Michael Hill is a specialist in vocal technique for actors and singers and a keen linguist, who will lead Accent Work for Non-Native Speakers of English at The Actors Centre on 17 February. Here, Michael writes more about the workshop which will provide a step-by-step approach to hearing, analysing and speaking different accents for those whose first language is not English.
I believe that every language, accent, and dialect has a specific musicality. By that, I mean a distinguishable melody, rhythm, 'swing', cadences and even pauses. The native music of a particular language region is a great example of this, where the songs often mimic features of speech: listen to the smooth, elided quality of French chanson, versus the 'Scotch snap', a jaunty, lilting rhythm present in Scottish traditional music. If the French speaker were to use their musicality on top of a Scottish accent melody and rhythm, it could sound a little 'off-key'.
Particularly if your first language is not English, it can feel like a real uphill struggle to make sense of the new vowel sounds, different tongue and vocal tract positions and even the new character connected to accents like RP, General American, South African, etc.
My top tip to get you started would be to focus more on the melody and rhythm of the target accent: let your ears focus on the rising and falling, the stresses and pauses of this new 'song' you're learning. Your brain will start to get a deeper feel for the sounds. Once you know the song well, you can, like any great jazz musician, start to improvise! Then, you can troubleshoot vowel and consonant sounds that feel far from your muscle memory.
I'll be sharing lots of practical, fun tips and useful research on this subject in 'Accent Work for Non-Native Speakers of English'. I hope to see you there!
Accent Work for Non-Native Speakers of English is open to Actor and Industry members and will run over two days (17 & 198 February) at The Actors Centre. For more information, as well as booking links, please click here.
Michael Hill is a specialist in vocal technique for actors and singers and a keen linguist. He presented research on the Musicality of Accents at the World Voice Congress in Denmark. He is currently involved in a pilot study on accents with Dr Julian McGlashan at Nottingham University Hospitals. Most recently, he was dialect coach to one of the lead actors in the forthcoming film based on a graphic novel, Dampyr.
Back to articles