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  • Writer's pictureScott Alan Moffitt

In my time as a dialect and accent coach, I’ve discovered that one of my main jobs is to help my actors deal with the dreaded “accent anxiety”. This fear of sounding inaccurate can have the effect of preventing actors from even attempting to ever do any kind of dialect or accent other than their own. This anxiety is incredibly common amongst actors, but much like dealing with regular performance anxiety, there are ways to overcome it.

In this article, I’ve collected a few strategies to combat any negative feelings that may arise when attempting to acquire a new dialect or accent.


Let's address the tough part first—you're going to make mistakes. No matter which dialect or accent you attempt, if it's not native to you, it will be imperfect. Despite this truth, you may still feel uncomfortable when first attempting a new dialect. But guess what?

I give you permission to be uncomfortable.

You may not be as good as you want to be at the start, but that's normal when trying new things. Acquiring any new skill takes practice, so why do we often dismiss ourselves when trying on a new accent for the first time? It may be due in part to the fact that we immediately judge ourselves— the new voice coming from our mouth may sound strange to our own ears. However, at this stage, you're likely not a good judge of the new dialect or accent anyway. Until you really get to know the dialect, there’s no reason to be afraid of it.

You may also be experiencing an all too common fear of being judged by imaginary critics. Armchair experts love to critique dialects and accents, but they usually have no idea what they’re talking about. Most people have a very narrow idea of what a dialect is supposed to sound like, because they’ve only been exposed to certain versions of it. In reality, every dialect and accent has an incredible amount of variety. Think about it—did the people you grew up with all sound exactly the same? Of course not. You have much more freedom in your accent acquisition than you may think.


When you’re just starting out and deciding what dialects and accents to learn, it might be most comfortable to keep it in the family – literally. Do any of your relatives (or even close friends) speak with a different dialect than you do? It’s likely you can point to one or two examples. If you’ve been exposed to these dialects and accents for some time, you will have a stronger frame of reference to start from.

It's also helpful to begin with dialects that you genuinely enjoy listening to. Perhaps your favorite character on TV speaks with a British accent, or you’ve always an affinity for an exaggerated Southern drawl. Whatever the reason may be, that attraction will give you a stronger connection to the target dialect, and you’ll be less likely to tire of practicing it.

You should also endeavor to immerse yourself in the dialect by surrounding yourself with it as much as possible while learning. It’s easier than ever to find quality resources online of any accent you can imagine. Listen to those audio references as you go about your day, trying to repeat the sounds you hear whenever you can.


Although you're comparing the sounds of your accent to another to some degree in order to make changes, be cautious about comparing your version of a dialect to another’s. Your voice is unique, therefore you’re building a character that is unique to you. Unless you’ve been cast to play an existing person and are trying to imitate them exactly, your voice will quite literally speak for itself. Start by figuring out what you would sound like with the dialect or accent. You can make adjustments and get creative from there as you develop the character. This approach will give you agency over your dialect choices—there is no one-size-fits-all in this line of work.

Acting is an artform, and there is no such thing as perfection in art. That’s why it’s important to be careful when comparing yourself to actors who have built careers on fantastic dialect work. Everyone started somewhere, and those actors likely received excellent training. But no matter how good or acclaimed an actor’s dialect work may be, I guarantee you they’ve made missteps. Does that make their work any less great? Of course not. It’s not about having the most incredible dialect of all time; it’s about giving an honest and nuanced performance, which just happens to be accented.


If you’re lucky, you might have some natural talent with mimicry that will suffice in imitating dialects and accents, especially for those with which you’re already somewhat familiar. But raw natural talent with speaking in different dialects is actually quite rare, and mere mimicry usually will not suffice when exploring a dialect you have little exposure to. That’s why it’s important to find a system for dialect acquisition that works for you.

The internet offers countless instructional video and audio resources for many dialects and accents. Thoroughly informative books (often with recorded components) exist in multitudes. The International Phonetic Alphabet can unlock the building blocks of speech for a very scientific approach. You might even opt to work with a dialect coach, such as myself. Regardless of how you learn, I truly believe there's a right path for everyone—it's simply a matter of exploring the available options.


If you’re not recording your practice and listening back to it, you’re likely doing yourself a disservice. We’re exceptionally bad at hearing ourselves, and often don’t sound the way we think. Listening back to our attempts at a new dialect is the only way to accurately hear what it is we’re doing, and whether we’re hitting the mark or not.

