Those with vocal problems or who lack confidence in their voices can seek help from professionals in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
Learners come from different walks of life, in particular from professions which involve public speaking or one-on-one interaction with clients and audiences including singers, teachers, human resources and marketing personnel.
Nguyen Quang Minh, 37, branch director of a food producer in Dong Nai Province, lamented that his overly effeminate, high-pitched voice has put him at a disadvantage in staff meetings and discussions.
He also suffers from constant shortness of breath while speaking, leaving his voice trembling as if he were on the verge of tears.
“I can always tell when my employees are trying to hold back their laughs just by looking at their facial expressions. I always feel I’m looked down on,” Minh added.
Despite competence in English, the executive faces awkward situations in which foreign business partners have trouble understanding his accent and pronunciation.
Similarly, Tran Van Bao, another 24-year-old human resources staffer in Ho Chi Minh City, has long suffered because of his strangely husky voice, discouraging him from sharing his ideas in class for fear of triggering laughter from his classmates.
“My boss would only task me with sorting out and assessing job applications instead of interviewing applicants because of my voice,” he added.
Meanwhile, Dao Thi My Hanh, a 32-year-old high school teacher in the outlying district of Hoc Mon, Ho Chi Minh City, has a murmuring, ghost-like voice similar to those heard in films.
She also tends to ‘drop’ consonants, making it difficult for her to be understood.
Hanh put her sound down to a congenital defect which has been exacerbated by her overloaded teaching schedule.
In search of a miracle, on learning of a vocal coaching class organized by the Ho Chi Minh City Ear, Nose and Throat Hospital, Nguyen Quang Minh immediately sought help.
Following a laryngoscopy which ruled out physical illnesses and indicated a psychological disorder, Minh was guided to a vocal coaching room.
Dr. Tran Thi Thu Trang, of the hospital’s acoustic division, pinpointed what was wrong with his voice, and showed him how to practice in order to improve his sound.
During the first practice session, Dr. Trang instructed her patient to breathe properly by using his abdominal wall, known as diaphragmatic breathing, or belly breathing.
Minh initially had difficulty breathing and uttering ‘oh’ and ‘uhm’ as instructed, both exercises designed to help patients develop a deeper, more masculine voice.
Other techniques involved counting from one to ten in one go and clearing his throat.
Fifteen minutes later, with no further assistance from the doctor, Minh managed to do the counting in one go without becoming short of breath.
A doctor (R) is seen examining a patient for throat ailments. Photo: Tuoi Tre
During the third and fourth sessions, patients are requested to count from 11 onwards and provide brief answers to questions about their phone numbers, dates of birth and home addresses before moving on to more challenging words.
According to Dr. Trang, apart from 30- minute drill sessions, patients are expected to do intensive practice at home by breathing and counting in front of a mirror.
Bao, the personnel staffer, said that he videotaped his drill sessions and was amazed at the differences it had made.
“My voice sounds much deeper now. I’m more confident, especially with candidates,” he shared with pride.
Meanwhile, Tran Thi Minh Hai has been offering similar vocal coaching courses in both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City over the past four years.
“My classes are meant to teach learners how to obtain deep, resonant sounds, powerful voices, and speak with good intonation, suitable intensity and pitch, which are required in different jobs,” she said.
A former customer care officer herself, Hai initially planned to hold classes in communication and customer care skills.
She then employed a vocal coach and later took over the role while she was on maternity leave.
Hai was hooked on the job before she even realized it.
In recent times, Dr. Trang has noticed an increasing number of people taking classes so as to perform better in their jobs.
“It takes painstaking practice and persistence from both the coach and the patient to succeed in vocal coaching. Not everyone can improve remarkably as adults tend to acquire habits which are too obstinate to kick once they turn 18,” she explained.
The doctor recommended people seek medical help as soon as they notice abnormality in their voices. She also warned against staying up late, smoking and eating three hours before going to bed in order for one to sound their best.
Dr. Trang added that the hospital admits around 100 patients, mostly with problems associated with their vocal cords, tract and larynx, each month.
Patients recovering from larynx removal surgeries or struggling with speech impediments such as stuttering and lisping also benefit from the classes.
With timely diagnosis and proper treatment and practice, patients stand around a 70 percent chance of vocal improvement.
She also urged that patients attempt to speak with their own voices rather than try to pick up the sound of someone else or change their own to an extreme level.
Each session lasts two to three hours and costs around VND400,000 (US$18), with five to eight sessions for each course.
Classes offered by the Ho Chi Minh City Ear, Nose and Throat Hospital cost VND50,000 ($2.2) for a 30-minute session.
Veteran actress Dam Loan, who taught theatrical voice at the Ho Chi Minh City University of Theater and Cinema, underscored the importance of articulate speech today.
She has observed many youths unable to annunciate words properly these days, mostly due to inadequate attention and guidance from a tender age.