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Tips For Modifying Your Regional Accent


By Stephanie Ciccarelli

August 30, 2009

Comments (4)

Map of North America on a globeHas anyone ever told you that you have an accent?

Whenever there are people living the same geographic area, there is generally an accent associated with that particular town, city, or region.

By virtue of that fact, sometimes it can be easy for other people to tell where you are from based upon how you sound... and in our business, your mode of pronunciation can also play a role in determining the kind of voice over jobs you receive as a communicator of other people's messages.

Tips For Modifying Your Regional Accent

By Jill Tarnoff

We all love the auditions Voices.com sends us from the USA and Canada, however, a regional accent can keep you from winning auditions that are out of your local area. You may not be aware that you have any regionalisms because you sound like everyone around you.

Sometimes people only notice their local accent when they travel.

Voice over professionals should be aware of their local sounds and be able to modify their voice so that they speak a Standard American Accent.

What exactly is Standard American is debated by many getting jobs in a wider market.

When someone comes to me for accent modification the first sounds I listen to are their open vowel sounds.

These are exactly what the name says, they are vowel sounds made with the mouth open, such as, "aw", "ah" and "oo". You will notice that you need to drop your jaw to make these sounds. Also notice that they are very emotional sounds, so you want the audience to pay attention to the feeling you are trying to communicate rather than noticing that you are saying the word in a way that sounds strange to them.

Let's take, for example, a word that inspires a strong emotion in most of us - chocolate! The Standard American pronunciation for that word is "ch-ah-klit". The first o is pronounced "ah" as in "ahh, that tastes good". However, it is very common for New Yorkers to pronounce that o as "aw" as in "aw, that is fattening".

I have coached many New Yorkers who have eliminated most of their accent, but that word will slip by. It is a simple fix to substitute the "ah" for the "aw" once they are aware of it and they have increased their chances of advertising chocolate to the rest of the country.

Another time that open vowels are noticed is when our Canadian friends send an audition somewhere in the USA and forget to change the "ou" in "out" to the Standard American pronunciation of "ow" as in "how " from the Canadian pronunciation of "oat". To Americans the phrase, "out and about" sounds like, "oat and a boat" when spoken by a Canadian.

Again, it is a simple change that makes a big difference.

It is difficult to hear your own accent. A coach can make you aware of pronunciations that may be getting in your way. One of my favorite aspects of my work is the immediate result. I give my clients their own short list of what I call their "red flag" sounds so they can mark their scripts and instantly change their delivery.

Jill Tarnoff
Voice over artist, Accent Reduction Coach

©iStockphoto.com/Mike Bentley

Related Topics: Accent, accents, Canadian, Jill Tarnoff, modification, New York, regional, Travel, Voices.com, vowels


    As a Canadian voice professional, who prides herself on her "non-accent" and who's lived in the States, from New Yawk, to Cali, and now in the Caribbean, I would like to set the record straight, if at all possible...

    I don't know ANY Canadian that says "oat and a boat" when saying "out and about"... Like some from the North East USA and elsewhere, yes, we say "root" for "route", among other things... And, yes, our pronunciation of "out" is not exactly the surfer pronunciation of "AUWT"...as in "ouch".... but, for the most part, we speak the Queen's English. Don't we??!! ;)

    Posted by:

      As a Speech/Language Pathologist/Accent Reduction Coach, I have also observed some Canadian speakers who say "about" as "uh-boat" and others who do not use this pattern. If you're curious about which American dialect you speak, take the US Accent Test. It has been known to identify a person's regional dialect (or the dialect of their parents who modeled a particular dialect) and places them within one of the seven regions of the US. Here's the link: www.gotoquiz.com/what_american_accent_do_you_have

      Posted by:
      • Bonnie Engel Lee
      • August 31, 2009 9:14 PM

        It's very true that there is a degree of accent discrimination out there. We have a lot of clients from Russia. If you think about it, for years during the cold war, the Russian accent was often depicted as something negative. Accent training can really help people to be more accepted and overcome cultural barriers that were put up long ago.

        I'm also Canadian and have to say that at least out on the west coast, people don't say "oat in a boat". Maybe it's a east coast thing.

        Posted by:

          Canadians... "...for the most part, we speak the Queen's English. Don't we??!!" Um, NO!!!

          The only people who speak truly 'standard' English are those from the South of England - and only some of those actually speak the Queen's version. "Queen's English" is a highly educated Southern England sound - i.e. posh, or "Received Pronunciation". Vowels are very clean and literal, in their original 'correct' English pronunciation.

          So far as I'm aware there's nowhere else on the planet where truly standard English is spoken. Some parts of colonial Africa and continental Europe come close, but North America certainly doesn't!!!

          What I find most interesting is the idea of a 'neutralised international English' - a sort of blended, modern, minimalist accent. It sounds like a blend of Southern England English (not the ultra posh kind, but more regular Standard English) and a soft Standard American. It's lovely and clear, and very inoffensive to most international ears. I believe there'll be an increasing need for it in international businesses like airports, web applications and web advertising, and electronic products.

          Posted by:
          • Lilli Appin
          • September 6, 2009 9:05 PM

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