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On television, for example, men - for obvious reasons - are mostly interpreted by male interpreters and women by female interpreters. However, there are also considerable differences in voices of either sex. For example, we might end up having to interpret someone with a much younger or a much older voice than ours.

Apart from trying to find sound files or videos (e.g. on YouTube) where we may listen to the speaker beforehand and get used to his or her diction and voice and maybe adapt our own voice to it as best as we can, what else do you do to "tune" your voice a little more in the direction of the speaker's voice if there is too much of a difference?

Some years ago, when reading stories to children, I tried to give each character of the story a different voice trying to remember the tone and timbre I had given to the character whenever it reoccurred in the story - something like this might be a useful exercise, but maybe you have more sophisticated suggestions.

Do you have any idea how actors do it?

asked 03 Mar '13, 19:21

AlmuteL's gravatar image


Yes, Angela is right, we should NOT try and imitate speakers's voices as if we were actors. That's a totally different profession which takes a long training. I was actually really just referring to slight adaptations of the voice if there is a major difference.

(04 Mar '13, 06:20) AlmuteL

Dear Almute,

I fully agree with Angela. In a "normal" setting (conference, liaison, community interpreting...) we should not imitate the speaker since it could be ridiculous and we could even offend the speaker. Of course, if the speaker shouts, as Angela says, we mustn't shout into the microphone. Nevertheless, I don't think we should always keep the same diction and volume. If the speaker shouts, we can (and in my opinion we should) raise a bit our loudness (that is, without exaggerating and imitating). We are interpreters (not actors), but we are no robots either. Therefore, we should adapt a bit our performance and convey the speaker's emotions (see also this related question). To this end, voice is indeed the best instrument in many cases, especially in TV/radio.

Before making some suggestions, let me explain the six properties of sound (including voice).

  1. Pitch: a steady state of vibrations (i.e. frequency of compression and rarefaction); a high or deep voice.
  2. Loudness (also called amplitude): louder or softer.
  3. Timbre: combination of all vibrations (with different amplitudes) happening at the same time; it is the colour or quality of your voice. If you play the same pitch (for example, the musical note A or La) with two different instruments (a flute and a guitar), you'll see that there is a difference. That is due to the structure or nature of every object or body.
  4. Duration: how long, how many seconds.
  5. Articulation or envelope: how you move into the beginning of a sound, for instance, the first milliseconds (soft or hard attack) of a word you pronounce.
  6. Diffusion or spacialization: from which location the sound comes from.

You can easily adapt pitch, loudness, duration and envelope, but every person or instrument has a different timbre, which is not easy to change physically (you can do it digitally). You cannot imitate the sound of a flute with a cello, and even different cellos have different timbres. Of course, some actors can imitate different voices after a lot of practice, but that's not the point here.

Maybe the most important property of a voice after the timbre is the pitch (how deep or high). And there is a little trick to control your pitch sitting on a chair. If you want to have a deeper voice, relax your body, lean your body back without touching the backrest of the chair and try to shift your weight to your coccyx (your thoracic diaphragm is expanded and your stomach is under tension). The first time it is better to try this exercise sitting on the floor. Once you have grasped this method, you'll be able to repeat it sitting on a chair. On the contrary, if you want to sound higher, well, this is easier. Apply more tension to your body and bow or lean your body forward (shrink or make your body smaller).

Other ways of adapting your voice, as I mentioned, is through loudness (louder of softer), duration (how long you pronounce a sound; "hellow" vs. "hellooooooow") and envelope (how you attack). I would recommend to analyse the properties of the speaker's voice before a TV assignment. An older person, for instance, will normally be softer in loudness, have a longer duration and a softer envelope.

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answered 04 Mar '13, 09:52

Delete's gravatar image

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edited 05 Mar '13, 02:31

Dear Nacho, THANK YOU SO MUCH, that's very helpful and I'll definitely remember your explanations and the suggestion concerning changing one's position on the chair.

(04 Mar '13, 10:13) AlmuteL

Ich rate zur Vorsicht bei dem Versuch, es professionellen Schauspielern oder Sprechern gleich zu machen.

Sie sind dafür ausgebildet (langjährige Universtitäts-Ausbilung) und haben eine andere Funktion. Zwei meiner Geschwister sind Schauspieler und Sprecher.

Ein Teilnehmer einer Konferenz sieht den Redner (und seine Gesten) und hört seine Stimme (neben der Stimme des Dolmetschers).

  • Das künstliche Imitieren (insbesondere von Laien) fällt auf.

  • Sollte ein Redner laut werden, ist es nicht nötig, dass der Dolmetscher seine Stimmbänder (und die Ohren der Zuhörer) zusätzlich strapaziert.

  • Der Zuhörer sieht den Redner und versteht die Intention.

  • Das Imitieren verstärkt den Eindruck beim Zuhörer und wird dem Redner nicht unbedingt gerecht.

  • Sollte ein Redner monoton reden, sollte wir das nicht zusätzlich durch unsere eigene (oft streßbedingte) Monotonie verstärken.

Was können wir von Sprechern und in Sprecherziehungskursen lernen?:

  • Uns selbst aufmerksamer zuhören, um u.a. Monotonie zu vermeiden.

  • Sätze mit einem Punkt in der Stimme abschliessen.

  • Lächeln im Gesicht = natürliches Lächeln in der Stimme

  • Artikulation

  • Atem- und Stimmführung. Der Zuhörer darf unseren eigenen Stress weder hören noch fühlen.

PS: Beim Dolmetschen im Fernsehen/Radio sieht es anders aus, weil die Zuhörer die Stimme des Redners kaum hören können.

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answered 04 Mar '13, 05:48

Angela's gravatar image


edited 04 Mar '13, 05:56

Ich stimme Angela vollkommen zu. Wir sollten nicht die Stimme des Redners imitieren. Aber die Frage bezieht sich auf Dolmetschen für Fernsehen und auf die Möglichkeiten, die wir haben, unsere Stimme etwas anzupassen.

(04 Mar '13, 09:53) Delete ♦
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question asked: 03 Mar '13, 19:21

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last updated: 05 Mar '13, 02:31

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