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Sound Too Regional? Accent Reduction Might Be For You

Can someone pick your voice out as being from a specific region?

As a voice actor, your unique sound can be part of your voice over business marketing mix, helping to define your niche and your strengths. However, for those who wish to add greater versatility, being able to sound “neutral”  can be very important. Many talent work hard to reduce their regional accents and adopt a more national, polished sound for broadcast and other applications.

Many people in our industry have worked hard to rid themselves of, or minimize, their regional accents in order to get work. One of the great things about being an actor, and a voice actor at that, is that you can study different accents and dialects that will help expand your opportunities for roles. But an added bonus to studying all those accents and dialects is that it helps you dial down all those inflections to bring yourself back to neutral.

If you’ve ever wondered what your regional accent is, you can take this US regional accent quiz.

2 Notable Accent Reduction and Modification Coaches

A number of celebrities work with dialect coaches on-set. Even someone like the president of the United States may invest in a form of training for the way that he or she speaks.

Voice trainer Jill Tarnoff specializes in helping people to modify regional accents. The clientele seeking accent modification services include corporate types, actors and those who would like to improve how they communicate.

Sam Chwat is the founder of the Sam Chwat Speech Center – the leading speech pathologist group that specializes in accent reduction/elimination. The Sam Chwat Method, the accent without an accent, has empowered thousands to achieve their personal goals. Their services include everything from foreign and regional accent elimination, to corporate presentation, dialect acquisition and Standard American English. Sadly, Sam Chwat passed away in 2011. But the speech center, and his methodologies, live on.

3 Accent Reduction and Modification Strategies

Not ready to hire a dialect coach? There are ways you can practice reducing your accent from home.

The Chameleon Effect: Sounding Like Others When We’re Around Them

Have you ever noticed that your own local inflections and accent change, depending on who you’re with and where you are? We all do it. On a subconscious level, we adapt to our surroundings all the time.  When we spend time with others who have noticeable accents, we tend to slightly reflect them as well.

The good news: this “default setting” in our brains can be harnessed by voice actors looking to neutralize their accent! Do your research to find someone like Hugh Laurie – Dr. House on the show “House M.D.” He was constantly praised for his skill in covering up his British accent with a General American accent (though the debate about the existence of the GenAm accent continues). Because we naturally begin to emulate those who we’re frequently exposed to, you can listen to audio or watch videos of an accent-neutral celebrity and try to follow their lead.

Nail Down the Most Pervasive Sounds 

The inescapable sounds of the English language are “o”, “v”, “w”, “th”, and “r”. When listening to those accent-neutral celebs (as mentioned above), pay attention to their treatment of words containing those letters. Imitate how crisp and ‘cleanly’ they deliver on those sounds.

Southern American accents can make a soft “i” sound like “ee”, as in “I feeled up the gas tank.” Other Southern American accents can do the opposite and make double e’s sound like a soft “i”, as in “I fill good.” When referring back to a neutral accent, stay true to the vowel-consonant relationship of every word.

Never-ending Practice

Channel your inner parrot and repeat after the GenAm you’re listening to. Pay attention to how your mouth moves when speaking in your native accent versus the movement you feel like speaking in the accent-neutral “GenAm” accent. Some accent and dialect coaches also suggest recording yourself and listening to the differences between your recording and that of the GenAm you’re trying to emulate.

There are also an unlimited number of resources online. Whether you’re into watching YouTube videos on how to reduce accents or blogs, or reading articles published by accent and dialect coaches, you can get a head start on neutralizing your accent from home.  

Have You Tried To Modify Your Accent?

Whether you have tried to eliminate a regional accent or have worked hard to develop new accents for use in acting roles, We’d love to hear from you!

Be sure to let us know how you’ve been modifying your accent by leaving a comment.

