Pharrell Williams: how to breathe a Happy H

The English H sound is relaxation. And a touch of breath. That’s all. If you can breathe, you’re halfway to an English H. More than halfway.

Sometimes it’s hard to trust your breath do all the work, especially if H is silent in your own language. Watch Pharrell Williams’ face as he sings the H of hot, here, happy and high. He looks relaxed and happy, doesn’t he? His H isn’t a nasty cough. It’s a smooth, easy breath.

If your own language has a silent H, it’s hard to believe that the English H is as easy as breathing.

When you first learn English you put so much mental energy into remembering to pronounce H at the beginning of words that you  overcompensate. You put too much energy into the sound. You can’t believe that simply breathing it out is enough.

You get into the habit of overcompensating and without noticing, you’ve turned into Manuel from Fawlty Towers! If you use the back of your throat (as Manuel does) to make an English H, you sound as if you’re clearing your throat of mucus, ready to spit it out. You’ll notice people looking at you and trying to guess where you’re going to spit, so that they can get out of your way!

If you sound like Manuel when you sing, it’s an ugly distraction for your listeners. Stop. Relax. Breathe. That’s all you need to do.

If H makes a different sound in your native language, or if you don’t have the H sound at all, relax and remember that the sound of an English H is just a little stronger than a breath. It’s the sound you make when you breathe into your cupped hands to warm them on a cold winter’s day. Gentle and relaxed.

Breathe out. Relax. Be happy.

© Sing Better English, 2014

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