By Susan Berkley
Accents and voice over: is your accent marketable?
By Susan Berkley
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 also 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
Suprising opportunities for non-native speakers of English
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. If you think you fit the bill, please send an
email telling us a little bit about yourself and your experience to
firstname.lastname@example.org with “foreign voice talent” in the subject line. You
must be a permanent US resident legally allowed to work in the United
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
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.
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