Vox Daily The Official Voices.com Blog

Do Different Languages Use Different Facial Muscles?

By Stephanie Ciccarelli

March 2, 2010

Comments (11)

Smiling Girl SingingEver notice that your face may feel different depending on what language you are speaking?

Just as voicing multiple characters in quick succession can be challenging, switching from one language to another can also pose interesting muscular challenges.

Does this happen to you? Share your stories on VOX Daily!

What a Workout!

When I used to sing professionally, my repertory included music with lyrics in a number of languages ranging from the Romance languages through Germanic tongues.

Aside from some obvious differences in diction and phrasing, singing in different languages is a physical process that takes into account the shaping of vowels, emphasis on consonants and any glottal stops along the way.

Singing in any of the Romance languages was by far the least demanding on my facial muscles. The easiest language for me was French followed by Italian, however, singing in German was altogether a different experience that affected my facial musculature in more demanding ways.

Your facial musculature includes everything from your jaw to your tongue. There are also other elements to consider when speaking such as where your tongue touches your teeth or which palate you are employing when shaping vowels in conjunction with your tongue. I'm not a doctor and don't claim to know the entire geography of these muscles but know that there is more at work when you speak than meets the eye.

As a native speaker of a Germanic language, you'd think (at least in theory), that an English speaker would find German to be somewhat easy. For me, German was a real effort, so much so that I can still feel how certain words and vowels sat in an almost unnatural state in my chin and jaw when compared to the flowing and decidedly graceful Romance languages.

The "E" vowel as in "See" is my favorite vowel to sing on in higher ranges of my voice. I also studied French for years. Perhaps this is why I excelled in French more than any other language but it could also be because it just felt right placement and phrasing wise.

What I find interesting is that your muscles carry memories and know what to do when you see a word.

Also, you may have noticed that not only do your muscles have memory (hence muscle memory) but you can also have breath memory. This is particularly true if you remember where you need to breathe from to set up a phrase or if you have perfected a song (or recitative).

What Have Your Experiences Been?

Are certain languages easier for you than others? Do you speak a couple or more languages in a given day and find it to be an interesting shift?

Looking forward to hearing from you,

Stephanie

©iStockphoto.com/Konstantin Yuganov

Related Topics: French, German, languages, music, singing, speaking, voice overs, voice talent, Voices.com


Comments


    Different languages do use different facial muscles - that's for sure!

    For many years I lived and worked in Japan. My day job required me to speak Japanese (thus helping me become fluent in the language). Here's what I learned:

    The Japanese language has only about 75 different phonetic sounds... English has more than twice as many. Sounds like 'th', 'r', 'v', strong 'f', and others do not exist in the language. So, when Japanese people try to learn English, they actually have to build up their unused facial muscles. For some, learning English is a kind of training to help keep their faces young looking. I kid you not. The faces of elderly Japanese people "sag" quite a bit. So speaking English is believed by some to help keep your youthful appearance.

    In contrast, there was only one new Japanese sound that I had to learn (a strange 'lrd' that's not in English). But, the language itself has a very "machine gun" style of delivery that requires a different kind of muscle control in the throat. After the first few months of learning the language, my throat muscles often became tired from the exertion.

    Now, I'm working on learning Chinese. Why? Because it's a very tonal language. I'm hoping it will help to strengthen the tonal variety in my native English speech.

    Best wishes,
    -David

    Posted by:
    • David
    • March 2, 2010 6:06 PM

      Good topic, Stephanie...

      Even accents (and characters) use different facial muscles. Some of the voices I do can be a real workout. It works just as well in reverse - adopting a particular face will change your speaking voice (I can hear you smiling, yes/no?)

      David: best of luck with Chinese. (I'm working on Japanese right now).

      I had read a study that indicated people who learned a tonal language when they were young had a higher percentage of singers with "Perfect Pitch"... Now they tell me!

      Posted by:

        What an informative article! Although I barely speak ONE language in a semi-coherent manner, it made me more aware of what actually works in my mouth and how it works when I'm voicing whatever.
        Very cool, Stephanie!

        Posted by:

          Seems to me, that Japanese uses more the middle and back of my mouth, whilst Italian uses more the front -- with the rolling rrrrr's etc.! This isn't a hard and fast rule, but generally it feels this way.

          cheers.
          :D

          p.s. I agree with David, there is a machine-gun feel to some Japanese words. Takes practice to master. I rather like it!

