Tongue-Twister Tips for Voiceover: Beating CST
Today we’re looking at Tongue-Twister Tips for Voiceover: Beating CST. “What is CST” you ask? It stands for Cannot Say Today. As in, voice actors sharing on social media and message boards a nagging phrase that took them twelve takes to triumphantly trip through:
“Hey guys, CST: stacked deposition, and also the infamous: Irish Wristwatch.”
Let’s have a look at three core strategies to help voiceover actors deal with awkward CST phrases in scripts. First we’ll look at the standard strategies. And then we’ll introduce more advanced strategies that work against what triggers voiceover actors to stumble over certain words.
First: Use Time Honored Tongue-Twister Tips
One best tip for handling a tricky CST phrase is to exercise your mouth, breath, and thoroughly warm up. This won’t guarantee that you’ll say tricky words will the best feeling from a voice acting perspective. However, it will help you to fluidly get the words out, especially when doing cold reads. Another classic of the Tongue-Twister Tips for Voiceover is to take a step back, either physically or mentally, and say the tricky word or phrase at a different speed, intonation, or pitch. Sometimes it is effective to say it in an extreme or silly voice. This will break down any sense of self-awareness when saying the word. Then, gradually progress to saying it in your normal voice or the voice of the character. Then of course, there is the old standard of practicing Tongue-Twister Exercises, such as these, as part of your warm up.
Many of these tongue-twister exercises are built upon repetitive sounds. Often they are the more Germanic words in the English language. In real voice over scripts, a voiceover actor would hopefully never have to say “peck of pickled peppers.” Note that every word in that phrase has German/Dutch origins. One of the joys of the English Language is that it borrows words from so many other languages. In a tricky CST phrase, you will often find quite different sounding words. Most of these words have origins from Romance and Germanic Languages. And that is exactly why these phrases in English are so hard to say: these words were never meant to be said together.
For example, let us examine the phrase “stacked deposition.” The word stacked comes from Middle English/Old Norse “stakkr” meaning “haystack” of Germanic origin. Meanwhile, the word “deposition” is Late Middle English from the Latin verb “deponere” meaning “to deposit.” Norwegian and Latin words have drastically different sounds and simply do not belong together.
To make matters worse, English often makes the past tense with the “ed” suffix. Such words are awkward to say if the following word starts with a hard consonant. This problem also comes up in other Germanic Languages like Swedish, Dutch, or German with past tenses ending in hard consonants. Romance Languages often end their past tenses with open vowels. Slavic languages will often end past tenses with softer consonants like “m” or “n”. This makes transitioning to the next word easier for the speaker.
So, practice texts and phrases that use words with a good mix of English words borrowed from both Germanic and Romance Languages. Reading medical and legal Texts are especially good examples of this, as one of the Tongue-Twister Tips for Voiceover. If you can, find some texts with Slavic words too, such as “samovar” “troika” or “apparatchik”. In addition, trying to learn new languages can really help with the ability to say long or unfamiliar words. I have been doing this with Polish and Swedish in the past few years. If you can say “wszystko”, “potrzebujesz”, “blyertspenna”, or “sköldpaddor” comfortably, then words like “regularly” become regularly easy.
ThirD: Visualize what the words mean
The third Tongue-Twister Tips for Voiceover is to visualize what the CST words mean instead of trying to sound out the letters. Take our early example of the infamous tongue-twister “Irish Wristwatch”. We know what the words mean, and we can say them both on their own. But when you see these letters together, it’s a mish-mash. There are three appearances of the letter “i” and some are short and some are long vowels. There is “sh” but then “st” and then “tch”. It’s a mess of letters visually, like “wszystko” is in Polish.
However, if we visualize the Irish Flag or a Map of Ireland, and then visualize a watch on a wrist when we say “Irish Wristwatch”, we avoid getting caught up in looking at the letters. This trick gets us out of self-awareness, much like the tip to say words in a silly or extreme voice. It might be more challenging to visualize “the epidemiologists’ estimations” but give it a chance. You’ll find it much easier than just trying to read the letters out. Good luck!