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  • Avatar for Markham Anderson
    Markham Anderson
    January 25, 2013, 8:16 am

    I am from Houston, Texas. I have worked hard for fourteen years to have a more neutral, non-region specific voice! I can call upon the southern accent for clients if asked, and the best part is that its REAL. I also have seemingly mastered several British dialects, and routinely book British accent voiceover jobs on using them!
    -Markham Anderson

  • Avatar for Herb Blake
    Herb Blake
    January 25, 2013, 9:03 am

    I am from Coastal North Carolina and am quite southern. When I am relaxed my “southern charm” is evident in my voice and I thought that was how I took the quiz…results say 88% Midland(but said maybe from Atlanta or Charleston) Wow. I took it twice speaking aloud, Here is the results:
    What American accent do you have?
    Your Result: The Midland
    “You have a Midland accent” is just another way of saying “you don’t have an accent.” You probably are from the Midland (Pennsylvania, southern Ohio, southern Indiana, southern Illinois, and Missouri) but then for all we know you could be from Florida or Charleston or one of those big southern cities like Atlanta or Dallas. You have a good voice for TV and radio.
    78%The South
    66%The West
    61%The Northeast
    55%The Inland North
    3%North Central
    Gotta get back to the auditions!
    Herb Blake-Voice Artist

  • Avatar for Alice K.
    Alice K.
    January 25, 2013, 10:38 am

    I … AM Canadian. ha!
    80% North Central
    “North Central” is what professional linguists call the Minnesota accent. If you saw “Fargo” you probably didn’t think the characters sounded very out of the ordinary. Outsiders probably mistake you for a Canadian a lot.
    72%The West
    68%The Midland
    59%The Inland North
    53%The Northeast
    31%The South
    It’s funny because according to the American couple that I sat next to on a trip to Florida last January, I don’t sound Canadian at all. But, then again, my accent changes according to who I’m talking to. I have a tendency to mimic other people’s accents without really thinking about it.

  • Avatar for Marc Scott
    Marc Scott
    January 25, 2013, 10:52 am

    I get busted on this sometimes for being Canadian. People may love how friendly we are and they sure do love to eat our maple syrup. But sometimes they aren’t very forgiving when it comes to how we say certain words! 🙂

  • Avatar for Karen DeBoer
    Karen DeBoer
    January 25, 2013, 2:21 pm

    Fun quiz! Pegged me as “The West or Midland. Spent my childhood in Southern California, and now in Nebraska, so spot on. Glad I don’t have a discernible accent–makes VO a lot easier! Thanks for something fun to divert myself away from editing for a few moments:-)

  • Avatar for Howard Ellison
    Howard Ellison
    January 25, 2013, 3:35 pm

    We have big regional variations here in UK, too. London alone has suburban nuances: being born there I can hear them, though I can’t do that in say Glasgow or Manchester.
    As to suppressing accent: yes plain Brit RP is easily be perceived as ‘posh’, i.e. upper-class, though I’m certainly not that, and I used to think it a disadvantage to sound like the BBC until an excellent USA coach told me Use it. Work with it, not against. It is your unique proposition.
    I take that as one more way of saying ‘Be Yourself’. Which does not mean it stops you building characters on top of it.

  • Avatar for Nisha Malavia
    Nisha Malavia
    January 25, 2013, 7:41 pm

    I started doing some voiceover work a few years ago, and then I decided to pursue a master’s degree in speech-language pathology. I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised that I enjoyed learning about the voice and accent modification / reduction, haha. The funny thing is my voiceover coach I used to work with encouraged me to neutralize my “Chicago” accent!Through training with voiceover coaches and my training in speech-language pathology, I have improved my awareness and knowledge about accent modification and voice improvement! I have been able to re-teach myself and others because of this training. I am excited to re-enter the voiceover world with my new knowledge and awareness of voice and speech patterns!

  • Avatar for Bill Nevitt
    Bill Nevitt
    January 27, 2013, 1:32 pm

    Hello Stephanie:
    Grew up in Northern New Jersey, rated as 100% northeastern. Guilty as charged! However, for the most part, the accent hasn’t been a liability!

  • Avatar for Margaret Rodeheaver
    Margaret Rodeheaver
    January 28, 2013, 10:30 am

    100% inland north — which is cool because I grew up in Northeast Ohio, near Lake Erie! Right on.

  • Avatar for Maria
    July 10, 2020, 10:31 am

    I agree with you 100%, and the part about never ending practice it absolutely true! Connecting with a Speech-Language Pathologist is probably the fastest and most effective way to modify, reduce or even acquire an accent.