When you are planning to learn a new language, catching the accent first can be a useful method to help you get the pronunciation right. Another great reason to learn to imitate an accent is if you are up for a role or preparing for an audition. You probably have seen plenty of films where the antagonist has the ever so popular Russian accent.
A Russian accent can be a tricky one to master. But this is because it involves some sounds and spelling that is atypical for English. If your roll calls for this type of dialect, you will want to prepare so that it does not detract from your acting. However, it is not impossible to learn to speak in the accent believably. This article will focus on giving you some tips and tricks in order to really get that Russian accent perfected.
9 TIPS ON HOW TO GAIN A RUSSIAN ACCENT
With many European accents, the letter R is trilled or rolled when it is spoken. Russian accents include this difference as well. To do this you will need to lightly place your tongue just behind your upper teeth. You will then need to push air through it like a reed and allow it to vibrate as the air passes.
Take some time to practice this trill so that when you are speaking with your new accent, the roll comes natural.
There is no straightforward translation from English to Russian for the th sound. Thus, many native speakers have a hard time forming this sound. Instead, they will replace the soft sound of th with the more harsh sound of d. You may even hear some Russian speakers replace it with a z sound. Think Natasha from Bullwinkle. In this case, the word this becomes zis. For unvoiced th sounds an s sound will commonly replace the th. For example, tooth becomes toos.
Another sound that a native Russian speaker will have trouble with is the English W sound. This sound will more than likely be swapped with a V sound. So, words like weather will become veather and window will become vindow. Da veather is beautiful. Just look out da vindow.
ELONGATE VOWEL SOUNDS
The long I sound occurs rarely in the Russian language. Thus, a speaker new to English will more than likely use an ee sound to replace it. For example, in will sound more like een. Keep this in mind as you read your lines.
When a word has a stressed syllable in English, a Russian speaker will raise the pitch of the stresses part as well as elongate it. Do not overdo it, but make it noticeable.
When English speakers ask a question, you will hear a lower tone that rises towards the completion of the sentence. To create a Russian accent, do the opposite when using a declarative sentence. Start with a higher tone and let it drop lower towards the end of the sentence.
Emphasize the Russian accent by slowing down your speech. Most people learning a new language will automatically speak a little slower. Allow yourself to slightly draw out your speech so that it is slower than an experienced English speaker.
USE YOUR EARS
Find videos online or on television, listen to radio interviews and podcasts. These will help you get familiar with the nuances of the language from raw native speech. Pay attention for repetitive sounds that may not be common in your own language. Pick up on tone changes and intonation. Try focusing on specific sounds such as specific letter. Then listen again focusing on a different area of speech or letter. Doing this will familiarize you with differences you should remember while you are reading through your script. Also pay attention to the shape of the person’s mouth and position of their lips. This small aspect can really help with properly pronouncing sounds and words while learning your Russian accent.
Listen for tonal changes in different types of sentences. You may notice declarative sentences are more monotone than in English. This means there is little to no stress on the subject of the sentence. For questions, you may notice that the stress is put on the word in question instead of the ending subject. For example, Have you tried that new restAURANT?, becomes, Have you tried that NEW restaurant?
Sometimes English speakers will take this as being rude because the inflection change makes it sound condescending. However, it is just a subtle difference between languages that can cause a barrier.
STUDY HOW YOU SPEAK
A great way to hear your progress and get some good practice in is to use a small recorder or your phone to record yourself repeating lines from one of the shows or radio programs. This will give you a way to compare your own Russian accent with that of a real one.
Pick out areas you need to adjust and try it again until you get it right.
THEN TRY OUT
There is no replacement for good old practice. It makes perfect, after all. Once you are comfortable using your accent you need to get comfortable using it in front of others. You will be using it in front of a director and other actors so you will want to be comfortable enough that you allow it to come naturally instead of having to focus too much on it or over-think it. This is because if you are trying too hard to make it sound natural, it probably won’t. In fact, it will likely detract from your performance. This is because there is no focus left for you actual acting performance.
So, get in front of family and friends. Ask their opinion. Ask if something was distracting. If there was something distracting it is probably because it wasn’t being done correctly. Thus, you can use this information to adjust and practice your weak spots.
It is one thing using you Russian accent in front of loved ones and another using it in front of complete strangers. Your family and friends may not be critical enough because they love you and do not want to hurt your feelings. Also, they are people you are already comfortable with. Thus, it is a good idea to take your accent out on the road where you can get an unbiased ear to speak to.
Stop into a shop or restaurant you do not usually stop into. Use your Russian accent on the clerk or waiter. Order your meal and ask questions.
- You can usually tell if your accent is not going too well because your waiter may get a suspicious or confused look on their faces. There may be an awkward atmosphere because they are not sure what to think.
- However, if your accent is really sounding authentic, you may be questioned as to where you are originally from. At that point, you can tell them why you are speaking like that and get some really good unbiased input and criticism in addition to some really great practice in front of people you do not know.
LEARN FROM PROFESSIONALS
This may not be an option if your funds are low, but you can always seek the assistance of a dialect coach. Dialect coaches are especially helpful if you find it excessively difficult to figure out how to do a Russian accent on your own or if you are on a very tight schedule. These coaches have already done all the research for you and are skilled at knowing exactly what to practice and what nuances to learn in the dialect. This can really help your learning curve and fast track you success.
There are also plenty of CD courses that you can order which will help give you a step-by-step program to follow. If you learn better with that type of instruction, this type of course can be perfect for you.
Regardless of the reason you need to be able to imitate a believable Russian accent, there is a plethora of resources for you to tap into. Use them to familiarize yourself with the dialect of native speakers. Imitate them and practice until you get it down.
If you are learning a Russian accent for a role in a film or play, do not try to wing it because you have watched one or two movies that had a Russian character in it. Poorly adapting any accent during a performance can make or break you. A well-done accent can highlight your performance, give you an edge, and open doors to other roles that may call for an accent. A poor accent will distract the audience and even hinder your performance.
Did you have difficulty learning a new accent? What steps did you take to overcome that and be able to relay a convincing accent? Please leave helpful tips and comments for others here so that they may learn from your experience.
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