Category Archives: Essential Posts

Cold Reading in a Dialect

What should you do if you are in an audition and the casting entities suddenly ask you to read the scene again — only this time using a dialect other than your own?

In general, you should ask if you can have a few minutes to prepare. I say ‘in general’ because if you haven’t previously mastered the dialect that you are being asked to perform in, a few minutes of preparation will not be enough time to make a favorable impression on those who are hoping to cast you. In fact, it could hurt your chances considerably. If you find that you aren’t intimately familiar with the dialect you are suddenly being asked to perform in, you’ll need to make a (slightly nervewracking) decision:

1) You can either tell the truth about your lack of skill in this area and risk hearing “OK, thank you, we have seen what we need” — And then when you don’t get the role, (because statistically speaking you probably won’t) you may end up forever wondering  if you could have landed that role if you’d have been able to nail the dialect.

OR

2) You can just go for it, (do sub-par work) and run the risk that the casting entities may write you off for future auditions because they get the impression that either you don’t possess a basic understanding of your own skill level or that you have ‘a really bad ear.’

If on the other hand you are suddenly being asked to perform in a dialect that you have previously mastered, I suggest that you ask the casting entities if you may have a few minutes to prepare. They are very likely to say yes. When they do, here’s what I suggest you do:

1)  Find a quiet spot where you won’t disturb anyone if you are talking to yourself.

2) Set a timer for 1/2 the time they’ve allotted you to prepare.

3) Using a smart phone (or an ipod) and some headphones, listen to audio samples of the dialect, specifically whatever sample you have used in the past to ‘tune in’ to the dialect. This of course will take a bit of foresight on your part. You’re going to have to take the time to pre-load your ipod or smartphone with samples from every dialect that you have mastered, and you’re going to have to remember to bring your smartphone and headphones to every audition without exception.

4) Practice applying the dialect to the text. Slowly. Deliberately. (You may find it useful to keep a written list of the basic rules of the dialect somewhere in your smart phone to help with this step.)

5) (Breathe and center yourself.)

6) Practice some more. If you have a voice recorder on your phone, record yourself speaking the lines and listen to them, making adjustments as necessary. (If you usually use an iPhone or iPad and David H. Lawrence’s Rehearsal 2 App for your auditions, it will come in very handy for this step.)

7) When your timer goes off reset it for half the time you have left and record yourself again, this time acting the script as fully as you will do for the audition.

8) Listen to this recording, and make adjustments as necessary.

9) When the second timer goes off, take a relaxing breath, center yourself and return to the audition area, ready to work.

Break a leg!

— Pamela

Note:  This post was inspired by a question I received from an actor who had listened to Inside Acting Podcast’s ‘Audition Horror Stories’ (ep. 44).  If you aren’t currently listening to this podcast I hope you will soon. The show is entertaining, informative, warm and honest. Good stuff.

American Dialects — An Addictive Map

What a treat I’ve just discovered in Internet-Land! It seems Christian missionary and professional linguist Rick Aschmann has a hobby outside his career of working in Native American languages — He’s been collecting samples of American accents and organizing them in a meticulously detailed online interactive map complete with links to audio and video samples of regional dialects. Here’s an overview of what his ongoing project looks like:

And here’s where you can go to interact with it!

Mr. Aschmann has included many technical descriptions which I think will interest those of you who are comfortable with the International Phonetic Alphabet and entry level linguistics, but even if you have no experience whatsoever, the map is an entertaining romp through the bounty of dialects America has to offer. Just look for cities marked with little green dots and follow them to the audio and video links Mr. Aschmann provides.

Have fun!

–Pamela Vanderway

P.S. You know those little dishes that some stores have where you can take a penny or leave a penny for someone who might need it? When you find a dialect sample that you love (on Rick Aschmann’s map, or anywhere else), I hope you’ll come back here to Dialect411.com and share your link and your thoughts or questions about it so I can share it with our readers here. You can leave your link in the comments section or if you’d rather you can email it to me at dialect411 (AT) gmail (DOT) com. Leave a link /Take a link. I promise that as our collection grows, I will find ways to make it easier and easier for you to find exactly the links you need for your next project. You know, if every one of my subscribers and Twitter followers offered up just one link, we’d already have one of the largest collections of dialect links on the internet. I’m pretty humbled by that thought. Thank you so very much for your support! Your participation here and on Twitter (@dialect411) has made these first nine months of Dialect411.com really lovely for me. Happy New Year, my friends! May this year be your best yet!

