strain really hard to get a earful of. Also it's hard to project authority and confidence when you have to keep repeating yourself.

    Funny thing but just this Tuesday, I got saddled with extra work where I have to teach a 110 strong class of just-out-of-school greenhorns every Wednesday. Luckily I've got the prose section so I can make the kids help out by getting them to read out loud for the entire class select paragraphs from their texts. Dire straits call for ingenious measures :o)

  11. I would have thought that it was ok. I do not know if you ever had the good fortune of having Miss Hawke as your English Lang. and English Lit. teacher. She was pianississimo but passionato and was always able to command the full attention and respect of the entire class. Of course that was our generation that ALWAYS respected the teachers but she was one notch above other teachers.

    I suppose it also helped that it was high school and not university and the class strength was small as compared to the gargantuan ones you have to deal with.

    So I reckon that you have to go for fff rather than pp.

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  13. Awww thanks, pica, you're embarrassing me hehe. I just have a low pitched voice, is all.

    Loch, you suppose right. There's a world of difference between school (especially the cloistered atmosphere of a boarding school where 99% of the students and staff are boarders and know each other inside out) and college with just out of school and uniforms happy-go-lucky greenhorns who aren't even expected to know the names of all the teachers, but just blissfully harbour the illusion that 3 years of college is one long, extended picnic hehe.

  14. Phone a biak a nuam a nia.. nem dam thlap mai a.. hhehehee
    ti daih ila.. i aw hi chu baktea ten phone-a CK nan han hmang tak tak mai se chuan.. a be tlu hnem thei khawp ang.

  15. A voice hi a soft vak poh ka ti lo, kei chu. Ama insawi ang 'I just have a low pitched voice', tih hi a dikin ka hria.
    Thurawn: I pindanah heavy music playback-in zai vak vak rawh. Zai zir pah, tawng rin zir pah i ni mai dawn a :)

  16. Hihi elexx, kchu HJi hi lom phone a biak nuam ka tih chu. Ck tawk hian a'n nui deuh her her ngei a, a aw lah a hmel phu lovin a zangkhai bok si. A be thlu hnem reng ani lomni kha? :P

    samupa, zai te chu ka thiam sa lutuk, han zir leh chuan tur a om toh lo hehe. Tak tak a na, tlem a rei deuh han zai or aw han chhuah deuh hian a lawi vek zel. Ka khuh vak vak a ka chau der.