In voice acting, what does “enunciate” really mean? Part 1 of 2.
Oct 12 2017
NOTE: This is the first post in a 2-part article. Click here to read Part 2!
You can’t be a voice talent without having encountered the word “enunciate.” Even if you’ve spoken very clearly all your life, and no coach or director has ever complained that you need to enunciate more, surely you’ve thought about it. Or read about it. Understanding how to enunciate is key to a voice-over career. After all, no matter if you master all other voice-over skills and do everything else right with your read, it’s for nothing if your listener can’t tell what you said.
But one of those other skills is “sound natural,” and in most genres sounding natural is equally important. Can the two skills work together? What does “enunciate” really mean?
Maybe it will help if, instead of “enunciate,” we say “speak clearly.” Because that’s what we mean. When a coach says “enunciate,” they usually mean “enunciate more.” The practice of enunciation is not absolute. There are differing degrees. Exactly how clear do you need to be? The art is in finding a happy medium – the range of intelligibility that is easily understood, yet fits the script’s tone or character.
Too much enunciation can make you sound “stand-offish.” You know the stereotype: it sounds like a character in a goofy 1930s comedy where some professor or upper-crusty type pro-noun-ces e-ver-y letttter and syl-ab-buhl separately. And maybe even rolls their R’s.
Unless you’re playing such a character, that’s way too much.
But at the other extreme, you’re not speaking clearly enough if people think you said “What’s the Biggie’s turtle you met?” when the script said “What’s the biggest hurdle you’ve met?”
The key lies in “what’s ‘natural’?” Part of the answer to that is what feels “natural” to you. If you’re a habitual mumbler (as many people are), hopefully a coach has already cured you of that. But if not, then you should practice enunciation. Many people mumble, but many other people are naturally easily understood – people in all walks of life, at all educational levels, and in all sorts of situations . As we said, that’s the trick – enunciate naturally.
If speaking clearly feels unnatural to you, then make this part of your daily practice: “exaggerate” your tongue, lip and jaw movements, in order to clearly form the necessary sounds. Open your lips more when you form vowel sounds. Be conscious of how your tongue moves to make its sounds. And move your jaw a bit more.
We’ve put “exaggerate” in quotes, because it may feel like exaggerated movement if you ordinarily mumble. But to your listener it will simply sound normal. And once it becomes a habit, it will feel normal, too. You’ll have an innate sense of the range of enunciation available to you.
You can then enunciate more or less, but at whatever extent, you’ll be able to enunciate without having to focus on it. That frees you to be more natural in your performance. Depending on the situation and character, you can be less crisp, maybe even mumble an inconsequential word now and then. But err on the side of being understood.
Click here to read Part 2! You read VO scripts clearly. Why don’t people hear you?