What does the perfect example sentence sound like? (Part 2)

This is the second in a series of posts about recording example sentences. Read the first entry here.

In my last post, I explained the process of recording example sentences from PhraseMix lessons. I also explained why faster and more natural-sounding examples are best. In this post, I'm going to point out some of the details that I listen for when I'm choosing a voice artist or a recording.

Natural connections

I hired professional voice actors for the recordings because they have nice microphones, good software, and nice, quiet recording locations. However, professional voice actors learn to speak in a specific way. It sounds clean and precise. For example, listen to this recording of the sentence, "You want to rent some movies?"


It sounds great and easy to understand. But it's a little cleaner-sounding than normal. In everyday speech, people usually combine the words "want" and "to" into one word like this:


I tried to pick versions that had natural connections between words. In some cases, I had to ask the voice artists to re-do a recording that sounded "too perfect".

Natural endings

See if you can tell the difference between these two recordings of the sentence "Security was super tight.":


You can hear the "t" sound very clearly at the end of the first example. That's because the speaker is releasing a little puff of air at the end. In phonetic script, that version of "t" is written [th]. 

English speakers naturally use [th] when "t" comes at the beginning of a word like "tall". They don't usually pronounce it this way at the end of a word or sentence. But when people speak more carefully, they do pronounce [th] to make the final sound easier to hear. The first example above is a "careful" pronunciation, but the second is a more common and natural pronunciation.

I had to throw out a lot of recordings where the speaker pronounced "t", "p", "k", etc. too carefully at the end.

Natural stress

English is a language that uses stress to communicate ideas. You can change the meaning of a sentence by stressing different words:

I don't' know her. (Normal meaning.)

I don't know her. (Some people might know her, but I don't.)

don't know her. (Someone else said that they knew her, but I don't.)

I don't know her. (I know other people, but not her.)

Any sentence can be stressed in many different ways. But PhraseMix lesson examples are each based on a specific situation, so there's a specific way that they should be spoken. For example, listen to these two versions of "Are you getting any reception?":


Both are OK, but one of them fits better for the situation described in the lesson: 

You're visiting the countryside with your brother and his family. You need to make a  phone call, but your mobile phone isn't connecting because you're too far away from the nearest cell tower. You want to ask your brother if his phone is working.

If you've already explained that your phone isn't working, the second version is correct. But if you're just asking without explaining anything else, the first version is better. I chose version #1.

I don't want to confuse anyone, so I'm carefully listening to each recording to make sure that the stress matches the situation that's described in the lesson.

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