Most people dislike the sound of their natural voice when they first hear it played back, and many never learn to like their own voice. Actors must quickly get over this in their training because they need to watch and listen to their performances to adjust and grow (sidenote: if you’re new to acting and haven’t taken any basic classes, start there before diving into dialect and accent work). Logically, if we cringe at the sound of our natural voice at first, we might cringe when hearing ourselves with a completely different voice. Learning to accept your own speaking voice will help eliminate any roadblocks when listening back to yourself in accent practice.

If you’re not there yet, that’s OK. Start with small recordings every day. Record a thirty second audio message on your phone as if you were leaving yourself a voicemail and listen back to it. Do that every day until it no longer bothers you.


Actors often tell me they're afraid of auditioning in a dialect or accent because they worry about making a fool of themselves in front of their representation or casting directors. If you have good representation, you probably don't need to worry—they won't submit a tape that would embarrass you or them. But here's the thing—most actors on an agent or manager's roster are also afraid of doing dialect work. When an accented audition comes in, they must often scour their talent list for suitable actors who list the dialect on their resumes.

But casting isn’t looking for the best dialect; they’re looking for the best actor. If your dialect isn’t up to par but you’re the right actor for the role, a production will likely hire a dialect coach to work with you. Coaches are quite common on set these days, and we know how to help you succeed.

I’m not saying you should list a dozen dialects on your resume if you’re not actually proficient in them. However, even if it scares you, consider saying "yes" the next time your representatives reach out and ask if you can do a German accent for an audition. If it's not right, they don't have to submit it—but it's excellent practice, and your representatives will appreciate your willingness to tackle accented auditions.

If you don’t have an agent or manager, you might think this advice isn’t relevant to you, but that’s not true. YOU are your own agent, your own manager. When you’re self-submitting on various casting websites, don’t skip over the role that might be perfect for you just because it has an accent. Take the shot, you might surprise yourself.

Want guidance on your specific Accent Anxiety issues? Schedule a free virtual consultation with Scott Alan Moffitt, The Actor's Dialect Coach.

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  • Writer's pictureScott Alan Moffitt

Updated: May 18

In a previous post, I outlined various Tips for Learning a Dialect or Accent, and my first suggestion is that actors be proactive in their accent education, or—more simply—to “learn the dialect before you need it.”

While actors seeking the services of a dialect coach have typically selected a handful of dialects they wish to learn, there is often doubt surrounding what choices would best serve their career. When first working with a new client, I always have a conversation about their dialect and accent goals.

In this article I aim to demystify the process of selecting the best dialects and accents for an actor’s resume.


Any English-speaking actor should first focus on mastering what I consider the two “parent” dialects of English: General American (GenAm) and British Received Pronunciation (RP). These two dialects are some of the most frequently requested by casting directors.

One reason for their popularity is they are intended to be region-less – someone with a GenAm dialect could be from Colorado, or Florida, or Washington. RP speakers might reside in London, or Yorkshire, or Edinburgh. They are also associated with a heightened sense of status, indicating education, power, or wealth – traits that may be crucial for the character.

More importantly, if you can master the sounds of these two dialects, you are well on your way to unlocking a multitude of other dialects and accents of English. While GenAm is naturally related to all dialects in the United States, RP contains features present in dozens of global English dialects, due to England’s colonialist history.


Have you ever watched an actor portray a character that was supposed to hail from your hometown, but they failed to capture the nuance of the dialect? Maybe you couldn’t exactly express why, but you knew something was off. Your ear is naturally attuned to the sounds you grew up with, regardless of whether you know how to express those features.

Even if you do not naturally speak with a thick version of the dialect associated with your region (or perhaps your region does not have a strong accent to begin with), you may be able to convincingly imitate relatives or friends who do have a thick dialect. At the very least, you likely have some great primary resources in your immediate circle whom you can study. If you have a cousin from Chicago with a heavy accent, why wouldn’t you utilize that person as a resource and figure out their dialect?


If someone met you at an international airport, what language would they assume you spoke before you ever opened your mouth? Where would they think you were from, or were headed? The answer to these questions might help you decide on an accent to list on your resume.

If you do speak a language other than English, you should learn a regional accent or two associated with that language. If you need to speak French for an audition, there is a good chance your character may also have to speak English with a French accent at some point in the script.

