As an actor you may find yourself trying out for a role that necessitates speaking in an accent you are not accustomed to. An American accent is often called upon. Also it will likely be a useful tool to have under your belt. However, if it is not your native language, it can sound very unconvincing when you attempt to speak in it. So you might consider an American accent training.
Though many think that they can speak in an American accent on a whim, it often comes out inaccurate. Being able to speak in any accent is difficult. This is because of different emphasis placed on different parts of a sentence, more articulated sounds, and modified letter sounds. These all depend on the region you are trying to imitate. This article will give you some direction in reaching your goals through American accent training.
9 Tips on American Accent Training
1. Regional Differences
Anywhere you go in the world you will find that any country does not have a singular accent. In fact, different regions of the same country have their own rendition of the language. And they all have their own accent particulars. You will find this true while going through American accent training.
Many researchers have separated the United States into upwards of 20 areas containing their own unique accents. Thus, a necessary step is to find out where your character comes from. This way you will know the region to research for the part. After all, you won’t sound very convincing if during your American accent training you focus on an accent with a heavy southern drawl. Meanwhile, your character calls for a strong accent of the Boston variety.
2. Listen to a Native Speaker
One good tip to use during your American accent training is to find audio and video of people who already speak the language in the accent you are trying to imitate. Websites such as YouTube can be a great resource to do this.
Find interviews, radio interviews, webcasts, movies, or television programs. This way you can really listen and become accustomed as to how the accent is to sound overall. Start paying attention to differences that you did not notice or characteristic parts of the pronunciation you hear repetitively and try to imitate it.
3. Articulate, Articulate, Articulate
Again, while going through your American accent training, this will depend on the region you are researching. Many American accents articulate heavily while others are more muddled. Either way, you may find it difficult to articulate some of the consonants, especially if it is not a particular sound found in your native tongue.
One thing you can do to help your American accent training is to adopt a relaxed jaw position. Try saying words like oven, love, or above through a sigh. During the exhale speak the words and notice your oral posture. Feel how relaxed the tongue, lips, and jaw become during that exhale. Your tongue should be just behind your front teeth and set in the middle of your mouth. This is accepted as a proper oral position for an American accent. Another difference you may find is that the American accent pronounces its vowel sounds more laterally, or from side-to side. Practice words like hat, steel, hit, and fish. Notice how your mouth stays linear.
Finally, a more difficult aspect that many get tripped up on is the pronunciation of the th sound. It is produced by the tongue pressing on the back of your two front teeth while air is exhaled through it. Since many other languages are unfamiliar with this sound, it is a difficult aspect to master for many actors. Give yourself an edge in your audition by mastering this particular difference.
4. Enunciation and Pronunciation Practice
A great way to practice your American accent is to run through pronunciation drills. This will help get your mouth used to positions it is not naturally accustomed to. It will aid in your proper pronunciation. But it will also help make sure you enunciate (saying a word clearly and concisely) correctly.
There are many online resources where you can find different levels of verbal exercises to help in your American accent training. Tongue twisters are also a great verbal accent workout.
5. Hold Off on the Use of Slang
Though slang can, in fact, make your speech more convincing and accurate, it can also sideline you and give you away if used incorrectly. Slang not only changes over time, but differs regionally too. Also, often times a term used in one area means something completely different than its original meaning or its meaning in a different region.
This becomes difficult since you do not want to accidentally offend someone or just sound ridiculous. Thus, it would take some more research to figure out what slang terms are appropriate for the accent you are attempting to imitate. It is likely a good idea to avoid slang (unless specifically necessary to your role). Also, make sure that you master your general speech patterns and accent first.
Nothing beats good old practice. Every language has almost a musical tune to it. After listening to speech patterns and native accents, try to imitate that musicality through picking up on the parts of the sentence structure that is emphasized. Read plays and scripts out loud in the accent. In the meantime pay particular attention to your mouth and tongue position.
Immerse yourself in your role. How can you tell if you are convincing enough if you don’t test it out? Get out in public and use only your accent on others. When going through American accent training, it is imperative that you actually use the accent. You do not want to get to the audition only to see scowls and realize that your accent is horrible. Stop in a restaurant you do not usually go to and use your accent on the waiter. See if they look at you strange. Maybe they will even want to know where you are from because your accent is convincing. Then you can either let them in on the secret and ask for constructive criticism you can use to improve or, have fun with it and keep the ruse going.
Learning a new accent on top of learning your lines can be daunting. Take the time to rewrite your script so that words you need to stress, or are likely to have a mispronunciation in your new accent, are highlighted and rewritten phonetically. Having them written the way you should say them in the accent will make you less likely to trip up on words. Moreover, this gives you the opportunity to learn your accent while you are learning your lines. Breaking up the words lets you concentrate less on having to figure out how to say it properly in the accent and more on making it sound natural. After repetition, it will just flow.
8. Take a Class
If money isn’t too big of an issue, try taking an American English course. When you are learning a new accent, it is often helpful to learn some of the language. You do not necessarily have to become fluent in it. But some of the first lessons in a language class can be of great help while getting accustomed to a new accent.
Language classes will help you with pronunciation. They will also help with learning vowel sounds and oral positioning in order to form the words correctly.
9. Get a Little Help
There is no shame in getting a little extra help. There are voice coaches out there that can accelerate your American accent training. They can take it to a whole new level. Vocal coaches have experience and have already done the research so they can streamline your success at a new accent.
It is also very valuable to have an outside party hear your accent from their point of view. A vocal coach knows all the little details that should and should not be present in a particular accent. But they will be able to point out areas of improvement. They can also coach you in adjusting your speech patterns accordingly. This is far more helpful than just basic criticism from someone who really doesn’t know what to look for.
Wrapping It Up
American accent training can help when you are getting into a role that calls for an accent you aren’t familiar with. Knowing the specifics of the region you are to convey is an important first step. There are many resources at your fingertips that can all help you on your way to a convincing accent. Do not wait until the day of your audition. Be ready and you will be more convincing.
Do you have any more helpful tips for others struggling to learn an American accent? What experiences can you share to encourage others to take the time to work on an accent? Do you have any funny stories from your experience in trying to convince others of an accent you do not naturally speak? Please post any comments or questions for others below.
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