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Sibilance Solution: How
To Hide Your Hissing 'S'
By Susan Berkley
The Great Voice Company
Many women, and some men, have problems with an overly sibilant "S" that hisses in a distracting manner.
A hissing "S" can be especially troublesome for voice-over artists when a sensitive microphone picks up every nuance of our speech.
Sibilance that may barely be noticeable in casual conversation can become a real issue in the recording studio. So it's very important that we voice-over artists know how to control it.
Minimizing sibilance requires a two-step approach:
  • studio know-how, and
  • articulation and diction exercises you can do at home. Doing these exercises on a regular basis will help strengthen the muscles that produce the letter "S".
If you haven't had formal diction training, a clean, crisp "S" sound can be difficult to achieve.
An imperfectly shaped mouth or tongue will affect the sound of your "S" - and because few of us are perfectly shaped anyway, it's likely you will have to learn to make some adjustments to compensate for the shape of your particular mouth.
But no matter what kind of mouth shape you have, a good clean "S" requires:
  • careful and precise articulation,
  • well-toned speech muscles, and
  • proper tongue placement.
Just as you need a work-out program to keep your body in shape, you'll also need a work-out program for the muscles in your mouth.
While proper tongue position for a clean "S" sound is difficult to explain in writing, here are some things to keep in mind when pronouncing the letter "S" ...
Be sure that the tip of the tongue does not touch the back of the upper front teeth.
Ideally, the tip of the tongue should be placed about inch behind the upper front teeth, almost in position for a "t".
Raise the tongue so the sides press firmly against the inner surfaces of the upper molars.

Keeping the proper tongue position in mind, say the following sentences aloud s-l-o-w-l-y to practice the initial, medial and final "S" sound:
Stan seasoned the salad with salt.
Put the best biscuit in the basket.
In this race, bets on pets are off limits.
Good luck! You'll find more exercises to strengthen diction and minimize sibilance on my Magnetic Speaking PowerHome Study System.
Susan Berkley is a top voice-over artist and is the voice of AT&T and Citibank. She is the author of Speak To Influence: How To Unlock The Hidden Power of Your Voice and president of The Great Voice Company, helping to turbocharge the careers of emerging and professional voice talent worldwide. For more information and a free subscription to the Inside Voiceover e-zine, visit her web site (below).
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Comments (5)
Wendy Marie
8/25/2015 at 8:48 AM
Best advice on the web! Thank you :)
4/8/2013 at 2:32 PM
Great article about tongue placement, will certainly add that to my workouts. Speak To Influence is still one of my go to books even though I bought it thirteen years ago. Thanks Susan.
3/29/2013 at 6:01 PM
You explained the positioning of the tongue very clearly. I can move it to the right position but when I speak, it just keeps going back to laying low in my mouth, the tip touching my lower back teeth. I'm going to keep practicing! Thanks for writing this article!!
8/23/2012 at 2:06 AM
Thank you. This article accomplished what my speech therapist in fourth grade could not. After nine months of therapy, she replaced my lisp with sibilance. Now, at 48, I can finally say my name with confidence. I am grateful to you.
Most Rev. E. A. Hernandez
1/19/2010 at 1:12 PM
This was fun reading, and I've tried a bit of this exercise. Sadly, I think I began lisping, which has never been a problem -- as you know, it isn't the same as a sibilant. What I used to do, and my younger brother also sibilises, so he does it, is Sean Connery's natural accent. This is what my mother used to call the "Greek s". It is an easier trial, it essentially replaces all the letters s with a sort of quite "sh" sound.
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