The way we usually speak is not necessarily appropriate for singing. What with regional dialects and general sloppiness, we put up with much inaccurate speech that we don’t even notice. When singing in English the best way to be understood is to use what’s sometimes called Elevated Standard American English. It’s what has long been equated with “correct” pronunciation. Before CNN came along, all national newscasters would have sounded like this. It was considered understandable to all Americans, with just a bit of an educated and authoritative quality. (Note: This may not be the way to say the words of a country song, spiritual, character piece or Death Metal hit, but familiarity with proper pronunciation helps all singers make better choices.)
There are a huge number of words that are commonly mispronounced. See if you say these words correctly:
- Recognize – Don’t forget the G.
- Strong – There is no SH at the beginning.
- New – Should rhyme with few.
- Pen – In this part of the country it often rhymes with pin. Incorrect!
- Immediate – Does not start with uh.
- Dream – There’s no J at the beginning
- Tree – No CH at the beginning.
- Twenty – Eh, not uh, and there’s that second T to remember.
- Educate – That’s a D, not a J. Try Ed-yoo-kate
- I’ll – Should rhyme with aisle.
For some reason, Israel is not sung the way we say it. It is sung Iz-rah-el. That’s actually closer to the way it’s spelled.
Remember that English is hardly ever phonetic. When you learned to read, sounding out a word may have given you trouble with nuptial, iron and thigh, along with many others. And if you compare through, though, ought, and rough, you can see that the way words are spelled can be very misleading. Singers need to be aware of the sounds of a word not the spelling.
The International Phonetic Alphabet, or IPA, is used to write out the way a word sounds, and is used by singers to notate foreign words as well as correct English pronunciation.