Wednesday, June 27, 2012

American Accent

Flatiron Building, New York City, 2011.
I was browsing YouTube looking for a tutorial video on how to improve my American accent. A decent video, that is.
Yep, for myself.
My background is very European and my accent very British. Although my American pronunciation has greatly improved lately, most Americans can still detect my British accent. In fact, they almost always have no doubt about it and go straight to the question, "What part of England are you from?" before they even know my name. The next question being, "Why the hell should you want an American accent over your British accent?".
I usually point out, "Standard American". Then, with the poshest accent I can make, continue, "Unless they want to cast me as John McLane in Die Hard speaking like Prince William of Wales".

This is the first of a series of videos by actress and accent virtuoso Amy Walker.
She provides clear and detailed explanations on how to speak in a nice and believable American accent, jazzing the whole thing up with cute acting gigs. And, most important of all, she won't just provide you with the pronunciation of single sounds or words in isolation, but she will give you a broader insight over the typical American intonation, rhythm, and vibe, which is what we actually need more than anything else.

What can I say? I have a passion for accents myself. I like to try new things out and getting a flawless American accent is a challenge I committed myself to.
Without the intention to offend, I believe lots of native Americans would also benefit from such linguistic insights. I was at Staples' early this morning and I overheard the storekeeper (clearly a young American) say "signAture" with the stress on the a (which became a long a) in the second syllable from the left. I found it rather funny.

Mastering more than an accent requires a very strict discipline and the ability to shift from one personality to another. It is not just phonetics, it is also a cultural factor: you must convince yourself you're American to speak with an American accent. Amy Walker suggested to dress like a typical American in a typical American context: jeans, shirt tucked in your pants, jacket. As stereotypical as it sounds, it might work!

What accent would you choose to speak in which is not your native accent?



  1. A great tool for your acting career.

  2. Hello Jay, a very interesting subject - thanks.
    I am Russian, and though I am told not to have a typical strong Russian influence on my English - I do still have it. And I'm choosing American English pronunciation. I love it.
    Regards, Bogdana

  3. Amy Walker's lovely. :) Just don't lose your Brit accent in the process; that would be sad. If you can get the American pronunciation of "squirrel" right, you can do anything.
    I'd learn Scottish.

  4. I would think it would be difficult to learn an American accent when there are so many varieties and slangs, although I have never heard of a "signAture" :)
    It seems that maybe some Americans need to learn from Amy as well!

    1. A great tool indeed! Now I'm ready for fame, Lassie!

      Now I'm so curious to hear your Russian-American accent!
      My regards to you!

      Oh, don't worry, my British accent is here with me, safe and sound. I could never lose it. Scottish, huh? Interesting choice!

      Well, of course, lots of varieties. Still, there's a standard American accent, a neutral one that only requires a bit of discipline.

  5. I like having an elusive accent. Though I come from New Mexico, people often ask if I’m Canadian, for some reason. When I was in Italy the first time, the Italians I spoke to guessed I was British—probably because of my unexpansive (tight-mouthed) way of speaking. The next time, I had graduated to “are you Spanish”? Which makes sense, since I learned Spanish first.

    What has always bothered me, though, is not my accent but my voice itself. I was in despair about it in high school, and my father pointed out to me that voices too can be changed completely—like Liza Doolittle’s in Pygmalion.

    I think I’d most like a melodic Welsh or Irish lilt. And a nice soprano singing voice to go with it!

  6. Oh wow!! Sorry I thought you were American through and through! LOL! And thank you for the intro to Ms Amy Walker! I am too mesmerised by her amazing green eyes so I had to stop her tutorial ten minutes into the clip(without having done the warm up! LOL!).

    Of course you've watched Frasier! There's one scene where Daphne (supposedly from Manchester LOL) tries on her "American" and just frightens Niles and Frasier cos all she does is lower her voice!

    Take care

  7. I have a very standard American accent, but I've always been able to "fake" accents easily, ever since I was a child. I can do American Southern, Boston, New Jersey accents, as well as British, Hispanic (Mexican primarily), Indian, Ebonics, and Jamaican. I can listen to an new accent and mimic is quite easily. There is almost no benefit for these skills, though, except when I was younger I could fool people about where I was from. If I could have any accent for real, it would be Italian. It is so fluid and lovely, probably because Italian is the world's most beautiful language.

  8. All y'all, Mercans ain't got aine ache-sent.

  9. From Canada?? And you're from New Mexico? Hmm, I guess the Americans who ask you do not really know what a Canadian accent sounds like, unless you really sound Canadian!
    Don't mind Italians; any English accent is an English accent to them.
    As for your voice, warm it up in the morning when you wake up (there are lots of tutorials on you tube) and take some voice training classes: you will see the results in a few weeks, and you'll be left flabbergasted! Trust me!

    I wish I could fake as many accent as you can, Raquel!
    Ebonics, I can do it too, though! Not the Boston accent. New York, well, I can speak like Woody Allen, which is pretty New York in itself I'd say. British, well, of course. Indian, I can too! That's the funniest one! Peter Sellers is the best at that!
    Yea, Italian is a truly lovely language. But an Italian accent in English?? Oh well...

    I don't know about the Americans, but you definitely have no accent.