How to learn a foreign accent

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.”

Juliette Binoche
Juliette Binoche

Peaky Blinders’ Talk This Way

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.

The Guardian called the accents “dodgy”, while The Spectator’s James Dellingpole, who grew up just outside the city, wrote: “Some sound like a melange of Liverpool and generic northern.”

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.

Peaky Blinders
Peaky Blinders

Sonnet XXXIL (32) – If Thou Survive My Well Contented Day

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.’

William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare