Why is it helpful for an audio content creator to know how to do accents?
You’re a content creator. Like most people who choose this hobby or line of work, you have a passion for creating valuable, high-quality content that resonates with your listeners. It doesn’t matter if you make podcasts, record audiobook narrations, make animated cartoons, or any other pursuit. The point is, you love your work, you love your listeners, and you want to bring the best of those two worlds together.
One way to do that is by broadening the scope of your talents. Learning how to mimic accents from different countries around the world can bring extra depth to your characters. Having this versatile talent in your toolbox means you go the distance, learn the necessary skills, and work hard to bring the best of yourself to the table. Your listeners will appreciate that.
And, as any small business owner knows, happy customers make for a stronger brand.
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Overall guidelines for how to do accents
Immerse yourself and get your brain used to the accent
Regardless of which accent you choose to master first, your first step should be to listen to that accent as much as possible. If your goal is to practice English with a Spanish accent, for example, search out audio clips of exactly that combination. Look for audiobook recordings, videos, podcasts, or really anything by an English speaker who has a Spanish accent. The actual content of the audio recording doesn’t matter so much; you’re just aiming to immerse yourself in the accent as it is spoken naturally.
Ideally, listen to as much content like this as possible. While you might pick up some basics over the course of a few hours listening to a podcast by someone with a Spanish accent, it will take time for you to grasp the nuances and subtleties. Additionally, personal accents will vary from speaker to speaker. So, listening to ten different audiobooks by Spanish-accented speakers will give you a much more thorough understanding of the Spanish accent than ten recordings from one speaker.
Keep in mind, you’d be better off listening to recordings of authentic, native speakers of a language rather than someone acting out the accent. As great as actors often are at mimicking accents, it is always better to start off learning from the real thing. In the example we’ve been using, this would mean you would want to seek out recordings of native Spanish speakers speaking English.
Practice making those sounds, and pay attention to the way the sounds feel as they come out of your mouth
Different accents require you to hold your mouth and tongue in different positions in order to properly recreate the correct sounds.
For example, say the long “A” sound (as in the word “paper” or “later”) out loud. Do you feel the way your tongue forms a certain shape out of habit? Does your throat feel tight or loose as the sound passes over your vocal cords? Does your jaw move at all from the beginning of the sound to the end?
Now make the short “A” sound (think “map” or “Latin”). How does the movement of your tongue, throat, and jaw differ from when you made the long “A” sound?
Voice actors who practice learning a variety of accents refer to this phenomenon as “oral posture.” One vocal acting coach says of oral posture, “It is, if you will, the ‘home base’ for an accent, and can be thought of as the position to which the vocal tract returns when at rest, or when preparing to speak or resume speaking.”
If you are an American and a native English speaker doing this exercise, those sounds probably came naturally to you. Your mouth automatically formed the shape it needed to form in order to make the correct sound, because you make those sounds every day. Those sounds are common within the American accent.
Other accents, however, require a different “home base” for your mouth to return to in order to produce the correct set of sounds.
Learning the oral posture of the accent you want to pick up helps you stay in character and avoid falling out of your accent mid-sentence, because your mouth will be trained to return to the correct set point.
Practice, practice, practice. And then keep practicing.
Talk to yourself out loud in the accent you want to learn. Narrate everything you do as you go about your chores at home, for example.
“I’m putting the clean tablecloth on the table. Good thing I remembered to do laundry last night. I forgot we were having company over for dinner this evening. Perhaps I should get the good silverware out of the cabinet and make sure it’s polished.”
Stream-of-consciousness narration is great (even if you feel ridiculous while you’re doing it) because it means you’re not reading off of a script. You’re coming up with what you want to say in the moment, and practicing putting those sounds together on the fly.
Plus, if you’re home alone, it’s a great way to practice without having to attempt your half-learned accent in front of family and friends.
If you struggle with a certain sound, return to the basics. Stand in front of a mirror and make that sound over and over again. Pay attention to how it feels in your mouth. Feel your tongue, your throat, and your jaw movements as you watch them happen in the mirror. Then, put those sounds into words, then phrases and sentences. Watch yourself, listen to yourself, and keep feeling the way your mouth moves.
It will feel repetitive. It will feel silly. If you do it enough, it will also work.
Once you get the hang of the accent alone in your own home, take your practice a step further
- Get a good microphone and record yourself speaking in the accent. Play it back, and then listen to recordings of the authentic accent again. How does yours differ from the authentic accent? Is there a particular sound or word you need to work on?
- Speak in the accent as you have conversations. Strangers will often comment or ask, “Oh, I can tell from your accent, are you from London?” If their guesses are spot on, you know you’re getting close.
- Download a language learning app that connects real people together for practice. Some programs offer voice chats where you can both teach and learn from your partner. Coach your partner on his or her English skills while they help you brush up on your accent by providing pointers and corrections in a supportive environment.
Tips on how to do specific accents
The above tips are great as a general starting point. But, what if you have a specific accent in mind that you want to learn and the above advice isn’t quite immersive enough?
That’s where specialized tutorials come in.
It’s one thing to listen to an authentic accent from a native speaker and come up with your own ways of mimicking those sounds. It’s another level entirely when you have a native speaker or a professional voice acting coach explaining the steps of learning a particular accent in detail.
Since you might not be able to afford a professional voice acting coach, we would recommend trying YouTube or other online resources for video tutorials. Much like watching yourself practice in the mirror, watching a video of someone speaking in an accent provides a depth that simply listening to an audiobook narration or a podcast can’t recreate. You get to watch the shapes the speaker’s lips form, the way the face muscles move, and other subtleties you would miss on an audio-only recording.
To get you started, here are a few helpful YouTube tutorials on popular accents (assuming you’re starting as an English speaker)
- Russian (video): This video is helpful because the first thing the speaker explains is proper oral posture for practicing the Russian accent. She hold her tongue way back in the back of her throat and, even without changing any other pronunciations or making any other adjustments, you can already tell she is close to mimicking a Russian accent.
- Italian (video): In this video, the speaker explains the differences between vowel sounds in American English versus Italian accented English right off the bat. This helps set the stage for the pronunciation of words even before she dives into specific word examples.
- Spanish (video): The speaker in this video goes in depth with pronunciations of common words and sounds. She provides tons of helpful pronunciations of words that use each sound, so you can jump right into following along with her examples.
- Irish (video): Americans who struggle with an Irish accent will likely find this video especially helpful. The speaker goes through several trouble areas that American speakers often encounter when practicing Irish accents. She also gives several examples of words to practice to overcome those common pronunciation problems.
- British (video): This video is both an introduction to British accents and an overview of the various British dialects you can choose to learn. It’s a fascinating first step in the process that can help you narrow down which British accent or dialect you would like to pursue further.
- German (video): Created by a native German speaker working on perfecting her English pronunciation, this video offers quite an interesting glance into the components of what makes a German accent.
Further resources on accents in voice acting
These tips are only the beginning. For more ideas on learning new accents, or if you’re an aspiring voice actor, check out the following: