If you want to sing accurately in English, Mitchell Brunings’ story will be useful. You might have heard of him; the man whose version of Redemption Song in the blind auditions of The Voice of Holland sounded like Bob Marley reincarnated:
To be clear: Mitchell is Dutch, of Surinamese heritage, so Caribbean speech patterns aren’t foreign to him. He speaks English well but he doesn’t speak like Bob Marley. He has a good voice and he can achieve Bob’s tone. Those are his natural advantages, but his ability to sound just like Bob Marley comes from muscle memory, perfected through practice.
What’s interesting about Mitchell is that he’s not just mimicking Bob. He hasn’t made an intellectual interpretation of the differences between Bob’s Jamaican speech patterns and those of standard English. Instead, as a child, Mitchell allowed the sound of Bob’s voice to flow, pure and unimpeded, straight into his unconscious. He repeated exactly what he heard, without self-consciousness, but with great love for the music and the man. Now he can reproduce Bob’s singing voice without thinking, just as a child perfectly reproduces the speech patterns of her surroundings.
How does this help you if you’re trying to sing better English as an adult? Try listening to English as a child would. Let the sounds of English flow in, clean and clear. Notice the sound of each syllable as if it were simply a musical note. Without prejudice or preconception. Repeat the sounds that you actually hear, not what you expect to hear. Listen first, then double-check the lyrics for ghosts. You will develop a true muscle memory of English if you repeat and practice the sounds that your ears have captured.
Of course, you don’t need to take on Bob Marley’s singing voice to do justice to Redemption Song. Johnny Cash and Joe Strummer stay true to the spirit of the song, without trying to sound Jamaican. Their American and British accents meld together perfectly to carry the message of the song:
Bob Marley, Johnny Cash and Joe Strummer sing different versions of English and different versions of Redemption Song. Lively up your own accurate version of English if you want to join them. Mitchell Bruning’s assimilation success is your guiding star. Emancipate yourself from mental slavery: don’t let what you’ve learnt in English lessons block your mind to the true sung sounds of English.
© Sing Better English, 2014