If random people keep interrupting you while you are sharing an intense emotional story to ask you “hey, where are you from?”, if you ever go to an audition and after performing the best monologue in human history, the casting director asks you “can you do it without an accent?” Or if you realize that mutism is not as easy as you thought and turning into a French mime is not the best branding choice for the future of your career, then this article is for you. Every body else is welcome, we don’t judge. Not here! No now!
Yes, all of the above situations have happened to me. When I moved from my native Switzerland to study acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, I thought my American Accent was on point. Back home, everyone complimented me on it.
“You sound like a real American!”
“Haha I know, thanks mom”
What a surprise when I got to the airport and didn’t understand a single word the immigration officer said to me. Even after asking 5 times to slow down. Eventually I understood that he just wanted to know what I was hear for! “Don’t be alarmed, I’m just a Swiss student! No need to shout!”
My first acting class in American soil: the most famous repetition exercise. “I got this” I thought loudly to myself. Maybe too loudly because I scared the Irish student sitting next to me. And you know you must be scary as hell if you can scare a 6’5’’ pirate sounding Irish guy with a perfect jaw line.
I was up sweating like a pig in front of a anglo-saxon crowd, understanding half of what my partner was saying. I was confused, not by her lower back tattoo that said “Superstar”, bold statement for a 17 year old 1st year acting student, but by her think mid-west accent. What’s a “y’all” anyways?
I apologized to the class and told them that I needed to focus. And everyone exploded laughing. What? The very collected and compassionate acting teacher told me: “it’s pronounced /f/ou/ k/s/ not /f/u/k/us… OOoooohhh, got it. So, mutism was the answer for the next couple months… but it ain’t easy when you are studying acting and you are supposed to talk in every . single . class. AAAHHH!!!
The struggle is real. Dreams are shattered. You get scared that every time you open your mouth you’re gonna get the whole audience crack up laughing. Could I start a new career in stand up? Well, that definitely works for some people. But that’s not what I wanted to do, so I became the best possible speech student in the world. It took me a couple months to feel comfortable, and an insane amount of horse lips, tongue twists, “speak the speech I pray you”s.
After a couple years I started telling my foreign friends how to pronounce “country”. Not Count-ry but C***t-ry! Wink. And not long after that I became a speech coach. Why not make money out of all this hard work? Plus, if English is not your native language, you always get new things to learn! And the best way to learn is to teach.
Here are a couple things that I have learnt from the twist and turns of bettering my speech.
First of all, stop judging yourself: the less you are scared of making a mistake, the more you will speak and learn the right way of saying words.
Secondly, find the fun in expressing yourself: the more you find the joy of sounds and hearing yourself, no matter how vain it may sound, the faster you will progress! Why? Because you won’t see speech as an issue, but more as a music or a song. It’s much easier to learn and change habits when you find pleasure in it.
Thirdly, practice, practice, practice: If you can bring your warm ups, tongue twists, songs, monologues into your daily life, you will improve insanely fast. I usually do my tongue twists in the shower, driving a car, in the streets. I looks like an insane monkey but it keeps me sharp. Do it when ever you can!
Now that said, it is not an absolute necessity to erase your accent. I believe Sophia Vergara said she got her big break the day she stop worrying about hers. In fact, in her case, her accent is an amazing asset.
What I’m trying to say is, follow your instinct. First, ask yourself, do I really want/need to work on it? If the answer is no, stop worrying about it and go about your merry day. If the answer is yes, find a speech teacher. If you don’t have the budget because you are a broke artist, tell your friends to correct you when you say weird $h%t, sing American songs every days, practice daily tongue twists, check YouTube and google for help.
Ask for help! Don’t be scared to ask for it. It is very hard to work on an accent alone because most of the time, we don’t hear it ourselves. So, don’t be scared of asking for some help.
Lastly, as most casting directors would say: “JUST DO YOU” You voice is what makes you unique, so stop apologizing and be yourself! Somehow, when I realized that, my accent got way better. Ironic? Maybe! But hey, isn’t life a bit twisted?