Actor’s Guide: How to Do a Jamaican Accent

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Learning an accent can add skill and talent to your acting resume. Not only does it showcase your abilities as an actor, but it also widens your versatility. Actors who learn how to master accents have a higher probability of landing parts and are afforded a wider range of acting opportunity.

Jamaican accents are commonly seen in a variety of theatre, and it’s considered one of the most appealing accents in the world. If you’re among the many actors out there that want to learn how to do a Jamaican accent, you’re in luck. We’ve compiled a list of tips and tricks to get you sounding like a natural-born Jamaican in no-time.

Jamaican flag

1. Know the Difference between Accent and Patois

Patois is what is referred to as the “Jamaican language.” It combines words from many West African languages, as well as Creole and English. This type of “slang” does not have a subject-verb agreement, nor does it differentiate between subject and object. Adopting the words and structure of this slang-language is necessary for a Jamaican accent, and it’s helps create the accent as a whole.

Words of the Patois language can include “mon,” “dem,” and “irie” to replace the words “man,” “them,” and “alright.” The first step in learning how to do a Jamaican accent is familiarizing yourself with these words, since an accent will not sound natural without it. And since Patois is not technically a language, you’ll need to combine accent with language to pull it off correctly.

2. Learn Grammatical Distinctions

In each region of the world, there are variations in grammar. When you learn how to do a Jamaican accent, you’ll need to understand these variations. Jamaicans for example, have no subject-verb agreement in the natural way they talk. Their verbs are spoken the same way, regardless of the subject. Whereas we would say “pens,” a natural Jamaican would say, “pen dem.”

When it comes to pronouns, there is no gender difference in third-person, so you would say “I’m” for both “he” and “she.” And where we would change our subject to object, like “I” to “me,” a Jamaican would use “mi” for both instances. In addition, you should try to add “a” for verbs that define a state-of-being. For example, you would say “mi a parent” instead of “I am a parent.”

3. Acquire the Vocabulary

We brushed on it earlier, but Jamaicans commonly use different words for slang. You should try to learn as many of these as possible to make your accent natural. There are some general rules to follow for this that make learning the way they talk easier. Use “mon” liberally, for instance. Jamaicans use double negatives very often, as they are considered acceptable in their vocabulary.

Natural Jamaicans typically repeat words for emphasis, as well as to compare things. You can also try adding words like “breddah” and “eeh” to your vocabulary. The word “mon” should be used often to refer to any person.

4. Work on Pronunciation

Jamaicans pronounce their words differently, and that’s what helps form the Jamaican accent we hear. While it certainly takes some practice to learn how to do a Jamaican accent correctly, there are a few tricks to get you started on the right pronunciation. You should also try listening to a natural Jamaican accent to learn how to use the correct highs and lows of your voice when you annunciate words.

Do not pronounce a “h” that you would see in an English word. “Thanks” turns into “tanks” and “three” turns into “tree.” Also, “th” in English words is often pronounced with a “d” sound. For instance, “them” would become “dem” and “that” would become “dat.”

5. Start Compounding Words

Another common occurrence in a Jamaican accent is the use of compound words. Very often, Jamaicans will use compound or extended words for more simplified words; much like slang. Instead of saying “eye,” you would say “eye ball” and instead of saying boy, you may say “boy child.”

An easy way to practice doing this is just to consciously think of your words before you say them. If you can break your vocabulary down into two or more words, even if it makes it longer, it may sound more natural to your Jamaican accent. “Nostrils” can be “nose hole,” “tears” could be “eye water,” and the “sole” of the foot could be called “foot bottom.”

6. Begin Breaking It Down

Now that you’ve got the basics down in regards to pronunciation and vocabulary, you can start practicing. You’ll want to break it down, word by word. It may help to write down sentences in English and convert them to a Jamaican accent. Then, practice the sentence out-loud. Each word, phrase, and pronunciation in the sentence you speak must sound natural, so spend time on each part of the sentence.

You may also find videos to be helpful, as you can play and stop sentences as you need. Start by learning key Jamaican phrases, as well as greetings and the most commonly-used slang. These are natural parts of conversation and are key in learning how to do a Jamaican accent.

7. Use All Your Resources

The wide world of the internet allows you access to a ton of material to use as practice. Feel free to enable to help of videos, recordings, and more to learn how to do a Jamaican accent. You can also find inspiration from famous Jamaican actors and celebrities you may know, like Philip Akin and Roger Cross.

Using more than one resource can help you learn an accent quicker. While listening may help you understand slang and pronunciation, videos help you see how natural Jamaicans move their lips, teeth, tongue, and jaws while they speak. This helps you develop an accent that is more natural and easier to believe while you’re on stage.

8. Read Some Kid’s Books

It may sound silly but reading aloud can help you practice tremendously. Get an easy-to-read book or script, even if it’s a children’s book. Simple sentences are a great way for you get some practice speaking with an accent. It also gives you practice changing the grammar and wordage in front of you to suit your Jamaican accent.

Start-off small and focus on mastering one complete book in your Jamaican accent. For extra help, try recording yourself as you read. This can help you pinpoint errors and give you areas to work on. Recording yourself as you read is almost a way of having your own voice-coach, since you can go back and re-check your accent.

9. Get into Character

It can be helpful to get into character when you’re learning how to do a Jamaican accent. Just as any role requires certain acting skill, you may find it beneficial to give yourself a role to play. Providing yourself with a role for your accent gives you ambition and a focus for what you want to sound like. Think of this as giving yourself your own “Jamaican personality.”

Pick yourself a name/background and think of a simple story. This gives you material to work from, and helps you develop a personality that goes along with your Jamaican accent. Add in body-language, props, and a costume if it helps. It can help you practice and learn faster, but also help you when you need to get into character on-stage.

10 . Practice, Practice, Practice

Just like everything else in your acting career, you’ll never learn how to do a Jamaican accent if you don’t practice. In order to be able to turn on an accent at-will, you’ll need to spend numerous hours practicing the craft. You’ll need to practice the same sentences and words over and over again, and it should be forewarned that some people can spend years learning how to develop the perfect, natural accent.

For added practice, you can record yourself, join online dialect classes, or speak to a native Jamaican. If you are lucky enough to know someone with a natural Jamaican accent, see if they will sit and practice with you. Not only does this help you learn the accent from someone who knows it best, but they can help you with constructive criticism.

Final Thoughts

No matter how you begin, you’ll need to spend many hours learning how to do a Jamaican accent. Whether it’s watching videos, reading books, learning vocabulary, or talking with a native Jamaican, follow the steps you’ve seen outlined above. These tips and tricks will help you learn how to do a Jamaican accent in no-time and have you owning any stage. How quickly did you master your Jamaican accent?

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