I saw Porgy and Bess at the Metropolitan Opera — Truly an important production of a wonderful work of art. And, it was wonderful.
What strikes me this morning is that I sat through three hours of an opera that employs a pretty distinct dialect but I could understand most of the cast quite clearly. In fact, the diction was no less clear than in an opera without a distinct dialect. I am certain that other audience members had a different experience because we are all interpreting language through our own filters.
If Spanish is your first language, Spanish accents are likely fairly easy for you to parse — perhaps even those from dialects you do not speak. The same would apply to regional accents you are familiar with. Your filter for those sounds makes them easy for you to understand. I have heard this particular dialect in this opera many times, so my filter was primed for it.
Filters can be extremely useful but they can also cause problems. Your filter can cause you to exclude certain sounds making it harder to understand speakers outside of your experience. So how do we begin to be better listeners? We must begin with understanding our filters.
Take a little time today to catalog the speech patterns you use and/or have ease in understanding. Try to identify any speech patterns that are clearly difficult for you, this may be specifically a person or persons we have trouble understanding.
Lastly, when you have trouble understanding a person’s speech — don’t assume their accent or speech pattern is at fault. Take a moment to really focus on how you are hearing them and how you can help build a common language.
Gina Razón is the principal voice specialist at GROW Voice LLC, a full-service voice and speech studio in Boston’s Back Bay. She has over 16 years of experience both as a teacher of voice and speech, and a voraciously curious voice user. Gina has worked professionally as a classical singer for over a decade and more recently as a professional public speaker. For more information on the studio or to book Gina visit www.growvoice.com.