Actors and actresses often come across opportunities for auditions requiring a role that has an accent not native to them. Many find that speaking in a non-native accent to be difficult to convey in a way that sounds authentic. One such accent you will likely come across is a German accent. This strong, heavy accent is popularly used in period films, war documentaries, historical films, and often voices malicious villains. The German accent is distinct and well known. Thus, if it is spoken incorrectly, you will sound foolish since most people know what it should sound like. Therefore, it is probably not an accent that you will just get up and “wing it” during an important audition. Instead, you will likely put some practice into learning how to have a German accent so you are more prepared, should it come up.
This article will take you through steps to teach you how to have a German accent and will introduce you to general differences to keep in mind in order for you to sound authentic and convincing.
9 Tips on How to Have a German Accent
Tip 1: Take a Lesson from Count Dracula
Even though Count Dracula is not German, he is popularly known for his accent. You do not have to listen closely to notice that he does not pronounce the soft “w” sounds. Instead, you will hear that the “w” sound will be replaced by a much harder “v” sound. This is the same for German accents. When learning how to have a German accent you will want to watch (or should I say “vatch”) for those “w’s” and swap the sound out for a “v.” If at some point the role actually speaks in German, you will follow this samerule. When you see a word containing a “w,” it will still sound like a “v.”
Tip 2: “Zomesing” to remember
Another soft sound you will notice becoming a stronger sound while learning how to have a German accent is the soft “th” sound. The “th” is also known as the voiceless fricative. A fricative is essentially an inhibited sound, usually inhibited by your tongue being used to get in the way of the airflow in order to produce the sound correctly. These sounds are made when you position your tongue behind your upper teeth. However, this sound is nonexistent in the German language. Thus, when you speak in the accent, it is important to remember to keep your tongue down by your lower teeth so that your “th” sounds come out as an “s” as in spoon or a ”z” sound as in ‘zoo’. “Now zat iss somesing to sink about.”
Tip 3: Throw Those “R’s” in the Gutter
Another sound to remember when taking on the task of learning how to have a German accent is the “r” sound. In English, the “r” makes a very hard and quick punch such as in the words: rock or risky. The sound you hear is also nonexistent in the German accent. Instead, you will want to utter your “r’s” from further back in your throat to make them sound much more guttural. This is a uvular fricative. To get an idea of how to make this particular sound, you can take a glass of water and gargle with it.
You will not only be able to hear the guttural noise, but you can also feel where to place the sound and soft vibration when you try to produce it using your accent. This can be tricky for many English speakers since it is not a sound or position really used in their speech. Thus, it is helpful to practice this sound on its own until you can slide it to the back of your throat. Then you can repeat words containing “r.” Once you have that perfected; add “r” words to complete sentences until you get the hang of sliding the sound back and forth during the regular speech.
Tip 4: Auslautverhärtung
Consonants in German accents are so hard they have their own term: Auslautverhärtung. In other words, when the plosives B, D, G, are at the ends of words, their more harsh counterparts, P, T, and K, respectively, replace them. That is what helps give the German accent that distinct choppy sound. For example, “I broke this bottle in the bathtub,” will become “I broke zis bottle in ze bastup.” Take note of the sound swaps, especially the end sound where the softer “b” became a harder “p” sound.
Another sound that changes at the ends of words is the letter “s.” If you have ever seen a movie where the actor ruins it with their terrible accent it may have been because they just hiss all of their “s’s.” It is true there is a sort of hiss with the letter “s” in the German accent. However, this usually only occurs at the end of words. Word with an “s” found at the beginning or middle do not hiss. Instead, they will have a “z” sound in its place. SO when you see words like bus or flies, go ahead and sound snakey. However, if the “s” is not ending the word such as in scuba or past, swap them out for “z” instead.
Tip 5: Changing Roles
So, it seems the letter “v” has found a new role stepping in to replace the softer “w” sounds. Who will take over the “v” sounds then? That sounds like a job for the letter “f!” This swap will occur regardless of where the letter “v” is in a word. Thus, “violin” becomes “fiolin” and oven becomes “ofen.”
Tip 6: “Schpecial” Attention for “St” and “Sp”
Words that start with the “st” or “sp” sounds will gain a “shhh” sound as if they have gained an “h.” For example, “stop” and “star” now sound like “shtop” and “shtar.” Similarly, words such as “spike” or “spot” gain that same “h” making them “shpike” and “shpot.”
Tip 7: Those Tricky “A’s”
When you listen to an English speaker you can pick out different sounds produced by the letter “a” depending on context. For example, in words such as: “call,” “mall,” or “install” you hear an “ah” sound. However, in words such as: “master,” “cat,” or “antelope” you hear a short “a” sound. German speakers tend to have difficulty with these sounds. Thus, the “ah” sound in the first set of words will become more New York sounding and have more emphasis as an “aw” sound instead. Meanwhile, the second set of short “a”-containing words, now sound like you replace them with the letter “e.” Those second set words now sound more like, “mester,” “cet,” and “entelope.”
Tip 8: Listen
A great way to learn how to have a German accent is to listen to native speakers. This will get you familiar with their inflections, tone, pronunciation, and pace. You will likely notice that they speak very concisely and almost stoic. Though it sounds harsher than many other languages, you want to avoid sounding stern as if you are being mean or talking down to someone. Instead, make your words sound like they are ending somewhat abruptly, give it that choppy nature.
Tip 9: Find Some Coaching
So, your audition is approaching much too fast and you are not ready to sport that authentic German accent. What do you do? Well, there are vocal coaches out there that can help streamline your learning. They have experience in listening to your accent and giving you real-time feedback. They may also suggest vocal exercises to get you on the fast track to your German accent. This can not only help you learn to sound authentic, but it can help you avoid any bad habits that may sneak their way into your speech. A vocal coach already has the knowledge of what you should sound like and any nuances you need to implement. That saves you from having to spend the time to research and you can instead spend that time in practice.
It is definitely not far-fetched to think that at some point in your acting career you may need to speak with a German accent. This can be a daunting task if German is not your native language and even more so if you are unfamiliar with it at all. This article gave you some basic information to get you going. With practice and familiarizing yourself with the sound of this accent, you can successfully imitate it and convincingly portray it to the casting directors. If you find yourself panicking because you have only a short time to get it right or you are having a difficult time, finding a coach to help you focus on what you need to learn may be the right decision for you.
Have you ever had to learn how to have a German accent? Do you have any movies or videos to suggest for others to watch if they are learning the accent? Please leave any helpful information below to share with other actors learning how to have a German accent.
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