My Story

I fell into running myself as a business, the same way I fell into my career, my degree and many other things in my life. This year has been one of the first I have actually planned things and carried them out. I’m 38, heck, it’s a good time to start growing up.
It starts like this. Having a drink with my friend Josie when she says: “I’m doing a Performing Arts degree, it’s brilliant.” I am working every hour I can; in a flower ‘factory’ picking stems for bunches, waitressing in a busy restaurant and babysitting in my free evenings. Ah well, I always loved acting… “How do I apply?”.
Three years later I have a First Class degree in Performing Arts and a dissertation admired by the top staff at the university, which I pigeonhole in my brain as ‘something to expand later’. There are no jobs. Unless I want to go to London. Which I do not.
I meet, in a pub, a like-minded actor / director and he, I and another madman start a touring theatre company. We suffer the slings and arrows of arts-funding application forms and performing to three people. We also ‘do’ the Edinburgh Festival with an adaptation of King Lear. It’s brilliant and exhausting and my then-boyfriend was ridiculously unsupportive. So, I foolishly gave it up.
Just before I gave it up, one of our actors mentioned their daughter’s school’s Drama teacher had gone off on Long Term ‘Sick’. I agreed to do a few workshops. I became an Instructor, started a Graduate Training Programme, then I was a Teacher! Me! It seemed to happen so quickly I hardly knew what was happening. I had a proper job, regular times, classes, holidays, work colleagues I adored and students with whom I was thrilled to work. They were a tough crowd sometimes but I relished the challenge. I didn’t always win, but I loved the chance to fight to win.
I dumped my unsupportive boyfriend and enjoyed single life for a while. My theatre buddy and his fiancée invited me to go away for Christmas and we had the best Christmas I’d had for years. Full of laughter. The day I got back, I mixed up a large cocktail and prepared for an evening of TV. My friend Bekka called. “There’s a house party tonight, it’s going to be brilliant.” I am so pleased I poured that cocktail away and went, for there I met my new boyfriend, who became my fiancé, then my husband, then the father of my two children.
Meanwhile, I had moved jobs, twice, and moved house. The children arriving were incredible but I had no idea how I was going to teach and have children.
I found a school that would employee me for two days a week and I found a childminder perfect to look after my children. But I was unhappy in work. I didn’t like the students at the school, I found working part-time meant it was impossible to make friends with the staff, I became disillusioned with working in education and as our school became an academy I became even more unhappy. I needed out.
I spoke to my friend Welly. “You should do tutoring for 11+ exams”. I looked into it. It was lucrative, it could be done in the evenings, I would be helping one child at a time and I would be really, properly teaching. I loved the idea.
I spent hours researching, planning then I advertised. I waited. I got a student! I threw myself into it and LOVED it!
As time went on I thought about other topics I could tutor. I added English, then Drama, then I stumbled across Elocution. I thought about it, I researched it, I added it to my repertoire. I developed lessons as I gained students, I learned from my students, they learned from me. I began to gain a reputation, a good one. People wanted me to teach them, to teach their children. I was flattered and a little scared, but I loved it. I taught 5 year olds, 65 year olds, people from every continent in the world, from all walks of life. They wanted to be understood and I knew how to help them speak more clearly. I knew I knew. It was amazing.
Then my luck really, really turned. I was interviewed by a journalist writing an article on the rise of Elocution in tuition. I spoke at length about my passion for the topic and how I’d created my lessons from scratch. I pointed him in the direction of one of my students who spoke to him about how we both sit down at our computers, sixty miles apart and have Elocution lessons via Skype.
The article made The Independent and The Daily Mail. The Independent article was enormous, had a mention on the front page and a double page spread. There was a lovely picture of my student and I was the major focus of the article. I couldn’t believe it. The enquiries flooded in!
Now I only work for myself. I call myself Midwinter Tuition and took on a friend to tutor students in French, expanding my subjects even more. I studied Teaching English as A Foreign Language to continue the expansion. My podcast has over 150K downloads and my website has had over 15K hits. I worked hard, tutoring every night and one daytime a week, it was tiring but so worthwhile.
Once both children were in school I started teaching more daytime lessons, coming home from the school run to plug into Skype, only signing off just before the school run, every day. Evening lessons are becoming harder and harder as the kids’ bedtimes are already stretching towards my teaching time, plus clubs and activities have to take priority.
I am proud to be going solo now, free from the constraints of the education system. It feels amazing. I admire all the teachers still working their backsides off in school, but it’s not for me. I love the independence of working alone, but still reaching out into so many people’s lives through tuition. Long may it continue!

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Breath and placement tip

Practising the placement of the top teeth on the bottom lip today (for F and V sounds) with a student, I remembered a top tip from the Phonetics course I’m reading. To check the tongue / teeth / lips are correct, breathe in. The cool air sucking in will show you where the voice will be coming out! Isn’t that fantastic? Such a great tip!

I have to go as we are off to Woodcraft Folk now, but try it. Put your tongue / teeth in the place for several consonants and suck air in. See what you think!

List making, the eternal struggle.

i constantly make lists. I have lists on scraps of paper, in my diary, on my phone, on my tablet, on a blackboard in the kitchen and in my head. I do my best to keep up with the day-to-day needs if the family and my work by writing down every little thing that needs doing. I’ve tried various apps but none stick. 

So, while I’m having my coffee and reading this…  I’m also thinking…

 

…what about when we list things out loud? How should we change our voices to match the task?

