U2 Speaking Practice

Reading and Performing Plays

A play is meant to be read or performed aloud. When the play is read or performed, it is important to speak at a loud enough volume that an audience can hear the performer and to express the emotion of the characters. It is important that while you are preform that you speak loudly and clearly so that the audience can hear. Often the audience will be sitting farther away from you than when you are having a regular conversation, so it is important to speak loudly and clearly enough for them to understand you. To do this you will need to speak at an appropriate volume and with good pronunciation. Your pronunciation might change if the character you are acting as has an accent, but it should still be understandable to the audience. 


Many people are shy and speak softly, especially when they are speaking in their second language. However, when the listeners are sitting far away, if the speaker speaks softly, the listeners will not be able to hear. Therefore, it is important to speak loudly enough for everyone in the audience to hear even if they are sitting at the very back of the room. In large theaters, the performers will often have microphones and speakers to help everyone hear, but in many smaller theaters or settings, this is not the case. Therefore, it is important to practice speaking loudly to read or perform a play.

Even though you need to speak loudly for the audience to hear, that does not mean you should yell at the audience for the whole play. Yelling tends to be all at one high volume and can sound angry or forced to an audience. You should instead speak normally with some words louder and some words softer than others but do so at a slightly higher volume than normal. You can do this by breathing deeply with your stomach1 and using that air when you speak to fill the whole room. This is called projecting

a graph comparing volume between yelling, projecting, and normal conversation across time

Image: Ana Barraza, 2023

You should still speak with changes in volume depending on what you are saying. If the character is challenging someone to a fight by saying, "Fight me!", then that would be said louder. However, if a character is saying "I love you." to a spouse as they are leaving for a long time, then that would be said quieter. The quiet "I love you." would still need to be heard by people sitting in the back of the room. The "I love you" will still be said louder than in normal conversation; it will just seem softer because it is quieter than the "Fight me!" line. When speaking in a play, you can project your voice to speak loud enough for everyone to hear, but still, show changes in volume for different situations in the play.

A graph showing that projecting is louder than normal conversation which is louder than whispering.

Image: Ana Barraza, 2023

1. https://www.backstage.com/magazine/article/tips-for-speaking-loudly-clearly-as-an-actor-73193/

Exercise 2.48

Practice speaking at different volumes. Say the line for The Bracelet by Alfred Sutro below in different ways. Follow the directions on how to say the line.

JUDGE. "That's all very well, but how about me? I was asked here to dine. I've dined—I'm not complaining about the dinner. But now the curtain's up—and here am I watching half a dozen people looking very hard for a thing that isn't there."

1. Whisper the line to yourself. 

2. Say the line to a partner standing about 3 feet (1 meter) away from you at a normal conversation volume. 

3. Say the line to the same partner, but now stand across the room from each other. Speak at the same conversation volume you did before. 

4. Say the line to the same partner standing across the room, but speak loud enough for them to hear you clearly. Do not yell at them. 

5. Yell the line across the room. Ask your partner what was different listening to your project for #4 and yell for #5.

6. Make a group of four with your classmates. Have one member from your group stand in each corner of the room. Say the line so that everyone in your group can hear you clearly. Fill the room with your voice, but don't yell. 

7. Find your original partner. Stand about 6 feet (2 meters) apart. Say the line to each other in a whisper, then regular conversation volume, then projecting volume. 

Exercise 2.49

Do the following things to practice projecting and adjusting your volume. 

1. Read the excerpt of the play below to yourself. Consider what different volume you would use to perform it.

2. Draw arrows to show the level of volume you would use: ^ for louder and v for softer.

3. Then read the play to a partner standing across the room. Can they hear you clearly? Can you hear them clearly?

4. Preform the excerpt of the play with your partner. One person should be Smithers and one person should be William. 

The Bracelet [excerpt]

by Alfred Sutro

SMITHERS. [Eagerly.] Can't you find it?

WILLIAM. [Sulkily.] No. Not yet. Give me time.

SMITHERS. [Feeling along the table-cloth.] Under one of those rugs, perhaps.

WILLIAM. Well, I'm looking. [Motor-horn sounds sharply, off.] All right, all right!

SMITHERS. [With a jerk of the head.] Missis is telling him to do it.

