Searching ‘how to learn an accent’ in Google, you must have known that there is no quick fix to this problem.
Probably not what you wanted to hear, but it’s the truth.
Learning an accent takes time and practice. It’s all about listening, very closely, to the accent you want to learn, and then continuously applying what you hear to your own speech.
But most importantly, you have to be interested in the way other people speak.
But if you prefer to watch a video instead, click here:
Step #1 on How to Learn an Accent
Roll up your sleeves and start researching. And we mean really dig deep into your character’s background.
By the way, just so there is no confusion, we would first like to differentiate between a dialect and an accent.
Dialect is caused by differences in location rather than language. So if English is your native language, then your dialect is determined by the place you live (as in Britain, Australia, America…all which have English as the first language.)
To learn a dialect (and sound authentic), learn all you can about your character. Where do they come from? What is the weather like in their home town? What political or religious beliefs drive this character?
On the other hand…
An accent occurs when a native speaker tries to speak in a foreign language. So if your character is from Russia and they attempt to speak in English, they will have an accent.
If you want to know how to learn an accent, and sound authentic, you also need to learn everything you can about your character. However, ask these questions instead:
What is the phonetic structure of their sound?
How does their tongue move when they pronounce words?
Can you follow the rhythm or musicality in the phrases?
What shapes do the vowels and consonants make?
How do their facial features (cheeks, lips…) shift as they speak?
You might be thinking ‘what does all this have to do with learning an accent for a voice-over?’
One word: context.
These questions are meant to reveal more about what influences the character. Answering them will give you a broader understanding of the accent and hence help you become more familiar before you start speaking it.
And now you might be thinking ‘Its too much work, I might as well just go ahead and learn the entire language.’
Well, if you can learn the entire foreign language, why not?
It will give you an even broader understanding of the phonetic structure and pronunciation techniques in the language. In fact, it takes just as much effort and practice to master an accent as it does to master the entire foreign language, but you don’t have to go there.
Just keep in mind that even after you figure out how to learn an accent, there is still a chance that you will sound unauthentic. One way to avoid this is to:
Be Weary of Stereotypical Accents
There is no problem with sounding stereotypical, as long as you are accurately representing the native speakers of the language. Stereotypes are often based on silly and shallow characters, so do your research before fully committing to a character voice.
Listen to real people talking, not movies, use real samples.
Get a feel of the accent being spoken naturally.
If you base your idea of an accent on a general stereotype, you won’t master the technical aspects of the language. Your knowledge might soon boil down to indefinite sounds because you didn’t take the time to truly learn the accent.
Also, keep in mind that grammar changes from one language to another. The more you can understand about the foreign language, the more you’ll understand why the accent sounds different and how to approach these differences.
How to Learn an Accent: Drop the Character
It’s fun to create a character and use them to learn an accent. For instance, when learning a German accent, you decided to create a character called ‘German Businessman.’
But leaning too much on your character might make it hard for you to do the accent without this character.
Focus on learning the phonetics of the accent before you create any characters. Practice one intonation pattern after the other until you feel comfortable with the accent…only then can you create a character.
Have Fun With The New Accent
You know when you hear a song you really like and you absolutely have to play it over and over again until you can’t stand it anymore?
That’s exactly how you should learn an accent for a voice-over.
Speak it for as long as you can. Prank call your friends and see if your accent can pass as believable.
But remember that there is a difference between improvising a character persona and intentionally creating one off of a script. The presence of the accent doesn’t take away the need to exercise your voice acting skills.
Even after you learn the accent, make sure you incorporate your awesome voice acting skills into the voice-over so listeners can get a better experience.
Get a Voice Coach
This should probably have been the number one step on how to learn an accent. A coach, and not just any coach but a good acting coach, can provide you with actionable feedback.
Never underestimate the power of voice training, especially where accents are concerned.
People are often unable to detect their own accents. And when they do, a lot of people opt for speech training to get rid of their accents.
Why not do the same thing, but in reverse?
Get a coach to give you feedback and detect the little mistakes that might cost you your next voice-over job.
And one more thing, get a routine and stick to it.
Whether or not you are hiring a voice coach to help you learn an accent, you need to plan out your time. It takes a lot of practice, so read aloud in the new accent on a daily basis over a series of weeks.
When practicing a new accent, record yourself so you can clearly hear the differences between yourself and a native speaker. Be careful to use reliable recording samples so you get the right idea of how to pronounce words and phrases.
If you’re still not sure how to learn an accent and sound authentic, the next point is for you.
The Secret to Sounding Authentic
Have you ever met someone who doesn’t sound like their accent?
It can be unnerving listening to them because it seems like the voice and the person are disconnected somehow. After you learn an accent, make it sound authentic using your voice acting skills.
The difference between a fake-sounding accent and a real one is in the way you feel.
Remember, an accent is more than the sound of your voice. It represents who you are, how you feel, what you want people to think…
Learning an accent means being true to your character, thinking as they would think, feeling as they would feel.
So how do you get into the head of your foreign character?
Well, you study them. Understand the who, why, and what of the voice-over script because in as much as the accent changes, the intention of the message still needs to be conveyed with the same level of confidence and clarity.
Recap: Step by Step Guide on How to Learn an Accent
An interest in the accent will lead you to pay attention when people talk, analyze what they are saying, and practice until it’s second nature to you.
Get a good source. Find real people who speak naturally with the accent and model your training after them.
The next step is to master the pronunciations of consonants and vowel sounds and how these pronunciations appear physically.
Now it’s time to learn the rhythmic patterns of the phrases. If you listen closely, you can detect melodic patterns in different languages. Master this pattern and apply it when learning an accent.
Don’t forget to notice the way different accents apply stress and emphasis on their words. It makes all the difference in pronunciation.
In case you didn’t get the memo, it will take thousands of hours to learn an accent and make it sound authentic. Keep practicing with the intention of getting better, and a dialect coach wouldn’t hurt your chances either.
You can also practice with a native speaker and ask them to give you pointers. Just remember than when recording a professional voice-over, you will need to polish the accent even further and elevate it to a professional level.
Mastering an accent is a lot of work, and it takes time before the newness of the accent wears off and it starts to feel natural. But, it is well worth it. You can land bigger and better voice acting jobs if you have the right accent. There is a lot of demand for voice actors that can do accents, so all the work you put into learning an accent will pay off.
Finally, Fake It
The confidence to walk into a room and speak with an accent that isn’t yours is not something you can learn. In the end, it comes down to your skills as a voice actor.
When you feel you have read enough articles on how to learn an accent, then go ahead and do it. Believe in your training, submit a demo and see what happens.
Don’t be afraid to take your best shot when the time comes. As long as you sound authentic, no-one will care that it is not your original accent.