Actors and actresses often come across auditions and casting calls that require them to speak in an accent besides the one they speak native. Many find this challenging and will shy away from the call, missing out on a possibly great opportunity. One accent that you will likely come across in an audition at one point or another is a New York accent. New York accents make one of the most identifiable accents in United States English.
Many who hear New York accents attribute it to a native’s stereotypical tough sort of personality. Often times, New York accents are also mocked at for being a lazy variation of speech. Thus, many who native own such an accent take pride in it and choose to keep away from any sort of accent reduction as it has become an integral part of their self-identification. In this article you will find some tips to mastering those New York accents in a way that you can convincingly portray a character for the casting directors.
9 Tips on Perfecting Your Non-Native New York Accents
1. Regional Differences
A common mistake that many actors make regarding New York accents is that they believe that there are clear cut differences in dialect between the five boroughs. Though there really are distinct variations, they are more than likely caused by the different ethnic groups that immigrated and settled into the different areas and not necessarily New York borough pronunciation differences. You can find influences in the pronunciation of New York accents from settlers who were Dutch, Irish, Italian, and European Jews.
That being said, you may be able to just learn a generic version of the accent unless the character is specific to one of these ethnic groups. Also, it is necessary to make them identifiable to one instead of just identifiable to the state. Then once you have the accent down, you can either tone it down or turn it up appropriately.
2. Lose Those Rs
One typical characteristic you will find in most New York accents is that the R sound is dropped in a lot of cases. The trick to it is knowing when it happens and integrating it into your speech patterns.
- If you take the time to listen to a native speaker, you will realize it disappears only when it precedes a consonant. Think of the word park for example. By dropping that R sound, you now pronounce it as pahk.
- Another nuance you may notice is that an r” is added to places it needs not be. For example, idea may become idea-r. More than likely you will hear this in older speakers more often than younger ones.
3. Pay Attention to TH
A very noticeable sort of difference in New York accents is the th sound when it is found in either the beginning or ending of a word. This harsher pronunciation is very typical of many speakers and is a good way to create a believable accent.
Take the word, three, for instance. Instead of the usual soft sound found in the start of the word, you will replace it with a hard t making it sound like, tree. A very simple way to accomplish this is by taking the back of your tongue and placing it higher up behind your teeth than you would to produce a th. You will find it will create a more hard and percussive sound. That’s the one you want.
4. Lengthen Your Vowels
Another difference can be heard in the elongating of vowels in a New York accent. You want to create more of an awww sound. This is especially true for as and os.
For example, take the word coffee. Now create more of a long awww sound in place of the o. You now have something more like, cawwwfee.
5. Listen to Native Speakers
Imitation can be a great way to pick up any accent. Take a trip to New York and listen to how people speak. You can also use online resources that feature New York accented speakers. News related interviews or podcasts are great reference points. Pay attention to any vocal nuances, unique pronunciation patterns, or even how their mouth is held while they speak certain sounds.
- Do they open their mouths wide?
- Do they speak through their teeth?
Noticing these differences can help you to speak better because you can then imitate what you not only hear, but see as well.
6. Do Not Forget to Add Some ‘Tude
Though not directly related to pronunciation, adding the right attitude while you speak can really bring life to a New York accent and make it seem more genuine. How you say something can make any performance more believable. This is even truer when speaking in an accent. New Yorkers are known for being direct and opinionated. Their confidence is also very prominent when they speak. They are also sometimes known to speak loudly and be avid talkers. Thus, you should remember to speak quickly and concisely in loud and expressive tones.
7. Be Your First Critic
Once you begin to get your accent well underway, take the time to critique yourself. Use a small recorder or your phone to tape yourself reading your lines with your new accent. When you play it back, listen for those main speech differences such as added rs or hardened ths. Make sure your inflections and attitude are there as well.
Another great way to critique yourself is by repeating sentences you hear from a podcast or TV interview. After you listen to the speaker, attempt to repeat exactly what they said exactly as they said it. This is great practice because you can then record yourself and play it back to compare to the native speaker. You then have the ability to adjust where you need to until you have it down to where you sound almost identical.
8. Practice, Practice, Practice
Of course, nothing gets you to improve better than using the accent yourself. Practice is key in getting your accent just right. At first you may not be too confident and will be uncomfortable. Thus, family and friends are a good place to start. They may not always be a good source of true criticism. But at least you will get used to using the accent in front of people.
After you get more comfortable, take your accent out on the town. Visit a place you do not often go to, maybe a restaurant or retail store. Use your accent on unsuspecting patrons, waiters, or the clerk. If you get a strange look, your accent may be off and they are getting suspicious. However, if your accent is spot on you may even have someone ask where you are from. You can even let them in on your little experiment and possibly get some great feedback to use to improve your accent even more. If not, keep your little experiment secret and get in some more real- time practice.
9. Enter- the Dialect Coach
Many actors do not consider a dialect coach when preparing for a role that asks for an accent. Most of the time this is because they cannot afford to hire one. This is completely understandable, especially if you are just starting out. A dialect coach can be a valuable asset to learning an accent. They can really streamline your learning because they already know what to look for in an accent and exactly how it should sound.
Thus, if you are on a short deadline, if you want to truly impress, or if you have already landed the role, you may want to look at investing in your career and skill set a little by hiring a dialect coach.
To the Talks
Actors and actresses are called upon to become the many different faces of theater and the silver screen. Often the character that needs to be portrayed has something about them that is new or different to that actor. One example of this is the need to believably reflect an accent. The New York accent is a popular accent you may often come across in auditions. There are many speech nuances to keep in mind while speaking with it. If you take the time to learn them and practice to get them right, you can quickly become dangerous competition for that role.
Have you ever been asked to do an unfamiliar accent? What tips would you give other actors who need to learn an accent that is new to them? Have you ever needed to use the New York accent? How difficult was it to learn? Please leave any helpful hints that may have helped you or that you wish you had known while you were learning to use an accent that was not native to you.
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