WILLIAM. [On all fours, crawling about.] Very like her voice, too, when she's angry. Drat the thing! Where can it be?

[He peers into the coal-scuttle.

SMITHERS. No good looking in there, stupid.

WILLIAM. They always say it's the unlikeliest places—


For your audience to understand you clearly, you will need to have good pronunciation. This requires being able to accurately say the sounds of English, use stress correctly, and have reasonable intonation. You may also need to change your pronunciation to match the personal qualities of the character you are reading.

Sound Accuracy

There are many sounds that may be difficult to say as an English language learner depending on your background. The sound of a letter may be different or may be used differently in your native language. You may have a habit of saying that letter a certain way and now need to learn the English pronunciation. There may also be combinations of letters or sounds that are not often used in your native language or that are used differently. This may make it difficult to say those sounds. 

For example, if your native language does not include the R sound or the L sound, it may be difficult to pronounce "library". However, being able to say a sound accurately will help your audience understand what you say. Consider the example below.




Meg:  Did you answer?

Jenny: Yes, it was long. 

Meg:  Did you answer?

Jenny: Yes, it was wrong. 

You can find more examples of letter sounds that are often mixed up or hard to say on this website: https://www.englishclub.com/pronunciation/minimal-pairs.php

You might also have difficulty saying words that use letters in a combination such as "be", "sk", "str", or "lch". You can find more examples of letter combinations here: https://www.englishclub.com/pronunciation/minimal-pairs.php .These words may take practice to say accurately. You can practice by repeating the words after your teacher or a native speaker. Look at the speaker's mouth while they speak and try to copy the movements. You can also try recording yourself copying the sounds of a native speaker and listening to the recording to see if you are saying the sound the same or differently. 


Stress is the loudness intensity that each syllable has when spoken2. There are many patterns of stress that depend on the history of a word, its part of speech, and the other words in a sentence. Using the correct stress can help your listeners understand what you are saying. Consider the example below.


 First syllable stressSecond syllable stress
I made a record of new music.I record new music.

When you learn a word from a dictionary the stressed syllable is often marked and you can hear the stress when you click on the sound recording in online dictionaries. As you learn and practice words, practice using the correct stress so that your listeners can clearly understand you. If you do not have access to an online dictionary, you can also hear the stress in words when listening to native speakers or recordings of native speakers on TV. 


Intonation is the rise and fall of a speaker's voice. For more explanation and practice using intonation see Unit 1: Speaking.


Exercise 2.50

Search for the words below in an online dictionary. Listen to the sound recording for each word and repeat after the recording. Are there any sounds that you pronounce differently than the recording?

1.  ship

2. memory

3. alarm

4. airwave

5. spike

6. climb

7. doubt

8. thick

9. balloon

10. asked

Note: Be aware that online dictionaries often include two pronunciation types: American and British. Practice using the accent you want to learn. 

(Word list based on this source: https://busyteacher.org/14846-7-worst-pronunciation-mistakes-esl-students-make.html )

Exercise 2.51

Listen to your teacher read the passage below. Then read the passage aloud. Did you notice any letters that you said differently than your teacher? Circle the areas you pronounced differently. 

The North Wind and the Sun

by Aesop 

     The North Wind and the Sun were disputing which was the stronger when a traveler came along wrapped in a warm cloak. They agreed that the one who first succeeded in making the traveler take his cloak off should be considered stronger than the other. Then the North Wind blew as hard as he could, but the more he blew, the more closely did the traveler fold his cloak around him; and at last, the North Wind gave up the attempt. Then the Sun shone out warmly and immediately the traveler took off his cloak. And so the North wind was obliged to confess that the Sun was the stronger of the two.


1. Use the minimal pairs practice on this website to practice saying the sounds of the letters that you said differently: https://www.englishclub.com/pronunciation/minimal-pairs.php 

2. Listen to the recordings of different English speakers telling this fable here: https://www.aesoplanguagebank.com/en.html . How do different types of English change the pronunciation of the passage?

(Passage Source: https://www.phonetics.expert/north-wind-and-the-sun)

Exercise 2.52

Choose a section of the play from U2: Reading to perform with a group of your classmates. Practice performing the section you selected aloud. Use enough volume that a listener in the back of the room could hear you clearly and can understand your pronunciation. 

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