Concentration vs. Awareness

Sometimes the littlest thing can make the greatest impact.

Even a single word can make a difference.

For instance, consider the word ‘concentration.’  Many of us were encouraged as we grew up to ‘concentrate’ in order to learn new things, and at first glance, concentration seems like a stellar idea. After all, it refers to the directing of one’s attention to a single point of focus. More attention paid to something should bring about better results, right?

Not necessarily.

When we direct our attention to a single point of focus we run the risk of becoming reductive in our thinking. In other words, by paying extremely close attention to one area, we can end up encouraging our mind to only let in information which we already deem to be relevant to that area. Reductive thinking essentially cements what we already believe to be true, rather than creates an environment suited to discovery and learning.  Reductive thinking may be useful for ‘quality control’ situations such as working an assembly  line job or matching our socks, but it’s not particularly conducive to creative endeavors (learning included).

According to VisualThesaurus.com, the word ‘concentration’ bears resemblance to words such as ‘tightness’, ‘compactness’, and ‘absorption’.  Concentration reminds me of a laser beam.  Laser beams have (very) important uses, but have you for instance, ever tried to navigate the darkness using a laser-pointer? (Been there. Tried that. Epic fail.) It’s just not suited to the task. The beam is too ‘narrow’ to properly illuminate the way and lend perspective.

So, what happens if we let go of  our intention of ‘concentrating’ and embrace the concept of ‘awareness’ instead?

Things get interesting.

Awareness acts more like a floodlight that reaches well into dark corners. By intending awareness we signal our brain to let in a great deal of information simultaneously without regard for its perceived benefit. Sure, we get quite a bit of information that we may not find immediate value for, but along with that information, come gems of knowledge we would surely have missed otherwise. Awareness begets expansive thinking, and expansive thinking is the condition under which discovery and creativity thrive.

Next time you find yourself ‘stuck’ when learning something new, whether it be a dialect or any other skill, see what happens if you consciously invite yourself to make the subtle shift from ‘concentration’ to ‘awareness’. It might feel a bit awkward at first not to have access to your trusty ‘laser beam’, but you might surprise yourself with how enlightening the experience can be.

How To Interview a Dialect Donor (It’s Easy!)

To me, one of the most rewarding side-benefits to being a dialect coach is having a reason to interview and record dialect donors. It’s a rewarding experience I hope that all of you can have at some point, especially if you are an actor. If you’d like to try it yourself, but don’t feel like you have enough info to know exactly what to record, I hope today’s post will give you something to go on…

Recording a Dialect Donor: The Basics

Ideally, when a dialect coach records a donor for one of their clients, they record materials of four different types: extemporaneous speaking, biographical information, diagnostic text(s), and vocabulary or place names specific to a given project. Let’s break these down and discuss each type:

1) Extemporaneous Speaking and Biographical Information

For me, extemporaneous speaking and the gathering of biographical information have a bit of overlap, as I often use gentle questions such as  ‘Where were you born?’ or ‘Where is your family originally from?’ to get my interviewee relaxed and talking. I then collect any biographical information that does not surface during the interview at the end of the session (while still recording). I suggest allowing a minimum of 15 minutes for extemporaneous speaking, as you want the donor to get over  any nervousness they might initially feel when the ‘record’ button has been activated. Personally, I tend to record 30-45 minutes per subject. Here are some questions that I tend to ask my donors. I start with these, and then often other questions are added as I go along. The key here is to find a subject that your donor is enthusiastic about, as this will yield the most interesting and lively stories.

Where were you born?

Where did  you grow up?

What was it like growing up there?

Have you been back there as an adult? Has it changed? How?

What is your earliest memory?

Did you ever get into trouble when you were little?

Did you have any favorite relatives?

Were there languages other than English spoken in your household? In your neighborhood? Were you encouraged to learn them?

Were there any school teachers that made a lasting impression on you?

You were born in _____ , grew up in _____, where else have you lived?

What do you/did you do for a living?

What got you interested in that career?

If you could do anything now, what would it be? Why?

How do you like to spend your time?

What are you really proud of?

2) Reading of a Diagnostic Text

For the purpose of dialect collection, a diagnostic text is a written passage that contains all of the sounds and typical sound combinations of a particular spoken language. Having donors read texts such as these aloud ensures that you will have a complete ‘audio picture’ of the dialect you are researching.