Despite being proficient at a language other than English, multi-lingual actors are not always skilled at the accents associated with the language. They have more exposure to the sounds of a language, which makes the bar to proficiency seem higher. However, it’s that exact familiarity that should encourage you to learn the accent, not shy away from it. Your ear is already more attuned to the unique sounds of the language, and those different sounds will often be present in the accented English. In short, you have a leg up – why not use it?


As an actor, you’ve likely asked yourself the all-important question: “What’s my type?” Can I play the “girl next door,” the “gruff cop,” the “goofy best friend?” Every person embodies countless combinations of character traits that translate well to screen.

When you think about the character types you can play, ask yourself if there are any dialects or accents associated with them. The soccer-mom may invoke a Midwestern accent. The tough-guy mafia type might benefit from a New York or Italian accent. The young ingenue might require a British dialect reminiscent of a fairytale.

Dealing with stereotypes like this can be problematic, but ‑good or bad‑ certain tropes are still relied on heavily in film and television. That’s why it is especially important that actors make ethical choices when choosing dialects and accents to study. Be respectful of other cultures when considering what you want to portray on screen, and the best way to do that is by putting in the work. Do not rely on an exaggerated caricature based on stereotypes to net you the role.


Consider your ethnicity and familial history in your choices. Is your father from Britain and your mother from Ghana? You might want to learn one of many British dialects and a Ghanaian dialect. Are you ethnically Chinese? A Chinese accent of English might give you more casting opportunity.

That said, it is common to feel frustrated when asked to perform a dialect or accent based on your appearance for a role that may feel disrespectful of your culture, an occurrence that happens far too often in this line of work. However, excelling at such dialects or accents gives you the chance to do your heritage justice with an honest and authentic performance.

This should go without saying, but white actors likely do not need to preemptively learn a Jamaican accent. That is not to say that there are not white people in Jamaica, and I’m certain our industry will continue writing roles that rely on intentionally skewering certain dialects and accents for comedic effect . . . but I guarantee your time would be better spent learning a more appropriate dialect for your resume.


A good actor should always be researching what projects are currently casting, and doing so will help you spot trends in dialects and accents that are frequently needed.

There are many “old staples” that will always be popular. Fantasy projects frequently rely on British RP for the antagonists. Westerns will utilize a Southern accent. There’s a good chance any procedural cop drama is going to be set in New York and need a New York accent. Doing your homework in the form of watching lots of TV and films, and frequently reading casting breakdowns, will give you a good awareness of what dialects are consistently needed.

Still, it’s important to remember that trends can be fleeting – so be careful where you invest your time. I’m sure in the late 2000s with the popularity of Blood Diamond and District 9, many actors felt it imperative to learn a South African dialect, but you don’t see too many projects asking for those dialects today. At the time of writing this article, Mare of Easttown garnered lots of buzz (both good and bad) surrounding the Philadelphia accent spoken by its characters, but that does not mean there will be a spike in demand for it.


If you have representation in the form of an agent or manager, ask them what their “wish list” of dialects is for you. They analyze casting breakdowns all day long, and they will undoubtedly have an opinion about what will improve your marketability. They should also be familiar with who on their roster is skilled in certain dialects, and they may have some surprising gaps that they would love to have you fill in.

Plus, by asking for your rep’s input, you will show them you are interested in dialect and accent work, and they may start to consider you for those breakdowns where they would not have previously.

Ultimately, I recommend every actor endeavors to master at least the following four dialects or accents on their resume to improve their casting opportunities:

· a standard dialect of English (GenAm or RP, if not both)

· a regional dialect (based on where you were raised)

· a foreign language accent (French, German, etc.)

· a type-based dialect (based on character type, your appearance, or heritage)

Still unsure what dialects and accents you should learn? Have lingering questions?

Schedule a free 15-minute consultation and we can chat about it!

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  • Writer's pictureScott Alan Moffitt

Updated: Sep 6

Actors frequently ask me for tips and tricks that will make learning a new dialect or accent easier for them. It can be difficult to give broad advice as no two dialects are the same and every actor is unique, but there are some things I find myself saying to my clients frequently. Here are a few general “best practices” for preparing a new dialect or accent.


