Podcasts Voice Over Experts Accent Reduction and the Standard American Accent
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Accent Reduction and the Standard American Accent

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Stephanie Ciccarelli
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Do you have a regional American accent? Sharon Feingold, the founder of Babel Consultants, discusses an emerging trend in communications called accent reduction. Accent reduction may also be referred to as accent modification, accent neutralization and so on. In the US, the goal of accent reduction is to adopt the Standard American Accent. This accent is most frequently heard on NPR and other national-level media outlets. Sharon touches on the International Phonetic Alphabet and how it factors into accent reduction for the Standard American Accent, provides real life examples of accent reduction and explains how being able to modify your accent opens more doors of opportunity for voice-over work in different markets.

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Sharon Feingold
Babel Consultants

Your Instructor this week:

Sharon Feingold has spent the last decade lending her voice to a multitude of television networks and big brands, from ESPN, MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon, HGTV and Animal Planet to Ford, Dunkin’ Donuts, Applebee’s, Zyrtec, Coca-Cola, McDonalds and Subway. Sharon has an MBA in Marketing, which helped her to launch her career in voiceover from the perspective of a creative “microprenuer” – a skill set that every freelancer these days needs to know and understand. Last year, she even had a chance to show her voice acting chops live on Celebrity Apprentice! She works in a variety of capacities from her home studio in Asheville, NC – from on-air promos, commercials and industrial narration to animation, interactive voice response, radio imaging and even some talking electronics (including the voice of the Atlanta airport train!). She is certified in the Compton PESL Accent Reduction method and the founder of Babel Consultants, LLC – a boutique accent consulting agency.

