The Last of Us is available now on HBO! Find out what it was like working with Craig Mazin and the entire cast and crew on this epic series.
Production is underway for season 3 of The Wheel of Time. Read about my process, and what I do beyond dialects for the show.
Ask a Dialect Coach
Curious about voice and dialect, and what it is that I do? Find answers to some of my most frequently asked questions.
Donate Your Accent
Be a part of my accent recognition app! Record a small clip of speech to add your voice to the database. All accents are welcome. Even if yours is a mixture, we want to hear it.
What is the difference between Accent and Dialect?
In much of the entertainment industry there is no difference. In my experience these two words tend to be used interchangeably.
However, if you are the kind of person who would like two separate boxes to house these words in, I shall provide them for you!
Dialect is a way of speaking within the same language. So there are various dialects of English. There are various dialects of French, various dialects of Arabic. If you speak Portuguese natively and you’re from Rio de Janeiro, you would have a Rio dialect of Portuguese.
Accent is a way of speaking in a second language which is influenced by your native tongue. So a French speaker conversing in English would have a French accent. An English speaker conversing in Chinese would have an English accent.
Did you like those? very satisfying? Well here are another pair of definitions:
Accent is a change in the way you pronounce words. So you might have a Scottish accent in English, or a French accent in English, or an Indian accent in English. If you pronounce the words in a way specific to some place, whether it's your first language or not, it is an accent.
Dialect is what I might describe as a ‘not-quite-language-yet’. A dialect includes not only different ways of pronouncing things, but a set of vocabulary that is different, and possibly even some small grammatical changes to the language. AAVE (African American Vernacular English) is a dialect and not an accent, for example, because there are different ways of constructing sentences (‘Don’t nobody know what's happening’). Or Scots is a dialect, because it has its own additional vocabulary: calling a woman ‘hen’, or using the word ‘ken’ to mean ‘know’.
Personally, I tend to use the latter two definitions if I differentiate them at all. But as I work in the entertainment industry, I usually go with the flow and use the words interchangeably.
What is your favourite accent?
My favourite accent is the accent I am least familiar with. I love to hear accents that engage my interest! This could mean an accent with features I have not heard before, or an accent that shows a mix of features of different accents. For example, someone who is Danish, learned Standard Southern England English, and lives in Scotland. I have so much fun picking out the features of Danish, Southern English, and Scottish as they crop up throughout that person’s speech.
For me, an accent's merit is in engaging my interest rather than the auditory pleasure of it. Because an accent is part of a person/culture/place, I think calling it ‘ugly’ or ‘beautiful’ is akin to deeming a race of people more beautiful than another race. Call me an alarmist, but even if you disagree, ask yourself what makes you think a way of speaking is ugly or pretty? Is it truly the sounds, or is it wrapped up in the things you’ve been told (by others or by society) about the people?
What is the hardest accent to teach?
The answer, as you might imagine, depends greatly on the person being taught the accent. The hardest accent to teach is usually the accent with features that are farthest away from what the learner uses, has used, or has heard before.
There are three things that make up learning an accent: input (hearing it), output (doing it), and fluency (feeling natural). The hearing and the doing are very tied to one another. If you’ve never heard a particular sound, you’ll find it hard to do. On the flip side, have you ever been unable to hear the difference between two different sounds in a foreign language? That’s probably because you’ve never made those sounds before. If you can somehow get your mouth to make the two sounds, you’ll start to hear the difference in no time. Vice versa, if you can hear the difference between two sounds, the likelihood is you’ll be able to make the two sounds.
Are British people better at doing American accents than the other way around?
Yes. There are a few reasons for this.
‘Foreign’ input: There are more American sounds out in the entertainment world than British sounds. Therefore British people are getting much more input than Americans are!
‘Domestic’ input: If you flip through TV channels or scan the radio in the UK, you will hear 3000% more variety in accents (this is a very scientific number) than you would in the US. Remember when I said that if you can hear a difference in sounds, it's likely you can make those two sounds? Well, British people hear a greater variety of accents, so they’re more adept at making a variety of different sounds.
Output: On the whole, British people do more code switching than Americans. Code switching means alternating between languages or accents. Many British children have one way they speak with their friends and peers, and another way of speaking around their parents. Code switching is common among BIPOC people in the US, but in the UK it's more widespread, because of the history of classism. There is always a concern to either ‘not appear so posh’ or to ‘not appear so common’ in the UK. What this means for accent ability is that because most British people do some kind of accent changing in their daily lives, and many Americans don’t, British folks tend to have a bit more ability with accents simply because they’ve had more practice!
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