When I was a kid, my dad and I used to speak to each other in different accents for fun. By the time I was 14, I was pretty capable with a British accent and an Indian one, in addition to the Southern accent I was surrounded with growing up. I’ve dabbled in other accents over time, and now, as an audiobook producer, I’ve found a fun and profitable way to put these oddball skills to use.
When I audition for audiobook roles, sometimes the book requires an accent that I’m not yet capable with. For instance, the audiobook I just finished, Arrow of the Mist, contained characters with Celtic accents. And the book I’m about to start has minor characters who speak in Latino and Caribbean accents. So I had to learn to do these accents. (Note that I will not audition for or accept a gig that requires me to narrate the whole book in an accent with which I am not already familiar. If I’m not well practiced yet, I can voice minor characters in that accent, but not major characters, and certainly not the non-character narration. I can sustain the new accent for short stints, but trying to do it through the entire book would be too much, and I would slip in and out of the accent.)
So how do I learn new accents? Well, I am fortunate enough to live in this amazing, technologically advanced world, with this incredible thing called the Internet at my disposal. First thing I’ll do is go to YouTube and search for videos by native speakers of whatever accent I’m trying to learn. If I can’t find enough good material on YouTube, I’ll google movies that feature characters with those specific accents, and I’ll rent them or watch on Netflix.
For instance, when I was studying up on Irish and Scottish accents for Arrow of the Mist, just by happenstance, I watched a movie with my husband called The Voices. In case you’re wondering, it’s an exceedingly strange horror-comedy about a psycopath killer who has conversations with his cat and dog. The cat tells him to murder people, and the dog tries to discourage him from murdering people. The great part of watching this movie, at the time, was that the cat was voiced in a really excellent Irish accent, which I imitated for this magical character in Arrow:
Arrow of the Mist – Audio Sample (Open in a new tab to avoid leaving this page.)
I find that learning a new accent is much more than memorizing the pronunciation of specific words. In fact, that is not what I do at all. When I watch the YouTube videos or the movies on Netflix, I’m mainly listening for the general lilt and rhythm of the accent. I’ll pause at certain points and repeat exactly what the speaker or actor has said two or three times before proceeding with the rest of the video. I do this even when I’m not researching for particular roles. For instance, when I watch Game of Thrones episodes online, I often find myself rewinding to hear a particular phrase again, so that I can try to reproduce the inflection used.
For practice, I will sometimes use the accent in conversation at home with my family. This always gets lots of giggles out of my daughter. Once, we made a game of it. I created a character named “Tatiana the Great”, a fortune teller with an Eastern European accent and a hot temper. My kid played a succession of different customers with burning questions that needed answering, and I, as Tatiana, peered into my crystal ball and offered dubious but hilarious advice. My husband even joined in as “Jakov”, the kind but bumbling male servant.
Does the accent need to be absolutely perfect? Probably not. Think of AMC’s The Walking Dead. Andrew Lincoln, the actor who plays Rick Grimes, is British, and performs the role with a very good southern accent. BUT, if you’re very familiar with southern accents and you go back and watch all the episodes from Season One, you can see that the accent started out good but definitely flawed.
The Internet has made fun of Lincoln’s pronunciation of Grimes’ son’s name, Carl. Throughout the first and second seasons, Lincoln would often say “Coral”, in what seemed to be a misguided attempt to imitate the drawled vowels of the southern lilt. But even though the accent was flawed, it was still believable. I am sure that any native Irish person would find the flaws in my imitation of an Irish accent immediately. But for everyone else, they are not likely to be noticeable. And like I said before, it’s all about the lilt and rhythm. If you can capture those and manage to keep your pronunciation right for the most part, you’ll do fine. And of course, the more practice you get, the better you’ll be.
So if you’re thinking of narrating audiobooks, or you have some other strange purpose for learning accents, don’t be too intimidated! The resources are at your disposal, and it’s not as hard as it seems. Have fun with it!
Are you a “natural” at voices and accents? Or have you ever studied an accent to learn how to imitate it? Do you do audiobook narration or another type of voice work? Let me know what you think in the comments section!
Also… I am running an IndieGoGo campaign right now to help me get to Odyssey Writing Workshop! I am super excited about this opportunity, which I believe will help me reach the next level in my science fiction writing. I’d be pleased as pie if you would check out the campaign and, if you like it, contribute, share it with your friends, or interview me on your blog or podcast!