The term ‘English accent’ means different things to different people. To Americans, an ‘English accent’ is interchangeable with ‘British accent’ and it usually means a posh Southern English accent, or a kind of Cockney accent found only on EastEnders or Oliver Twist. But there are so many different English accents for aspiring voiceover actors to practice and perfect. In Britain, travelling twenty minutes in the car can bring you to people with a drastically different accent. Mastering as many different accents as possible will ensure you get more work, and it’s also a really satisfying skill to practice. In this British voice over guide, we’ll look specifically at several different English regional accents, discussing what makes them unique and giving you a few pointers.
If you’re from anywhere outside of England, it can be tricky to pin down a general-purpose English voice-over accent. But as this is one of the most widely sought-after accents, it’s worth developing. It doesn’t help that there are countless distinct English accents, including Geordie, Yorkshire, Scouse, Cockney, Manchester, Kentish… the list goes on. There are countless differences between these different accents, but there are some general rules that tend to occur across most English accents. If you’re trying to get the basics of a standard English accent, remember the following three rules:
1) Pronounce the ‘R’ at the end of words as an ‘ah’. So, car is ‘kaa’ and ‘RP’ is ‘ah-pee’. An obvious exception to this is the West Country accent, where the ‘R’ is emphasised as ‘Arrr’ (a little like a pirate).
2) Allow your vowels to be longer than with most other accents in the British Isles, such as with Welsh, Scottish, Irish, and Northern Irish accents. So, ‘wow’ is said with your mouth wide open so that it sounds full and round.
3) Similarly, make sure to emphasise the ‘W’ at the end of words. So, ‘wow’ sounds like ‘Wuh-aah-wuh’. There are so many intricacies to think about, but these three starting points may get you on the right track. If you’re a voice-over actor and an accent isn’t coming naturally to you, sometimes all you need to do is find a way into the accent. Perhaps thinking about the ‘R’ sounds at the end of words as ‘ah’ will help you, or perhaps remembering to round and emphasise the ‘W’ sound at the end of words will help you. Once you’ve found your way into an accent, all you have to do is practice it as much as possible. Read out scripts and sections from books to test your accent out on as many different words as possible. And record yourself often so that you can listen back with a critical ear.
- Say ‘gan’ instead of ‘go’ and ‘gannin’ instead of ‘going’.
- For ‘alright’, say ‘ah-reet’.
- Shorten some of your vowels. ‘Lovely’ becomes ‘luv-leh’.
- Replace ‘th’ with an ‘F’ or a ‘V’ sound. So ‘with’ becomes ‘wiv’, which rhymes with give.
- Pronounce the ‘T’ sound in many words as a fricative, which has an ‘S’ sound in it. It is very hard to transcribe exactly what this sounds like, but try imagining ‘se’ on the end of the word. So ‘right’ becomes ‘rightse’.
- Pronounce a ‘K’ sound right in the middle of your throat, and allow it to crackle slightly. As it is particularly difficult to describe the Scouse accent, you may like to check out this English Like a Native video.English Like a Native video.
- Pronounce the rhotic ‘R’ in the middle and end of words. This is a hard ‘R’ sound that does not appear in most other accents in England — especially at the end of words. So, ‘are’ is ‘arr’ and ‘lover’ is ‘love-err’.
With all of this chat about regional accents, we’ve neglected RP, which is sometimes called BBC English or The Queen’s English. RP stands for “Received Pronunciation” and it sounds reasonably posh to most British ears. Although RP is loosely defined as the regionally neutral accent of England, it is most often found in the south. For a comprehensive exploration of the RP accent, you may like to watch this video.
That’s all we have time for in this guide to English accents. As times goes on, there will be more guides to various British accents. If you’re interested in Guy’s voiceover skills, make sure to get in touch and request a sample of his work.