Voice-acting tips from
"The Art of Voice Acting Workshop"
ACCENTS IN VOICE-OVER
By Susan Berkley
Reprinted by permission from “Inside Voice-over”
by Susan Berkley (www.greatvoice.com)
ACCENT DO'S AND DON'TS:
Is having an accent a benefit or a liability in voice-over? In this issue of Inside Voice-over I'll be discussing two types of accents: those from other countries, and regional accents from around the United States. Plus I have some special tips for actors who can imitate foreign accents.
Non-US speakers of English living in this country (such as those with British, Australian or Indian accents) are considered "specialties." There may be occasional opportunities, but not as many as for those who speak unaccented US English.
Those who speak English as a second language will have an even tougher time. How often do you hear foreign accents on commercials? Not too often! And when you do, the actor may be an American who is faking it. Why? Because an actor who can do accents can give the director more or less of the accent on cue, whereas the "genuine article" cannot.
Using voice talent with an accent presents other problems as well. The accent may be difficult to understand. It can also cause preconceptions in the mind of the listener that detract from the advertising message.
If you are a native speaker of a language other than English, my suggestion is not to try to compete in the English speaking market, but to consider making a tape in your native language. Here I can be much more optimistic.
There are opportunities recording corporate audio for US companies wishing to promote their goods and services overseas. Local translation companies are an excellent source for this type of work. If you live near a big city like NY, LA or Chicago, make a voice-over demo in your native language and send it to the local talent agencies. They will keep it on file and give you a call when an opportunity for your language arises.
There are several companies in the US, including my Great Voice Company, who specialize in recording phone system messages in foreign languages. In fact, if you are an actor or an experienced voice talent who is a native speaker of a language other than English, we want to hear from you! Native speaker means you grew up in another country or spoke the other language fluently before you learned English.
We are especially interested in native speakers of eastern European languages, Asian languages, Middle Eastern languages and those who speak the languages of the Indian Sub-continent. You should be able to come to our studio in Northern NJ (outside New York City) on short notice or have access to a recording studio with ISDN CODEC which can digitally send your voice to my studio in real time over the phone lines. Call your local recording studios to find out if they have ISDN/CODEC capabilities. We don't pay travel expenses. If you think you fit the bill, please send an email telling us a little bit about yourself and your experience to [email protected] with "foreign voice talent" in the subject line. You must be a permanent US resident legally allowed to work in the United States.
By the way, if you learned English (or any other language) as an adult, it is almost impossible to speak it without an accent. Linguists tell us that only children, whose brains are still developing, can learn to speak a second language flawlessly. As an adult you can minimize an accent considerably and learn to speak another language fluently, but it will be extremely difficult to eliminate your accent altogether. Nor would you necessarily want to! An accent is part of your heritage, your unique individuality. And as long as people can understand you, it is something you should be proud of.
By the way, if you are an American (or Canadian) voice-over artist who does
foreign accents, I'd probably not showcase those accents on your demo tape,
but maybe mention the fact in the cover letter that you send with your demo. There just isn't enough of this kind of work to warrant taking up valuable space on your tape, and too many people end up embarrassing themselves by doing accents that are really not up to par. Better to do a regular commercial or industrial demo in your un-accented voice. If you really, truly and honestly are an accent expert, group all your accents together and include them as a separate track on your demo CD. Do not mix them in with the other cuts on your demo tape.
REGIONAL NORTH AMERICAN ACCENTS:
Did you know that there is such a thing as standard American English? Standard American English is speech that is recognized as being from the United States but with no particular regionalism. If you have a noticeable regional dialect, such as from the Northeast, South or Midwest, your opportunities in voice over will be limited until you minimize your accent.
The reasons for this are similar to what I outlined above for foreign accents. A regional accent may be difficult to understand and can cause preconceptions in the mind of the listener. For example, a person with a strong NY accent may be unfairly stereotyped as being brash or rude. Many ad agencies are located in NY city, but they are careful to select actors whose accent is neutral and devoid of the local regionalism.
Any accent can be minimized. And native speakers of US English can learn to
acquire standard American speech. Actors do it all the time. Look for a dialect coach, a licensed speech pathologist, or an accent reduction specialist in your area. You might find them in the yellow pages or on a referral from your local Ear Nose and Throat doctor. You might also ask for a referral from the drama or communications department at your local college or university or from a local broadcast school. Accent reduction work is similar to working with a personal trainer. You'll meet with your practitioner on a regular basis and be given exercises to do at home. The speed at which you progress will depend on how diligent you are about doing your homework. Be patient. You'll be re-training all of the muscles
involved in speech as well as training your ear and this can take a while.
With warm regards
Your voice-over coach,
From the "Inside Voice-over" ezine by Susan Berkley, reprinted with permission. For a free subscription and information about her voice-over teleclasses visit www.greatvoice.com. Susan Berkley is a top voice-over artist and one of the voices who says "Thank you for using AT&T." She is the author of "Speak To Influence: How To Unlock The Hidden Power Of Your Voice," available at bookstores or from 800-333-8108.
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