Translating complex voice training concepts

What happens when you want to teach what you’ve learned on a training course but you give your lessons in a different language?

A fun conversation on translating

Had an interesting singing teacher mentoring session this week with Monia de Swart, one of our Cohort22 Accreditation programme people

Monia is Dutch and teaches in Dutch and English. We were talking about words and phrases in different languages.

All our Accreditation training is done in English and the videos we then upload are subtitled and transcribed in English too.

All teachers use their own favourite wording of techniques and concepts, and we are no exception. Where it gets interesting is when one of our European teachers wants to translate the wording into their own language, and there’s no equivalent.

A particular quirk of English is that we use words very specifically. They might have multiple meanings, but there are also many words that mean the same thing. It’s one of the difficulties of learning English as a foreign language. And don’t get me started on pronunciation – Cholmondely (Chumley) and Featherstonehaugh (Fanshaw), anyone?

Feeling the pressure in Dutch

Let’s take the word “pressure”

In English that could be squeeze, strain, strength, stress, tension, compression, load, heaviness, force, push, urge, compulsion, coercion, urgency, constraint, demand, duress, necessity.

I love this game! Each word has its own flavour, so squeeze would be a pressure inwards, usually from either side where the thing being squeezed doesn’t move. Whereas push is usually from one side where the thing being pushed is being impelled to move. Tension could be the result of a physical pull from one or either end, or it could be a mental/emotional stressor.

In Dutch, the word “pressure” translates as “druk”, which could also mean crowded or busy, noisy or even jazzy!

It’s the same with the Dutch word for “force” (“kracht”) which could also mean potency, fortitude or lustiness.

Translating for yourself in the lesson

Monia noticed that she was trying to translate directly some of the concepts and instructions from our training, and the Dutch students weren’t getting it.

So we did an exercise. I drew some diagrams of subglottal pressure and intra/supraglottal flow, and we talked through different pressure/flow combinations and different breathing patterns. We found an equivalent metaphor (letting people through a door into the room) and played with physicalising the pressure/flow variations using the studio door.

Monia’s homework now is to take the video of the diagrams I’d made and do her own voiceover for it in Dutch using everyday language and then get the student to experience different examples physically by using the door in her studio.

What’s the goal of translating terms?

The goal here is to raise understanding and to make it practical and clear. Bringing complex concepts like sub/supraglottal pressure and airflow into the physical world outside the body allows your students to understand something in a way that works for them. Turning something internal into something external allows you to experience subtle variations in a practical way. You can then reflect back into the internal/subtle much more quickly and with more control.

Love working in this way. It’s a mental workout for me too!


Add a comment below on the words you find difficult to translate or the English vocal technique phrases that could be misunderstood so easily. Geen druk!




PS We’re about to launch our Teacher Accreditation Cohort23. If you’re interested (we’re starting in October), check out this questionnaire and book a free Discovery Call with Gillyanne