The two most famous diagnostic passages for English are The Rainbow Passage and Comma gets a Cure. TheRainbow Passage is a public domain document, and Comma Gets a Cure is free to use as long as you give credit for its use as requested by the authors of the passage. If your subject is willing to read both passages aloud, then I suggest recording both passages. Personally, I make it a practice to give my donors time to read the passages silently to themselves before we record them so that they feel comfortable. Not every dialect collector does it this way. Some feel that the passages are best read cold. In the end, I hope you’ll do what feels right for you.

3) Pronunciation of Vocabulary Particular to a Specific Film or Theatre Project

If you are recording a subject as preparation for a project, be sure to bring an easy-to-read list of any words in the script that you have questions about, so that your subject can record their pronunciation of these words for you. The types of words to look for might include colloquial phrases, place names, proper names and slang or jargon. Don’t worry too much about a word list being too long. (Lists look longer than they sound!) You’re better off recording a little too much than you are trying to track down your donor for additional recording sessions.

4) Biographical Information

Earlier in this piece I mentioned that I tend to lump biographical information in with the extemporaneous speaking section of the interview. This is true. At the same time though, I keep a written list with me of the following to make sure that I properly collect all the information I will need to use each interview for current and future projects. The more information you have about your donor, the more accurately you can determine whether their dialect will suit a particular project in the future.

Here is what I always try to find out about each donor:

What year were they born? (Be sure to record what year it is you are making the recording, too!)

Where were they born (City, State/Province/etc. and Country)?

Where have they have lived including the ages they were when they lived there, and how long they resided in those places.

Which ethnicity/ethnicities do they identify as their own?

Where were their parents (or the people that raised them) born and raised?

What were their parent(s) occupation(s)?

Were other languages than English spoken at home? Which ones? How often?

Do they consider English to be their first language? If not, what was their first language, at what age did they start learning English, and who taught them to speak it?  Where was/were that person/those people from?

What is/was/will be their occupation (depending on age of donor)?

What is the highest level of formal education that they have earned?

And that, my friends, is really all there is to interviewing a dialect donor so that you get all the information you need to perfect your next dialect!

One Last Note:

I promise to write more on the technical aspects of recording dialect samples soon, but here are a few tips in case you want to record something right away: Be sure to record in a quiet space. Turn off fans, running machinery, background music etc. as these will detract from the value of your recording. Make sure your recording device is operating properly (test it!). In addition, as the interviewer, it’s advisable to keep your own vocal contribution to a minimum so that your subject can provide you with good samples to edit later. True, you do have to ask questions, but when at all possible use physical rather than vocal cues to encourage your interviewee to continue their story. Having your donor sign a release form is also a very good practice. That way both of you are on the same page as to how you plan to use their donation. Speaking of donation– If you want your recording to benefit others, you might consider becoming an associate editor at The International Dialects of English Archive which is a wonderful (free) resource for dialect samples.

Happy recording! –And as always send me your questions here, or on Twitter @Dialect411!

Top Ten Dialect Posts

The other day a new reader asked me which Dialect411 posts did I think they should take the time to go back and read. At first I thought ‘all of them!’ Then I realized that in four short months I’ve already posted 35 entries and reading all of them might indeed be quite an undertaking…

So today for your enjoyment, I present to you what I think are the Top Ten Dialect411.com posts. Whether you were with me from day one or just arrived last week, these ten will give you the essential information you need to benefit from the posts that lie ahead!

If you have time to read only three posts, I recommend:

1)  What Are They Expecting — Which explains exactly what it is that casting entities and productions are looking for when they are casting dialect roles.

2)A Good Private Dialect Coach — Which lets you know what to look for when hiring a professional dialect coach.

3) The Steps To Learning Any Dialect — Which describes the process of learning a dialect, so you won’t be unpleasantly surprised…

If you have time for three more, I offer you:

4) What is Good Speech (You might be surprised.)

5) You Have an Accent (Yes, you.)

6) Myth: I’ll Add The Dialect Later (You can try…)

And if you want more, check out:

7) Fit to a ‘T’ — Which explains an effective tactic for using dialects to increase your casting opportunities.

8)  Voice Care Practices (Actual Title: Start From Where You Are) — This is where I share information on caring for your voice when the voicing gets rough.

9)  Finding a Dialect Donor — Where to look if you’d like to try your hand at recording your own dialect materials.