A simple list, like a shopping list, is easy to read out loud. Each item should finish with an upward inflection, until the final item which has a downward inflection. This tells the listener that the list is over. This can be transferred to business presentations, when you are listing aims or reflecting on achievements, or interviews when you list several attributes that you will contribute to the role.

A list of similar items may have ‘flat’ intonation, finishing with downward on the final item. This might be true in a clothes shop when you ask the assistant what size an item comes in, e.g. “Size 10, 12, 14 and 18”. Each item is equally important to carries the same weight.

Politicians have a lengthy pause after every item on a list. It’s a real house style. I’m not convinced it works well as it feels rather patronising to the listener. A short pause gives people time to reflect, too long and they’ll think you’re being a little rude. Practice lists on a friend or colleague to get the pause time correct. 

If each item on the list has negative connotations, for example, listing all the chores your daughter didn’t do, then a downward inflection on each item drives home the way you are feeling. It sounds disappointed and negative, which sometimes we do need to be. 

Have I forgotten a type of list?

Check out the Cambridge Advanced Pronunciation Textbook for more in depth list work. The diagrams are clear and easy to follow. 

Watching the tank

Today my primary job is to watch the tank. The tank that my very clever husband has fitted to assist the washing machine in its drainage. We have moved into a lovely retro/vintage house, but no space for the machine in the kitchen! It’s been quite nice to have to machine in the outhouse, but now we are building an office in there we don’t want a machine there, so into the garage it goes. Today I have to make sure it doesn’t overflow. It already has once. Fail. 

Right now it is coffee time. Coffee and tea are not the voice’s best friend. The caffeine dries out the vocal cords, So I try not to overdo the caffeinated drink, but right now, post run, sunny day, watching the tank, coffee is needed. I will make sure I drink plenty of water for the rest of the day to compensate.

Today one of my students is a busy Mum. I always have huge respect for Mums and Dads who take lessons with me while their children nap / watch telly / shout in the background. Having that determination to do something for themselves, while caring for their children. Brilliant. My last lesson with her gave her jaw a really good workout (there’s that analogy again) so I need to keep up that good work and fine tune one of her consonant sounds. All in half an hour. I love it. 

I’d like to record another podcast too… *puts it on the list*

Have a lovely day everyone!

Voice Gym – A busy end to the week

its always lovely to finish the week with new students. Yesterday I had a new student who drove for ninety minutes to have a lesson at my house. Of course, I never mind people driving here – I always warn them about the mess in advance and I’m happy to provide tea and coffee – but ninety minutes? I was very flattered and tried extra hard to help them in their lesson as a result. Their hard work exactly matched mine and we had a really productive lesson. Vowel sounds were extended, consonants sharpened up and their voices were brought forward for the majority of the lesson. Brilliant. 

Then I had another new student over Skype. A totally different set of issues and she gave me a fantastic aim for her first lesson – she wanted to take her voice to the gym. What a brilliant idea. So that was exactly what we did! We did some breathing exercises (this is like wearing the right outfit for the gym), then we had a warm up (here is your gentle walk on the treadmill), then we launched into a thorough work out. We hardened consonants and repeated them over and over. We moved the voice forward and strengthened vowel sounds. We went up and down the scale in lip flutters and really worked her hard. The whole time we worked at a strong rhythm as she’s trying to steady her delivery pace. Then we set off into reading a short passage, a poem and an article. 

A brilliant end to the week and a great new analogy for my voice lessons. Take your voice to the gym. Brilliant!

A very pleasant surprise!

A new quilt arrived today. That wasn’t the pleasant surprise, I knew that was going to arrive. Sitting under my cosy, new quilt I had a quick self-Google. I do this relatively regularly, just to see if all of my online ‘things’ are relevant and up-to-date. I quickly realised many of my ‘things’ need updating. *puts that on the ‘to do’ list*

The pleasant surprise was this: https://player.fm/featured/english-pronunciation

My podcast is listed as part of this channel:

  

Me! One of the ‘best’! :O

I am terrible at blowing my own trumpet. I hate it. But I love it when other people compliment me. Plus there are three other podcasts I hadn’t heard of before, so I’ll definitely be checking them out. I’ve become a little reticent at my own podcast listening. I got stuck in a cycle of The Archers, Kevin Smith’s Edumacacion and The Domestic CEO. I should broaden my listening circle!

So – which are your favourite podcasts and why? I’d love to try some new stuff!

Challenging letters – The Letter R

Yesterday I worked with a student who had a real challenge pronouncing the letter R. When she pronounced it it came out like a W. We looked at diagrams and mouth shapes, from the Daniel Jones’ Phonetics Book

and my own sound sheets –  R shape to examine how the mouth should be behaving when we pronounce the letter within words. Then we discussed what is actually happening inside her mouth, and we found that her lips were opening too soon, making the W sound instead of the R. We practiced the R sound with vowels after it, then at the beginning of words, then as a mid-word letter (using How to Get Rid of Your Accent word lists) and then in some simple sentences.

For the remainder of the lesson we tried to over-pronounce the sound and I drew attention to any that snuck into the W sound.

The R sound is troublesome and tricky. The tongue position for English pronunciation is different to European pronunciation, who have lovely rolled and trilled R sounds. Pull that tongue back a bit to try the English way. Push the lips forward too and try to keep the width narrow.

Check out my  podcast on the sound for some more detail!