How to l;earn an English accent- 5 tips Actors can teach us

How To Learn An Eng­lish Accent – 5 Tips Actors Can Teach Us

How To Learn An Eng­lish Accent – 5 Tips Actors Can Teach Us

I was recent­ly talk­ing to an actress about how to learn an Eng­lish accent (or oth­er accent) that wasn’t her native Eng­lish accent.  She said she used ‘lay­er­ing’. She said she lis­tened over and over to some­one speak­ing with the accent she want­ed to use. At dif­fer­ent times when she lis­tened, she took turns to focus on and prac­tise dif­fer­ent ele­ments of the accent she want­ed.  She ‘lay­ered’ her prac­tise of how to learn an Eng­lish accent using the fol­low­ing 5 lay­ers:

How To Learn An Eng­lish Accent- Tip 1

Spe­cial Vow­els notice if there are vow­els said dif­fer­ent­ly from your orig­i­nal lan­guage, and learn how to say them and use them in words. Vow­els that aren’t said cor­rect­ly, will always let peo­ple know that you aren’t a native speak­er, or will always make your speech unclear in Eng­lish.

How To Learn An Eng­lish Accent- Tip 2

Stress, Into­na­tion and Melody- notice and mim­ic the stress, into­na­tion and melody of the Eng­lish accent you want to learn. In Eng­lish when a word is stressed (or a syl­la­ble in a word), the vow­el is said slight­ly longer (dragged or pulled out more like you pull an elastic/rubber band) , with slight­ly high­er pitch and slight­ly loud­er.

Notice which words in a sen­tence have pitch that goes up- before a pause or com­ma etc. Notice if the pitch goes down to show pos­i­tive­ness and sure­ness (your inten­tion). e.g the word ‘yes’ can be said with pitch going up-sig­ni­fy­ing that you aren’t sure. You can say it with pitch going down sig­ni­fy­ing that you are sure. etc. Lis­ten for this.

In Eng­lish into­na­tion and melody also sig­ni­fy your inten­tion to the lis­ten­er. If your orig­i­nal lan­guage stress­es words in sen­tences by going down in pitch like some Euro­pean lan­guages, then if you use that pitch and melody in sen­tences all the time in Eng­lish, Eng­lish lis­ten­ers will think you are bored or not inter­est­ed.

Here you can choose a ‘key word sen­tence‘ to refer to in your mind, or even say aloud to your­self to cue your­self into the right melody.

How To Learn An Eng­lish Accent- Tip 3

Vocal tone and atti­tude- Notice the tone or vocal pitch that accom­pa­nies the Eng­lish accent. Is it more nasal, or low­er or high­er in pitch gen­er­al­ly than your lan­guage. For exam­ple, Ger­man speak­ers use a low­er vocal pitch gen­er­al­ly than Eng­lish. Oth­er lan­guages may have a vocal tone that sounds more hoarse or raspy than Eng­lish.

In terms of atti­tude and lan­guage tone – is the lan­guage more direct and loud sound­ing than Eng­lish? Is it a soft­er sound­ing lan­guage than Eng­lish for exam­ple, like Viet­namese? Is it more hap­py or upbeat sound­ing etc? Mim­ic that as well when you prac­tise.

How To Learn An Eng­lish Accent- Tip 4

How hard or light are the con­so­nants said?- Lis­ten whether you are mak­ing your con­so­nants light enough. In Eng­lish for the most part, con­so­nants aren’t held on for a long time, and the place­ment of the tongue/ lips is light and not pushed hard. For exam­ple for /p/ and /b/ you do have to close your lips and pop them open as in most lan­guages, but you don’t hold your lips real­ly tight­ly togeth­er. When you pop your lips open in Eng­lish, you have to also release a puff of air espe­cial­ly for the voice­less /p/ con­so­nant.

How To Learn An Eng­lish Accent- Tip 5

Rhythm and into­na­tion- Eng­lish is a stress timed lan­guage so the rhythm is made up of weak and strong stress­es ( or ‘drum beats’).  It isn’t a con­stant more or less equal rhythm as in a stress timed lan­guage. So in the word ‘pro­fes­sor ‘ the rhythm is daDA­da. The mid­dle syl­la­ble is stressed and the oth­er two are weak and less stressed.

Also notice the rhythm and into­na­tion in a phrase or sen­tence. You can use ‘lala’ to imi­tate and get the idea. For exam­ple, The sen­tence:  ‘They came late and couldn’t find park­ing.’  would be’ la LA LA la la LA LA’   Lis­ten for were the pitch goes up, down, neu­tral, up-down, down up etc.

As well as this, notice how quick­ly or slow­ly Eng­lish is spo­ken com­pared to your native lan­guage. If Eng­lish is spo­ken more slow­ly then speak more slow­ly.

You might use some of these lay­er­ing tech­niques all at the same time, for exam­ple work on vow­els and stress and de-stress in words.  Either way, you do need to lis­ten for, notice and use, all these dif­fer­ent aspects to get a real­ly good Eng­lish accent.

Best wish­es, Esther

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