          Posted by:

            I would definitely agree with the different issues in singing in various languages since I also am a singer. However, I think that also holds true for the different accents in the English language such as, British, Irish, and southern USA. Whether it is just speaking or when singing we do use various facial muscles in those instances too. And, it seems to become automatic as was stated in the VOX Daily. Thanks for another informative article.

            Carol Hahn

            Posted by:
            • Carol Hahn
            • March 3, 2010 11:19 AM

              I don't know if they use different facial muscles but they do use them in different combinations and ways. When I lived in Sweden many moons ago, it took me a long time to get my American mouth to make some of the sounds in the Swedish language that we don't have in English.

              Posted by:
              • Arlene Kahn
              • March 3, 2010 11:37 AM

                Yes, thus the difficulty in pronouncing a different language correctly and without an accent. Different languages focus on using different parts of the mouth and throat. English is very much at the front of the mouth with much of it involving the tongue behind the top front teeth. The "th" sound -- the expulsion of air while holding the tongue lightly between the top and bottom front teeth -- is, in my experience, unique to the English language. Most people from just about any language who are learning English have trouble with it.

                Posted by:
                • David Kersten
                • March 3, 2010 11:38 AM

                  Most definitely. Just like certain languages speak more from their throat or how some use their tongue more.

                  Posted by:

                    We have fun with our Turkish friends, and challenge them to say "three free trees" - the results are sometimes hilarious!

                    Posted by:
                    • Andy Boyns
                    • March 3, 2010 12:42 PM

                      We absolutely use different facial muscles when speaking other languages. I'd say we even use different muscles when we speak variations of our own language. I know my mouth hurts after doing certain accents!

                      Posted by:

                        I am stunned to be reading this article as we were just talking about the same subject during my singing lesson earlier this afternoon!! Weird!
                        I have been preparing "Cabaret" from the show of the same name for a recital in May and I'm having a problem of emphasizing the 'y' too much at the end of the words 'way' and 'holiday'. I'm closing my jaw and squeezing the sides of my mouth into almost a smile and producing an 'ayyyyyuh' sound. It's driving my teacher mad. He told me to stop using my cheek muscles....sing the long 'a' vowel and just bring my bottom jaw up at the end of the word which will create a gentle ay sound. It worked!!
                        As some of you already know, I'm British but live in Houston, Texas. I've been working on perfecting an American accent lately because local businesses want me to do their voicemail but have asked for me not to be British. I have found that the muscle memory thing is definitely apparent. The more I practice, the easier it is for me to produce a full sentence with lots of 'aarrrrs' in it without getting tongue-tied.
                        The sentence at the bottom of this page... "Are You Meeting Your Prospective Client's Needs" has lots of American aarrrrr sounds in it and at one time I would have found it almost impossible to get my mouth around the words without tripping all over them and ending up blowing a raspberry with frustration. It's not perfect yet....but my muscles are definitely remembering what to do!!

                        Riveting subject Stephanie. Love it!!

                        Pearl

                        Posted by:

Leave a Comment



Recent Articles

Clear Channel Rebranding Reshapes Radio's Future

Apple App Store Video Preview Is A Gamechanger

Don't Ignore Your Vocal Health

Microsoft Buying Minecraft Creator Will Drive Mobile Voice

The 3 Things Voice Pros Can Learn From Sir Jony Ive

Don Pardo's Final Voice Lesson

iPhone 6, 6 Plus & Apple Watch: Studio On The Go for Voice Pros

Apple iWatch Could Drive Voice Over Market

How Localization Unlocks Business Growth Potential

Are You a Self-Made Voice Over Actor?

   

Translation Services

Professional Translation Services

Looking for professional translation? Voices.com Translations is provides language services including translation and localization to help you expand into new markets

Get a quote on translation services

Subscribe by Email

About Vox Daily

Vox Daily offers a daily dose of voice acting news, articles, tutorials, interviews, intelligent conversation and business ideas for voice talent and voice actors.


Follow Us

   

Our feed & social options update you with special offers and news as it happens.

New YouTube Video

Watch videos on YouTube