Tag Archives: how to learn a dialect

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!

Learning a Dialect: Five Ways to Squeeze in the Time

Becoming convincing in a dialect and being able to maintain that convincing nature while acting in a film or play doesn’t happen overnight. Even when you are familiar with the most effective dialect acquisition techniques available on this pretty blue planet, learning a dialect is still going to take a bite out of your schedule.

How much of a bite? It’s impossible to pinpoint exactly, but it’s a smart move to budget a few hours per day for anywhere from 4 to 8 weeks. For now let’s assume two hours per day for six weeks…that comes to 84 hours.

So, it’s going to take around 84 hours to master an unfamiliar dialect…

Wowza.

It’s in realizing this that most actors decide to put off their dialect aspirations.

After all, who’s got 84 extra hours?

Believe it or not, you do.

Really, you do.

You just need to be clever about it.

Here are five clever ways to sneak a little dialect work into your skill set without wreaking havoc on your life:

1) Listen while you commute. Many actors report that driving while listening to dialect source materials on the stereo not only allows them to squeeze in an hour or more of practice per day, but also has a calming effect during traffic jams. If cars aren’t your thing, try wearing headphones on the train or subway. You may not feel as comfortable responding  aloud to your recordings, but you can at least listen for details. If you are fortunate enough to have created recordings for yourself that have long interview sessions with a dialect donor, public transportation commutes can be a convenient time to listen to those.

2) Listen while you work out. If your daily workout includes walking, swap out your Lady Gaga recordings for your dialect materials. (Do be careful walking around wearing headphones. Remain aware of your surroundings!) With the advent of cell-phones with ear pods, even if you happen to be responding aloud to your dialect recordings, most people who pass by you will assume you are on the phone.

3) Listen on your way to lullaby land. Head to sleep 15 minutes early and squeeze a little practice in then. There have been no formal studies done as of yet to directly verify this, but since dreams appear to be our way of processing the events and information of our lives, it seems to follow that practicing a dialect as you drift off could have its benefits.

4) Listen while you do housework. Simple tasks such as folding laundry, sweeping the floor or deadheading roses provide great opportunities to practice your dialect. (And it won’t add a single minute to your busy schedule!)

5) Listen in lines and lobbies. When you have a wait ahead of you, even if it’s only going to be five minutes, try listening to your dialect materials.  Learning a dialect requires consistent exposure over time, so every little bit counts.

Annnnnd a bonus idea…

6) Listen while you relax. This one’s not necessarily a time saver, but I mention it because some actors report that they learn more quickly when they work on their dialect in a relaxing environment. Consider donning your ear buds and heading out to swing in a hammock or lie on the beach, or try working on your dialect while you enjoy a hot bath. (Safely please.)





Breaking the Language Barrier

Did you know there’s a difference between learning a new dialect/accent in your native language and learning one across language lines?

If you happen to speak Polish with a Warsaw accent and you learn to sound like you are from Gdansk for a project shot in Polish, you aren’t in much danger of losing  (or forgetting)  your Warsaw accent during the process.  But, if you are a bilingual or multi-lingual actor seeking work in projects shot in languages other than your native language, you will want to pay special attention to how you go about learning accents of that language or you just might find yourself losing out on jobs.

Here’s what I mean: For the sake of illustration, let’s assume that you are an actor who grew up speaking Polish (or Urdu, Tsakonian, or Icelandic) who is seeking work in the English-speaking industry of American film, and that when you speak English many times Americans ask you ‘where are you from?’ and tell you that you have a ‘lovely accent.’ Let’s also assume that you have been hearing from your agent, manager and even casting directors that you need to ‘get an American accent’ so that you can be eligible for more roles.

If you are like most actors you will take the advice of these professionals and start Googling around for terms such as ‘American Accent’ ‘Learn American Accent’ and ‘Accent Reduction’ until you find a teacher. You will then invest months of time and thousands of dollars learning to sound ‘neutral’ for the sake of your career.

Let’s also assume that you are a model student who devotes the appropriate amount of time and attention to learning a ‘neutral’ American accent, and thus have managed to sound like you are 100% ‘made in America.’

Your agent is happy. Your manager is happy. You are happy.

You are getting sent out to audition for American characters right and left.

…and then your agent sends you out to audition for a role using your ‘old’ accent… the one everyone called ‘lovely’…

…and the weirdest thing happens…

…You can’t quite remember how you used to sound…and you lose out on a job that you probably should have landed.

Whoops.

This scenario is extremely common.  It’s also extremely avoidable if you aware of a few things:

1) When your agent suggests that you ‘get an American accent’, they don’t typically mean that you should eradicate the one you have.  They are asking you to add something to your skill set. They are trying to get you to add value to your acting product.

2) Not all dialect coaches/accent coaches are created equal. (Did you know that anyone can call themselves a dialect coach or an accent coach? Ummmm…Yikes.) If you want to have a great experience with a dialect coach, you have to make the effort to shop around and find one that possesses the skills you need, has substantial experience working with actors, and is coming from the philosophic viewpoint that there is no one ‘right’ way to speak English.

3) You need to be clear with your dialect coach about what you are asking them to do for you. If you hire a coach to ‘get rid of’ your accent, most coaches will earnestly try to help you do exactly that. Be mindful of your language. Always ask your coach to help you ‘add’ a new accent. Tell them you want to be able to keep the accent you currently have, but also be able to switch into the new accent at the drop of a hat. A good coach will be able to construct your lessons with this goal in mind. If you’re not sure if you’ve found a good coach, you might ask them to explain the strategies they’ll employ to help you achieve your goals, and evaluate from there. (You might also want to review my post ‘A Good Private Dialect Coach‘)

4) It’s essential to keep a record of your original dialect for future reference. Even when you hire the best coach money can buy, learning a dialect while crossing language lines is a tricky business. Language is a fluid (some would say ‘living’) thing and the human mind is extraordinarily complicated and mysterious. When it comes to dialect work and crossing language lines, the mind tends to want to substitute new pronunciations for the old, and you must consciously resist that urge. If you are a native speaker of Somali seeking to increase your opportunity for employment in American film, you may find that as you learn a ‘neutral’ American accent, some of those ‘neutral’ pronunciations will sneak their way into your daily speech, and your lovely Somali accent will start to morph into something new.  I advise that before starting any dialect lessons (no matter how good your coach is), you use the guidelines I shared here and make a thorough recorded interview of yourself, as a safeguard. (You’ll be your own accent donor!)

Before I sign off, I have a favor to ask of you — If this post doesn’t directly pertain to your own career, would you please pass it on (email it, Tweet it, send it in a sparkly greeting card) to someone you know that could use it?  It’s my birthday this week and knowing that this information got out to someone who needs it, would start my new year off with a smile. :-)