10) How to Shop for Dialect CDs— Tips on what to look for in the theatre bookshop if you must rely on purchased goods.

That’s it! My choices for the 10 essential Dialect411.com posts!

But…I am one of those people who always likes to send my guests home with a little extra, so if you’re ready for dessert, please enjoy:

Why? A Tangent Worth Taking — The post I almost didn’t publish, but the one that has garnered the most response.

Which are your favorite posts? I write this blog for you and love hearing about what you enjoy and what you’d like to see more of! Leave a comment here or send me a private email at dialect411 @ gmail dot com!

Perspective Shift

A few weeks ago  I shared that I’m a big fan of shifting perspective as a means of learning and growing as a human being. In honor of perspective shifting, today I bring you this video of Prisencolinensinainciusol [ˌpri.zɛn.kɔ.lɪ.nɛn.sɪ.nɛn.ˈʧʲu.zəl] by Italian singer/songwriter Adriano Celentano. Listening to this song is an entertaining way to instantly shift your point of view and experience how a non-English speaker might perceive American speakers of English.  (Side benefit– it’s also really fun to clean house to.)

…And just in case you’ve been going mad trying to work out the words, rest assured that most of them are complete fabrications on the songwriter’s part. It’s the nonsense nature of these words that actually facilitates this little adventure in shifting perspective. Without having a meaning to assign to each of the spoken words, your mind automatically focuses on the individual components of speech themselves such as phonemes, rhythms, and inflections. And guess what? Your mind will function very similarly when learning a dialect. In order to pick up a dialect, the mind must hear beyond the meaning of the words. It’s really quite amazing when you think about it. What’s even more amazing is that (barring a significant hearing loss) pretty much everyone on the planet can do this. It’s part of the ‘standard equipment package’ of being human.

Hope you enjoyed this little perspective shift!  Speaking of shifting, starting next week I will be shifting format so that you will receive one post per week from me rather than two. I came to this decision because recently I’ve noticed that my mailbox is overflowing with great blog posts and newsletters every day. I know it’s been difficult for me to carve out time to thoughtfully read every one of my favorites, so I’m surmising that it’s probably a challenge for you, too.  I really want you to have a chance to read every one of my posts, as they are cumulative in nature, so I’m going to give this scheduling change a whirl. This Thursday I will post again, but starting next week you can enjoy Dialect411 once a week every Tuesday.

Joy to you!

Pamela

Why? A Tangent Worth Taking

Sometimes I like to wander off the beaten path… Today is one of those days.

Whenever we meet someone new, it seems the same question comes up… “What do you do for a living?”

What.

“What ARE you?” they want to know.

People may be hoping to connect with us by asking this question, but the question itself is really only suited to gathering surface information.

Once we answer with “I’m a —“, we instantly become a rigid quantity.

A category in someone’s iPhone address program.

A widget.

(Yuck.)

But what if we don’t allow ourselves to get bogged down in the ‘What’?

What if we mentally shift past What to Why?

Sure, I work as a dialect consultant, you work as an actor, a director, a producer, an agent. But those work titles don’t even begin to scratch the surface of who we really are or how we aim to impact the world, do they?

We each have our own core beliefs and motivations that have led us to choose the actions and activities we have pursued. Sharing with people how the things we personally believe in are related to what we have chosen to do for a living allows us a real opportunity to connect with others on a truly human level.

By including the Why, we are suddenly no longer ‘an actor’ ‘an agent’ ‘a dialect consultant.’

We are a particular person with a specific world view who happens to work as an actor, an agent or a dialect consultant.

This happens because people are programmed to connect with other people and their ideas, rather than with job titles.

So—

Why are you an actor?

Why are you a casting director?

Beyond monetary gain, what got you interested in your job in the first place and what is keeping you there?

What is it that you believe about life and the world that you are able to manifest or practice via your career?

And… what if next time someone asks what you do for a living, you include a good dose of Why in your answer?

To close today, I offer you two videos–

The first is of voice coach Patsy Rodenberg speaking about why she does theater. If you’ve not seen this yet (and even if you have), I heartily recommend it. (I also heartily recommend Patsy.)

The second is my very favorite vintage Sesame Street animated short. By now, you already know I’m a dialect consultant, but you may not know any of my Whys. One of my Whys is that I believe that the greatest opportunity I have as a human being while on planet Earth is that of personal growth. In my experience, nothing helps you grow like a nice shift of perspective…