The Voice Cafe Blog

The Voice Cafe offers one-to-one online training via Skype as well as an Audio Study Zone, an access based audio learning resource and can be used either on its own, or as a supplement to online one-to-one lessons.

How not to typecast an accent

What is typecasting? So you are learning a new accent for a role, audition, or to help with clear communication. The process of picking up an accent is natural to few, and difficult to many. An accent involves a complex jigsaw of voice placement, sounds, rhythm and intonation, and how they are embedded in our subconscious speech reflex which is in turn knitted in with our physiological and emotional selves, as is our own native accent. When we first learn an accent, we often ‘overdo’ the features while we play around with them and try to strike a balance. This can take some time to perfect, as it involves stepping right out of ones comfort zone and into the unknown. When a person ‘overdoes’ the features, they are in a zone where the accent sounds unnatural and this is sometimes called ‘hypercorrection’. Many learners swing through this stage of ‘hypercorrection’ before going on (after substantial practice) to integrate the accent naturally with their character. ‘Typecasting’ an accent is therefore ‘overdoing’ it, so it seems ‘sent up’ and unnatural. It should only be part of the early stages of learning an accent, and not the final result.


How do you avoid typecasting an accent and turning it into a caricature of itself?

In New York last October on an accent recording trip, I was recording a native Bronx speaker, born and raised there, has always lived there. During the recoding we were laughing about how people so easily typecast the accent. He told me how he’d had a part in a film a while back with an on-set British dialect coach, and the word ‘humid’ was in the script. He was told to drop the ‘h’ when he said ‘humid’. He replied “I’ve never dropped the ‘h’ in ‘humid’ in my entire life man!”. The dialect coach replied: “You are a blue collar worker from the East Coast and you are supposed to drop the ‘h’ in ‘humid!’

In ‘herbs’ maybe.  But not ‘humid’.


So, first hand. ‘humid’ /hju:mɪd/ as said in the Bronx. Followed by ‘herbs’ /ɜrbz/ by the same speaker.




So to avoid typecasting an accent: 

DO Learn the accent from native speakers, listen to local people, study face language, sounds and voice placement.   TIP: talk simultaneously with an audio recording of a NATIVE SPEAKER while reading the corresponding script in time so you can hear the speaker’s voice and now your own. Notice the jaw placement, how the lips and tongue move, the length, rhythm and tone of the sounds, how nasal is the voice or not? Does the voice feel like its placed far back in the mouth or at the front? This is VOICE PLACEMENT, which is a crucial step in portraying a natural accent.


DON’T overuse the typical features without first establishing correct voice placement (the key point of tension or resonance in the mouth and vocal tract that shape the accent as described in point 1). A classic example is when Cockney becomes ‘Mockney’ (its typecast name) when actors overuse ‘h’ dropping and glottilization to such an extent that is becomes a caricature of itself. Click here for some audio examples


DO focus on the schwa sound (the weak, reduced neutral vowel). The reduced syllables in an accent are just as important as the strong sounds and they have a big impact on rhythm and voice placement.


DON’T primarily base the accent on a text book with no audio, nor a mimic UNLESS they can do the accent PERFECTLY.


DO learn the exact sequential and allophonic environments where certain speech processes can occur. (allophonic environments are the knock on effects that neighbouring sounds have upon one another as we speak). In particular, observe the allophonic affects of the consonants p, t, k (the voiceless plosive consonants) and the affect the have on aspiration (the amount of air following the sound before the voice ‘switches on’ for the next sound) or ‘vowel clipping’ (the way a vowel followed by p, t, k is shortened by it as the larynx suddenly shuts and stops vibrating to reinforce voicelessness)


DO observe the background processes such as work linking and assimilation Click here for examples. A classic example is when learners of contemporary British RP (Received Pronunciation) perceive that by careful enunciation of the ends of words, they will be closer to a native speaker. Well, in fact RP is actually one of the more lazy accents when it comes to connected speech, with the speaker following the line of least resistance in every way when it comes to word linking, assimilation, coalescence etc.