The best way to understand someone with a foreign accent is to speak the same way yourself.
Written By Lucie Harrison
“The first thing to do when learning an accent is to find a native speaker of the language. So if you want to learn a French accent, get hold of a French person.
The next step is to get your hands on a set text that covers all the consonant and vowel changes within a language.
There are three main texts used by voice coaches – Arthur the Rat, The Rainbow Passage and Comma Gets A Cure. You then ask your native speaker to read the text out loud while you make a recording.
When you listen back, mark down all the differences between their pronunciation of each word, each consonant and vowel, and the way you would say it.
Record the answers to two or three questions about things that interest them so they become animated and begin speaking fluidly. You could ask about the place where they are from, or where they like to go on holiday, or their childhood.
Listening back to a recording of their answers will also help you get to grips with their pronunciation, but most importantly it will allow you to hear differences in the rhythm and resonance of their speech.
As they speak, watch their articulators at work. How do their lips, cheeks, jaw, tongue and teeth move as they enunciate each word?
You will notice that Scottish and Russian people sound more throaty because their tongue comes up to the back palate and pushes the resonance back as they speak.
British Received Pronunciation seems to move forward straight from the lips like a dart because the articulation causes lots of forward placement.
But Australian accents can sound nasal because the mouth does not open far.
After looking at your native speaker, look at yourself in a mirror as you speak and note the differences in facial movement.
Think about the origins of the language. Sometimes the geography of an area can affect an accent. Texas is very flat, so the Texan accent is very flat. Wales is very hilly, so the Welsh accent is lyrical and rolling, like the hills.
Finally, try speaking some words and sentences of the language whose accent you are trying to master and see how the pronunciation tastes and feels in your mouth. Speaking the language can help you learn the accent, and vice versa.”
Helen McCrory spent time with Julie Walters learning and preparing the Birmingham accent for Peaky Blinders. Then when Helen went to the first meeting all the actors were told that they were going to go for an original “Peaky Blinders” accent which wasn’t quite the same thing as a Birmingham accent. Whatever it was, they all sounded good to me, I was grabbed by the production straightaway – as was everyone I knew who’d watched it. A pure regional accent in England is a rare thing nowadays anyway. Authenticity of the period is in the costume and set rather than the accent. The acting is what matters and the accent should enhance rather than get in the way. The rule on regional accents on television is that an accent has to be understood in America, if it’s going to sell. I’ve seen Peaky Blinders in France with sub-titles, which is great!
However it’s taken time for the Peaky Blinders’ accent to settle in according to Lucy Townsend, who’s from Birmingham, in a piece she wrote a couple of years ago.
“Peaky Blinders marked a change of approach…(in the Birmingham accent). As Cillian Murphy dropped his soft Irish lilt for Tommy Shelby’s understated Brummie, he demonstrated that the accent could be serious, subtle and spoken by sharp-minded people.
As a possessor of a Birmingham accent myself, it was a relief – but Peaky Blinders’ cadences were not always so well received. My Facebook feed, made up largely of West Midlanders, was telling. “Why do some of them sound Liverpudlian?” asked one friend. “Love it – but why are they speaking like that?” wrote another.
Steven Knight, who wrote Peaky Blinders says that it’s intentional. “I remember going to Birmingham City matches as a kid and there were these other kids in Small Heath who had their own odd, partly Scouse accent,” he told the Birmingham Mail.”
The energy of the writing brings the love of the place and its characters to a level outside and inside of reality. The accents of the characters are another part of the style of this amazing series.
This has been a favourite to read out loud over the last couple of months. Is Shakespeare teasing his lover – is it possible that he wasn’t aware of his own genius? Perhaps Stewart Trotter author of the Shakespeare code could explain?
‘If thou survive my well contented day,
When that churl death my bones with dust shall cover,
And shalt by fortune once more re-survey
The poor rude lines of thy deceased lover,
Compare them with the bettering of the time,
And though they be outstripped by every pen,
Reserve them for my love, not for their rime,
Exceeded by the height of happier men,
O! Then vouchsafe me but this loving thought:
‘Had my friend’s muse grown with this growing age,
A dearer birth than this his love had brought,
To march in ranks of better equipage:
But since he died, and poets better prove,
Theirs for their style I’ll read, his for his love.’
When people repeat what you say just after you’ve said it, it can drive you to distraction, but many people don’t even know that they’re doing it. It’s better to adapt. Be patient and kind towards them . It’s just an expression of their love and admiration for you.
The same reasoning applies when others express their love and admiration by finishing off what we’ve begun to say.
It’s a habit that can be irritating when your partner, child, sister, brother, colleague, friend finishes off your sentences for you. It can also be scary to know that someone is so right in predicting what you’re going to say. When this happens, take heart and be kind – it’s a demonstration of love and admiration.
Susan Dikker of New York’s University Department of Psychology says that the predictive power of our brains can play an important role in human communication, (as if we didn’t know):-
“During conversation, we adapt our speech rate and word choices to each other — for example, when explaining science to a child as opposed to a fellow scientist — and these processes are governed by our brains, which correspondingly align to each other.”
Consider what happened to Echo, the nymph from Greek mythology, who was hopelessly in love with Narcissus and pined away until nothing was left of her but her voice.
