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Producer and actor Mem Ferda has appeared in a range of films and television programmes that’s enabled him to perfect accents and dialects. An expert in a range of accents from Eastern European and American to native regional English, he explains how any budding thespian can edit their tone, enunciation and articulation to mimic another accent flawlessly.
Listen to strong accents
Think of the character you are trying to portray and listen to people who sound as close to them as possible and have spent time in you character’s area. Listening to the unaltered version of a voice is the best way to learn before moving on to comprehensibility. Listening to mild accents are a hindrance rather than a help, these people tend to have spent a lot of time in other areas meaning their accents have become Angelised or Americanised.
Perfect a strong accent before focussing on inflection. Once this is done varying dialects will come easily. This helps not only with pronunciation, it also helps get to grips with resonance and rhythm of speech.
Find a native
Track down someone who speaks the native language you are trying to imitate. This will allow the differences in voices as well as vowel, consonant and word pronunciation to be easily identified.
As you watch your friend speak, pay attention to the way they move their mouth, how their lips, teeth, cheeks and jaw move when enunciating words.
Find a phrase
A tip taken from drama teachers, find a phrase that will help the accent come naturally and help the right tone of an accent to be identified.
For example, when mastering cockney the phrase is ‘How’s about a spot of tea?’
Learn the dialect
Identify the unique grammar and dialect of the accent and find how it fits into the everyday language of the setting. ‘Cob’ means more than corn when discussing food in the Midlands.
Focus on characterisation
Working on an accent is so much more than moving your mouth and hoping the right words fall out. Develop a character by working on their background, thoughts, feelings, motives, intentions and other vocal influences. Such factors are the essence of a character along with their class, upbringing, outlook on life and region they grew up in. Answering these enables you to delve into the character’s very essence.
That way your accent may not be the very best, but at least you will be a well-rounded, developed character, rather than a lifeless drone saying the right words – as shown in films all over the world.
Musicality, tempo, physicality and characterisation make a character – not how you say the word ‘ma’am’ as in ‘ham’.