These days, elocution is perhaps one of the most misunderstood subjects ever. We still generally understand it to be the rather quaint training that accompanies usually posh kids who are coming of age – all reading aloud and smoothing out their voice into a properly British English.
However, this is not really what elocution actually is any more. Sure, that makes up a part of it, absolutely. But, in general, the art and training of elocution has moved out of the drawing room and into the business office, meeting room, or private drama studio.
It is less about preserving, or aping, the privilege of the upper classes and more about the ability to speak clearly, communicate effectively, and discuss ideas convincingly and persuasively. There is no shame in your Cockney accent, or in your pronunciation developed in a foreign language. However, if you want to ensure that you avoid misunderstanding, elocution lessons might be a good idea.
Here, we’re going to give you the full idea of what elocution is, so that we can avoid misunderstanding ourselves. From a brief history of elocution to a breakdown of all the different elements that make up this discipline, we’ll cover all you need to know. And, finally, we’ll point you in the direction of some of the best places to find elocution lessons.
We hope you find it helpful! You can check out our article on everything you need to know about learning elocution too, if you want!
Firstly, a Definition: What is Elocution?
So, how do we actually define elocution? We know that it has something to do with speaking skills, but what are we are actually doing when we are learning elocution?
Well, it is worth pointing out that there are usually two general definitions of the term ‘elocution’.
In the first, usually, elocution is defined as the study of formal speaking, usually in a public context. Here, elocution is what you will be doing if you are studying the correct ways of spoken English: practising phonetics, communication skills, and vocal exercises. This, really, is what we are discussing in the rest of article.
Then, there is the other definition of elocution, which is essentially the product of these sessions: your particular manner or style of speaking English.
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A Bit of History of Elocution
Elocution is not a subject that was born out nowhere. Rather, this discipline has been a part of the study of rhetoric since the classical age – when, arguably, that very discipline began.
The thing that elocution referred to back then was, generally speaking, style. So, when discoursing in some oratorical context, you would be expected to pay attention to the fact that your language is decorous, that it is well-structured, and that it develops in an elegant progression.
While, these days, we are mainly concerned with making our language of a particularly charming style, back in the day this was not required: any style, when appropriate, could be performed eloquently.
Elocution in the Eighteenth Century.
However, among the elements of rhetoric that we continued to study throughout the centuries, elocution did not appear among the priorities. Rather, elocution dropped off the map a little, even when other elements of rhetoric were continually studied.
The first signs of elocution emerging as a proper discipline occurred in the eighteenth century, when figures like Thomas Sheridan gave his Lectures on Elocution and the actor published his Elements of Elocution. In both cases, clear, appropriate, and ornamental speech was combined with effective gesture, posture, and intonation.
It’s this sort of period that gives elocution the reputation with which it has been stuck ever since: stuffy and old-fashioned, with an overemphasis on received pronunciation or on a standardised British accent.
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Today, however, an elocution training course would not be like this. It is, rather, significantly more democratic than this.
Elocution today is more aimed at businesspeople, non-native speakers of English, or people intending to go to drama school. Whilst it still helps to teach a standardised version of English, this is not for purposes of prestige or class. Rather, it is for reasons of opportunity, rather than of identity.
And this leads us to our next question…
What Can Elocution Classes Help You with?
Maybe your image of elocution is young women in starched dresses being taught how to pronounce the words of poetry in an effective manner. And whilst, yes, this is a pretty accurate description of what elocution was like once upon a time, these days vocal training classes are a bit more oriented towards the more practical side of life.
So, let’s take a quick look at what you’ll actually be learning in the world of elocution. From effective communication in general to accent modification, there’s plenty to be getting up to!
Diction and Enunciation.
The most basic form of elocution training regards the actual choice of English words you make and the way of correctly pronouncing them. As part of elocution, you will be considering your word choice in conversational and professional settings and on your articulation.
So, no more mumbling. If you are taking it seriously, you will be looking at the vowel sounds and consonant sounds, and on which syllables the word stress is put. All of this is standard fare in private tuition for elocution.
Accent Reduction and Received Pronunciation.
Something that many non-native English speakers look for in elocution training is help with accent reduction – enabling them to speak English with an English accent. Obviously, this is not really reducing the accent but rather just changing it.
The same is possible for native English speakers too. Elocution tutors can help you to adopt an RP – or received pronunciation – accent. This is something particularly helpful for actors.
Dialect and Accent Training.
Another thing that is generally limited in its appeal to the world of actors – and secret agents, we suppose – is dialect and accent training.
Here, you will be taught how to convincingly adopt a different accent to that with which you were born.
Pronunciation for Speakers of English as a Second Language.
Whilst it is not accent reduction in its more extreme sense, standard pronunciation is something that is a big part of elocution training. This is something generally enjoyed by non-native learners of English.
There are places in the UK that specifically focus on this aspect of language learning, such as the Pronunciation Studio.
The Art of Public Speaking.
Something that is becoming increasingly popular in the world of elocution training is corporate speaking skills – and the next three items in this list focus on those specifically.
Each of these require something different. However, through each there is a common theme: speaking confidently, clearly, and persuasively.
Elocution lessons for this precise purpose is something that is in high demand.
Some of the most crucial speaking skills for the business world are those associated with presentations. This means delivering information concisely and clearly, in a way that is engaging, compelling and comprehensible.
Many elocution tutors work with businesspeople to hone their skills in this field. If it is something that you are considering, remember that it really can put you a cut above the rest.
And whilst it almost seems like the same thing, speech training is probably both broader and more specific than that for presentations.
Speeches can be used in all walks of life – from weddings to business meetings and more. If you are a little nervous in your public speaking and want to prepare for the occasion, elocution experts can help you with this too.
Finding an Elocution Tutor
Elocution teachers and classes are probably more common than you realised. Across all of the major cities in the UK, you will have no trouble finding someone who can help you improve your speaking skills.
Whilst, these days, you can look for elocution classes online, the best place to find an elocution tutor is still probably face-to-face. They will help you with your posture, tongue and lip placement, and pronunciation – and this is much easier when they are in the same room as you.
Look on private tutoring websites, such as Superprof, or in classified pages, the old-fashioned way. You’ll find heaps of different options available to you – no matter what it is you want to be improving in your speaking.
Speaking well will, quite simply, give your confidence a massive boost. And if it is only for that, it is something well worth the time and effort.