Lights, Camera, Accents: Approaching Dialects

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If you’re diving into a piece with multiple characters and you aren’t sure where to start, this post is for you. In speech, performers often use different accents or “voices” to convey a character’s personality, location, heritage, or whatever the interpretation of the script calls for. Sometimes, even if it isn’t written into the piece, an accent can give an otherwise fine performance a little shove to greatness.

Mastering an accent is also a way to develop your acting skills, learn about language and show your judges you’ve put a lot of hard work into your preparation. And one of the best ways to figure out an accent is to do a little research. My first suggestion for anyone who wants to attempt an accent in speech would be to watch a couple of movies in which characters have the accent you’re looking to imitate.

This is a quick way to get an idea of how to approach an accent – it is also helpful because it will show you differences based on gender, class, and personality so that you can apply those factors to your interpretation of your character. Here are some suggestions of films with characters who speak in different accents.

There are several different types of dialects, and many vary by region and the aforementioned factors, but these are just a few places to start if you’re looking for general examples of accents to listen to. Of course, this is not a complete list of all the accents in the world, but this is a list of all the accents I’ve seen in competition before: Southern U.S.: Steel Magnolias (Dolly Parton), To Kill A Mockingbird, No Country For Old Men. Midwestern U.S.: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (the office secretary), Fargo. New York/The Bronx: My Cousin Vinny, Die Hard (John McClane) British: Bridget Jones’ Diary, Monty Python and the Holy Grail Jamaican/island: Cool Runnings, Pirates of the Carribean: At World’s End (Tia/Calypso), The Little Mermaid (Sebastian) Scottish: P.S. I Love You (Jerry), Goldfinger, Braveheart Irish: The Committments, Boondock Saints Spanish-speaking: Evita, The Terminal (Enrique), the TV show Ugly Betty French: Ratatouille, The Pink Panther, The Aristocats, Beauty And The Beast (Lumiere) African: The Color of Friendship, Invictus, Hotel Rwanda, The Last King of Scotland Again, these are just starting points, but watch the actors' interpretation and consider the characters' personalities, then compare that interpretation with your character’s goals in your script.

Don’t use an accent that doesn’t fit your character just because you want to show it off. After listening to the dialect you’re trying to imitate, try speaking in that voice for a day to get used to the way words sound. You may be surprised at how difficult – or how easy – it can be to get the hang of an accent just by hearing it.

Wow, awesome list of movies to look for accents...BUT...

Fargo constitutes a Midwestern accent? Which character? If you are referring to Frances McDormand's character with her Sarah Palin type accent, I hate to say but that is not what I would consider Midwestern. I'm from the Midwest and I don't know a single person who talks like that.

To me, and this is a HUGE generality b/c there are several dialects within the Midwest, but a Midwestern accent is the most common accent you hear in television and film. It's that bland, non-twangy voice you hear with newscasters. It's the "non-regional" dialect used to sound like the "everyman".

I mean, when you get further towards the southern end of the Midwest, you begin to hear a slight southern accent. People from Chicago have a distinct sound on certain vowels, particularly on the "a". And in Wisconsin the "ou" sound does come out like Palin's. But that's it. The same basic dialect with some regional variations. I don't know what happens when you head east, but from my life in Illinois and the surrounding states, this is what I have noticed.

Basically, turn on the TV and you hear what people in the Midwest sound like.

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My DI requires a South Carolina/Southern accent. It's a fast talking bubbly teenage girl in the beginning, I know how to do an older Virginia accent with the drawl. It's just hard to speed up and make youthful, if that makes sense. I'm from Texas and I have a midwestern/"everyman" voice. Any recommendations?

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