Want to know more about how to make the best of your voice?
Click on Improve Your Voice by 100%
“For better or worse, the further from the midrange of things you go, the less relative qualities matter. The same holds true for wavelengths: Pass a certain point and you can hardly tell which of two adjacent notes is higher in pitch, until eventually you can’t distinguish them and finally – you can’t hear them at all.”
It’s true that there are some great voices in the media and acting world at the moment. Some will make you melt some will make you cry and some will make you angry, but it’s unlikely that any of them will alienate you.
This alienation (being pushed away by someone’s voice) happens when the person’s voice sounds different to yours, (hostile) or without appropriate emotional content. Comforting and gentle voices are what we need to hear when we’re ill or in shock – it’s one of the reasons why children in hospital need to hear their parents voices or old people in care need to hear gentle voices around them.
While some accents and dialects can sound harsher than others, it’s not the accent itself that will alienate; it’s the way the accent is used that will express the harshness/softness, emotionless/emotional element of our voice.
Sometimes coaching in elocution is referred to as accent softening – particularly by companies in India. The different use of breath and rhythm in standard English is seen as a means of “softening” the way Indian English is spoken. Whatever the first language (and there are over 400 of them in London at the moment), real connection and use of voice come from understanding how the voice works. Coaches, carers and counsellors are increasing in numbers on the Speak English Clearly course. The benefit of learning an English accent that will be understood internationally is good. The importance of being able to comfort and put people at ease with your voice in the caring professions is paramount. This is why coaching in the way we produce the voice and the thought to voice connection is also taught on the Speak English Clearly course.
To find out more about the specialist course on thought to voice connection go to our
Improve Your Voice by 90% course page
To find out more about learning standard English go to our
Speak English Clearly page
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English is a global language although not everyone is sure why,
The German language is like an aspirin according to Diego Marani the writer and linguist who loves the absolute nature of the language – one word has full meaning and cannot be misinterpreted.
The Spanish and Italian languages have more expressive verbs –
but still – English remains the most used language.
Sometimes clients who come to me – rather than being sent – describe English as being mellifluous and descriptive like music – in contrast to their original language which they view as being curt and without expression. Is it the very nature of English and it’s openness to double sometimes many meanings that attracts people to it? Or is it the particular mask?
Each language can produce a look as Diego Marani says a “mask”. He describes the mask as giving power to the speaker. As different muscles of the face and mouth are used in a different way for different languages – different languages produce different facial characteristics. All dialect coaches know that when an actor starts to get into the zone of an accent, they take on different facial characteristics which grow with the acting part.
To find out more about this and the voice in general – come on an Improve Your Voice by 90% course
Next One March 19th
‘Tis the season to be jolly and in good spirits. There are those who like to drink socially because it relaxes them – especially when on a first date or some other situation that can make you anxious. However, most of us know that to drink “nervously” (a lot downed very quickly) can make social situations worse. Like a firework rocket – you’re fantastic …. for a short time before you’re played out. The same applies to Public Speaking. Quite a few speakers I know in the UK will sip half a glass wine and water to calm their nerves beforehand, but in the USA this is a no, no. Giles Brandreth, who, back in the day, I booked to talk at a dinner at the Dorchester, never touches a drop of alcohol before he speaks – and he’s a great entertainer. No matter how drunk your audience may be, they won’t appreciate your being drunk – especially if they’ve paid to hear you speak. Best Men and Women at Weddings may think they’re funnier when they’re drunk, but in reality (and don’t we all know it) they can be tedious beyond boring. So the rule is less alcohol is best before speaking in public and if you’re not sure – nothing at all. Go through your Max Your Voice check list before speaking – and the words will flow anyway. Click on the photo below and find out which country you are from – booze wise.
Jeremy Corbyn did say that under his leadership of the Labour Party, there would be differences and internal debate. It was fitting therefore that when Hilary Benn stood up to deliver his speech on the Syrian War, he started by saying that Jeremy Corbyn was honest, principled, decent and a good man. Are we edging back into a realm of real politics and great speeches?
Hilary Benn’s speech highlighted the importance of Human Rights over all else. When we consider the really great speeches of recent and historical memory, the ones that have been remembered have at their core, the value of Human Rights.
Sir Robert Walpole, February 1741
“Have gentlemen produced one instance of the influence which I extend to all parts of the nation; of the tyranny with which I oppress those who oppose, and the liberality with which I reward those who support me?
George Washington, September 1796
“The unity of government which constitutes you one people is now dear to you. It is justly so, for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquillity at home, your peace abroad, of your safety, of your prosperity, of that very liberty which you so highly prize.”
Mahatma Gandhi, March 1922
“Little do they realise that the government established by law in British India is carried on for this exploitation of the masses. No sophistry, no jugglery in figures can explain away the evidence. I have no doubt whatsoever that both England and the town dwellers of India will have to answer , if there is a God above, for this crime against humanity.”
Nelson Mandela, April 1964
“Our fight is against real and not imaginary hardships. …We fight against two features that are the hallmarks of African life in South Africa, which are entrenched by legislation, which we seek to have repealed. These features are poverty and a lack of human dignity, and we do not need Communists, or so-called ‘agitators’, to teach us about these things.”