How to learn accents and dialects like a champ

The ability to learn accents and different dialects takes a lot of training, patience and voice talent. As many people say, the best way to learn a foreign accent or dialect is to speak it. That advice certainly comes in handy if you’re stuck in a region where that dialect is being spoken, but that seldom is the case for most voice actors.

One of the hardest things to learn in the voice acting business is speaking in other accents and dialects. Even the great Meryl Streep, who has adopted a plethora of accents ranging from British and French to Irish and Bronx, had to hire a Berlitz coach to get her in the zone for her Polish character in “Sophie’s Choice.”

Unfortunately, most voice artists don’t have the budget to hire a top-notch language teacher to learn accents. However, you can learn accents and dialects on your own, thanks to incredible amounts of free and handy resources that are available online. This doesn’t just mean blogs and how-to articles. This means online communities of real people that can help you face-to-face with your desire to improve your skills with new accents and dialects. 

Here are some tips that can acquire the accents that you may need for various voice acting roles:

Break it down

After binge-watching the Harry Potter series, it might dawn on you that you will never learn a British accent just by listening to other actors. According to actress Amy Walker, there are five main aspects to learning accents: phonetics, melody, rhythm and stress, grammar and word meaning, and vibe. Now that sounds complicated, but language coach Jim Johnson says that the focus should be on the vowel sounds, as the consonant sounds usually match up across various accents.

Use the International Phonetic Association vowel chart to focus on the different vowel sounds and compare them with some British accent clips that are available all over the web. Once you master the complicated vowels, learning the rest of the accent components will become easier. As Johnson said, “Going to your Scottish friend to help learn the accent may not be the best choice. It’s better to have a system that has broken it down to help you get there.”

Look, not just listen

There are lots of podcasts on dialect tutorials, but they might not come in as handy as YouTube tutorials, where you can see the voice talent articulate words in the dialect or accent that you’re learning. Seeing how their lips, cheeks, teeth, tongue, and jaws move while they enunciate each word makes mimicking them easier.

For instance, you might notice that Brits tend to move their lips forward a lot while Aussies don’t open their mouths too much when they speak. It helps to copy their facial movements in front of a mirror.

Practice reading aloud

Get ahold of some language-learning generic texts like “Arthur the Rat,” “The Rainbow Passage,” “Comma Gets a Cure,” and “The Moose Passage” and read them aloud using a British accent. Try recording them using your own voice and compare them with similar recordings online, marking all the differences in the pronunciation of each word. It’s a bit tedious, but it really makes for good voice talent practice. It’s a lot better than watching movies that don’t give accurate accent versions.

Practice talking to a native speaker

Now maybe you don’t know any British people. With today’s technology, that isn’t a problem. Who says you have to know one in order to speak to one? This is where you really get the nuances of the dialect you’re trying to learn.

You can find a British language partner on an online community and spend time video calling on Skype. Shoot for at least twice a week and talk about your interests. It will help you speak fluidly without becoming self-conscious. Record your conversations and play them back several times to listen to the pronunciation, melody, and rhythm of your partner’s speech. You can help teach him/her how to speak in your accent while they guide you with your new British accent. It’s like hitting two birds with one stone.

Don’t forget to get into character

Finally, it’s important to remember that as a voice actor, learning the dialect is just part of the role. Acting it out convincingly is an equally essential part of the job.

So just like any character, do your research about the role that you are about to play, not just the dialect but also the character’s age, social class, upbringing, goals, and obstacles—all the things that influence the character’s speech. After all, you’re adopting a dialect for a character, not an entire region.

As for accessing emotions while learning an accent, Meryl Streep offers some great advice. “I read a lot of poetry out loud. Poetry’s very emotional and I did it with this accent,” she said in an interview. “It was the only thing I could do at home to sort of to prepare to let emotions through this person’s voice.”

If you’re short on budget, you can try the following online resources that will be very helpful on your quest to learn accents:

·        The Real Accent App. Learn American and English accents with this “Voice Coach in Your Pocket.” It’s not free, but it’s certainly cheaper than hiring a human voice coach.

·        The Accent Kit App. This one familiarizes the voice talent with the different elements on learning an accent, such as vowels, consonants, and foundations of a language. It houses a comprehensive and high-quality personal accent library.

·        Amy Walker’s YouTube Channel. Amy’s fun and fascinating to watch, making accent learning look like a breeze. Being an actress, she not only tries to speak in different accents but also attempts to imbibe the cultural nuances of each dialect.

It takes an awful lot of time and patience to learn accents by heart. It’s not always fun, especially when studying the technical parts of enunciating phonetic sounds and looking at facial movements, but it’s part of being a voice talent, and the creative and career rewards that you can get out of it are definitely worth all the effort. Good luck!


This article was co-written by WritingBunny

Author: Mr. Bunny