Welcome to Voice Over Experts, brought to you by Voices.com the number one voice over marketplace. Voice Over Experts brings you tips, pearls of wisdom, and techniques from top instructors, authors and performers in the field of voice over. Join us each week to discover tricks of the trade that will help you to develop your craft and prosper as a career voice over talent. It’s never been easier to learn, perform and succeed from the privacy of your own home, and at your own pace. This is truly an education you won’t find anywhere else. Now for our special guest.
Sharon Feingold: My name is Sharon Feingold and in today’s podcast we’ll be discussing an emerging trend in communications that can be very beneficial to Voice Over actors. It’s called accent reduction. Accent reduction is also referred to as accent modification. You may hear it called accent neutralization or dialect reduction. This is the art in practice of learning to diminish features of a foreign or regional accent so that it sounds like another foreign or regional accent. In the United States the goal of accent reduction is essentially the same thing as teaching the American accent. Even more specifically, what’s called the standard American accent. So what is the standard American accent? Well it is the name given to the most neutral of all the accents within the United States.
This is the accent that broadcast journalists are trained in. It’s also the accent you’ll hear when you listen to NPR or other similar broadcasts. And if you want to be proficient at the standard American accent one of the best places to start is turning on NPR and just giving a listen to the nuances of the way people speak. One of the best places to start if you want to start learning the standard American accent is to really really listen to the nuances on a broadcast like NPR and you’ll get a really good example for what to model. One of the coolest things I find about the various sounds spoken all around the world is that they’re actually all mapped out in what’s known as the International Phonetic Alphabet. Every sound of every language that we know of has been charted and identified within the IPA and given a symbol to match the sound.
So there’s a symbol for the sound a. And there’s a symbol for the sound h. So it’s really interesting to see the sounds represented as the symbols. Anyway, I find this fascinating but then again I am an accent and voice geek. What happens with accent reduction is there’s only a certain number of sounds that are typical of the American accent. And if you look at the IPA you’ll see those sounds that are the American sounds. So we teach people to recognize which sounds on the IPA are standard American and which ones are not and are of their native accent. And then we teach them to modify their sounds in the direction of an American sound. So why would someone want to reduce their accent? Well in the corporate world having a foreign accent can prove difficult to someone tasked with giving a presentation. The sounds of their accent including the vowels, consonants, rhythm, stress and intonation may prevent the speaker from being easily understood. Even the rate of speech, how fast or slow you talk, can be different from one accent to another. This can often lead to frustration as well as communication issues with colleagues and co-workers.
In the case of someone like a customer service representative in an offshore company, say in India, servicing the United States customers are quick to complain when they can’t understand the directions and assistance of the person they are talking to. In the Voice Over world it’s a little more straight forward. A Voice Over actor may be doing very well within a certain market where their native accent is highly desired. But what if that voice actor wants to work in a completely different market? Think of the possibilities if you could do a British voice over at 9:00 a.m. and a standard American accent voice over at 10:00 am. If you’re trying to compete in the US market and have a foreign or regional accent accent reduction can be the solution.
The great thing about accent reduction is that it’s quite a straight forward process. Here’s what you can expect. First, the teacher will start with an assessment of your accent to see where you are mispronouncing certain sounds. This analysis will usually highlight the consonants and the vowels typical of your accent. And it will also note any patterns of speech specific to your accent. Let’s listen to an example. I have a good friend in the voice over business who has mastered the art of accent reduction. Roger Baker works from his studio in Asheville, North Carolina. In meeting Roger you’ll hear a pretty strong southern accent. However in order to compete in the voice over market Roger learned to reduce his accent and adopt the standard American accent.
Take a listen to Roger reading a voice over script in his native southern accent. Let’s listen and note some interesting some features. See if you can identify some of the major differences in the southern accident when it comes to vowels, consonants or even rhythm or patterns of speech.
Roger Baker: At Smiths we got you covered from fresh fruits and veggies to our deli and hot bar. There’s something for everyone. Bring your family on Thursday nights when kids eat free. We even have weekend specials for only $10.99. Just go to smithsdeliandhotbar.com to learn more.
Sharon Feingold: So here’s some interesting patterns you might notice especially with vowels. With southern accents it’s typical to hear an elongation of the value sounds. For example when he said, “more” he made it “more.” As far as patterns go, it’s also quite typical to hear the ing turn into in. Or the ing turn into in. So for example the word something becomes somethin. Also note how the word day in Thursday is cut off and turns into [Thursdey]. Roger being the talented guy that he is is able to take a script and reverse read it into the standard American accent. Take a listen at the extraordinary difference.
Roger Baker: At Smiths we got you covered from fresh fruits and veggies to our deli and hot bar. There’s something for everyone. Bring your family on Thursday nights when kids eat free. We even have weekend specials for only $10.99. Just go to smithsdeliandhotbar.com to learn more.
Sharon Feingold: Now that’s a voice talent. So yes, listening to the before and after you may still hear some remnants of a southern accent. But if you don’t know to listen for them he can absolutely compete in a standard American accent market place. So now after this initial assessment and accent consultant or an accent teacher will work with you on a one-on-one basis. They’ll point out every little aspect of your speech to help you learn the changes you’re going to learn to make. Some of those changes are going to be tactile. Like the way you move your mouth, where to place your tongue, how to position your lips and what sounds require you to feel your teeth. And others will require you to use your listening skills and really tune in to those unique patterns and sounds of the dialect or accent you’re choosing to study which in this case would be the American accent.
So in conclusion accents provide the unique sound colours to the languages of the world. Accent reduction doesn’t seek to eliminate them. Its purpose is to celebrate the diversity of the spoken voice, the cultures it represents and the beauty of all the languages we are all using to communicate as humans in this great big world. In future podcasts we’ll be addressing specific sounds that are typical of different accents and how to do some at home learning of the standard American accent. Thanks for voices.com for the opportunity to be a guest expert today. And special thanks goes to Babble Consultants lead accent advisor Kim [Linsider]. And my friend Roger Baker who is already doing a great job competing in two market places using the art of accent reduction. Thank-you both for contributing your insights and talents to this podcast. We’ll talk to you again soon. In the meantime, babble on.
Thank-you for joining us. To learn more about this special guest featured in this voices.com podcast visit the Voice Over experts show notes at podcast.voices.com/voice-over-experts. Remember to stay subscribed. If you’re a first time listener you can subscribe for free to this podcast in the Apple ITunes podcast directory or by visiting podcasts.voices.com. To start your voice over career on-line go to voices.com and register for voice talent membership today.

Stephanie Ciccarelli
Stephanie Ciccarelli is a Co-Founder of Voices. Classically trained in voice as well as a respected mentor and industry speaker, Stephanie graduated with a Bachelor of Musical Arts from the Don Wright Faculty of Music at the University of Western Ontario. For over 25 years, Stephanie has used her voice to communicate what is most important to her through the spoken and written word. Possessing a great love for imparting knowledge and empowering others, Stephanie has been a contributor to The Huffington Post, Backstage magazine, Stage 32 and the Voices.com blog. Stephanie is found on the PROFIT Magazine W100 list three times (2013, 2015 and 2016), a ranking of Canada's top female entrepreneurs, and is the author of Voice Acting for Dummies®.
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  • Matthew Hinman
    October 16, 2014, 3:53 pm

    Great episode! I was born in northern Ohio, but grew up in central Texas and have spent the majority of my life living in the South. It has been very difficult not picking up the various southern expressions and accents during everyday conversation. I try daily to maintain a “neutral” American accent, but it is more difficult than you think. I like to think I do fairly well most of the time, but that southern will sneak in every now and then.

  • Steve Hart
    November 4, 2014, 9:38 pm

    Well, this was just great info. Hailing from Australia and obtaining an accomplished English accent. My current focus is to master the ‘North American’ accent. An ‘international’ North American Accent.