Many of our clients come to us either because they are actors who need to learn a new accent for an upcoming project or because they are business-people for whom English is a second language and they would like to work on clarifying their accents. For many, clarifying or learning a new accent can feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be! Here are some steps to consider when you are working on an accent:
- An accent is a physical behavior. Everyone has an accent, and that accent is based on how your speech muscles (lips, tongue, lower jaw, soft palate) move to shape your speech. For example, a Dublin accent has more spread lips than a Received Pronunciation accent. Learning what the key physical behaviors of the speech muscles are for the accent you are trying to acquire is an empowering way to help keep you consistent— especially if you feel like you don’t have a very good “ear.” To help you figure out the physical behaviors, watch videos of people who have that accent and watch the way their lips/jaw move. See if you can hear the “hesitation sound”—the sound they make when they are thinking, like “um”, and see if you can mimic that and notice how that changes your speech muscles— this tells you what their neutral setting is for the speech muscles in that accent. If you start from that place with your own speech muscles, you are more likely to stay consistent.
- Find a good sample. Whether you are learning a new accent or trying to clarify your own, find a sample of someone speaking that has the accent you want to sound like. If possible, find a sample that’s audio-visual, so that you can watch as well as listen in order to discover the speech muscle behaviors mentioned above. If you can find a live person to record, even better! Youtube is a great resource for this. IDEA (the International Dialects of English Archive) is an excellent online resource, although their materials are all audio only, I believe. Even so, they have samples from almost every accent of English.
- Find a good accent coach. Work with a coach that will give you tools to make you autonomous, that will help you feel your way into the new accent so that you can keep it consistent, rather than needing to rely on your (or someone else’s) ear. A good accent coach can give you tools that you can apply to learning any accent, so it’s a good investment of your resources, particularly if you will be learning new accents frequently. (we can’t help but plug ourselves here— we do accent coaching at BeSpoke!)
Have other ideas or resources you want to share about accents? Please leave them in the comments below!
Take good care,
Christine and Lindsay