One of the biggest mistakes actors make is waiting until they get an audition that needs a dialect or accent before deciding to study it. An actor is expected to be proficient at any special skills listed on their resume; yet with dialect and accent work, the audition is often treated as a training ground by both the actor and agent. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been contacted by actors whose agent sent them an audition requiring an accent asking, “Can you do this?” to which the actor says, “I’ll give it a shot!” – only to need last-minute coaching once they realize it’s more difficult than they imagined.

While it’s always worth attempting the dialect in these cases (your agent doesn’t have to send the audition tape if it’s not up to their standards), why not take the time to prepare the dialect before you ever need it? Plus, if you consistently send in poor quality dialect work your agent will likely stop sending you those auditions.

Actors should instead identify the dialects and accents that would best serve their careers and endeavor to become proficient in them before adding them to their resume. Reliable staples such as General American (GenAm), British Received Pronunciation (RP), and a Southern American dialect will always prove valuable – but you should expand your choices based on your actor type. Agents and managers love working with proactive actors, and they will be impressed when you periodically reach out to inform them that you’ve added a new dialect or accent to your resume.

My clients who take this approach—without fail—report that their reps start to send them on more frequent auditions requiring accents, as they trust the actor and know they are willing to put in the work.


Always take the time to learn the dialect in tandem with your lines, and only commit to memorizing once you’re comfortable with the dialect. It is much more difficult to learn the lines and then try to apply the dialect afterwards, and that’s due in part to how memories are formed in the brain.

I’m no scientist, but as a trained actor I have some understanding of how memory works. When forming a new memory, in this case when learning lines, connections called “synapses” are formed between neurons in the brain. The act of learning lines creates strong synaptic connections through repetition; the stronger these synapses, the easier it is to recall a line. This is true of anything in life: the more you do something, the easier it becomes.

If an actor makes the choice to memorize their lines before applying the dialect, they are doubling the amount of brainpower involved – relearning the lines with the dialect after the fact requires the formation of an entirely new set of synaptic connections in the brain. Forgetting the previous way one said a line is not only difficult, but it can get in the actor’s way when trying to recall the new pronunciation of the line.


When applying a dialect to their text, actors often struggle to properly notate the sounds they are trying to capture. Many will inevitably rely on a “non-phonemic” system of rewriting words in the target dialect, essentially using alternative spelling to sound out the word. For instance, “Arkansas” may be written as ar-kuhn-saw.

This solution falls short in allowing the actor to be specific in their choices simply because English itself is inconsistent. The letter a is pronounced different in the words cat, father, arena, angel, Mary, and orange – therefore how could we rely on this letter to clue us in on the sound we’re targeting?

This is where the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) shines. The IPA is a writing system devised to capture the sounds of all languages accurately and objectively. In the IPA, every symbol has only a single sound – for instance, [ɑ] is the back rounded vowel used in the word “saw” . . . in a GenAm dialect, at least. In an RP dialect, that vowel typically experiences lip rounding, becoming [ɒ].

It can be tricky to learn at first, but mastery of the IPA is the single most powerful tool available to actors for learning a new dialect. Click here to watch a short video where I demonstrate the power of the IPA.


The first step when learning a new dialect or accent is to find good resources to base your character’s voice on. Since no two people sound exactly alike, I recommend listening to audio or video resources of at least three different people – this will give your own voice a unique blend of sounds that are based in real-world choices.

When compiling these resources, it’s critical that you focus on “primary” examples, where people are speaking extemporaneously in their natural dialect. These native speakers, as opposed to actors, will offer the most accurate representation of the target dialect. “Secondary” resources, or actors performing in their native dialect, can also be useful – but the added layer of performance may alter the natural rhythms and sounds of their voice. “Tertiary” resources, or actors performing in a dialect or accent that is not native to them, should be avoided. No matter how good the actor may be, we have such a wealth of resources available online that actors shouldn’t need to resort to non-native speakers as a basis.

We are fortunate to live in a time when primary sources are readily available to us – imagine how difficult it was for actors to accomplish this pre-internet! You can find videos on YouTube, listen to local radio stations or podcasts, browse the International Dialects of English Archive, the Speech Accent Archive, or reference my own ever-growing compendium of Dialect and Accent resources.


Aside from reproducing the one-to-one sound changes of a given dialect, it’s important to capture the dialect’s music, or “prosody”. This involves things like the rhythm, stress, pitch, tone, and resonance. These choices can be difficult, as any given dialect is going to have a near infinite combination of these prosodic elements. If you generalize the dialect by using only one pattern of speech, your performance will become repetitive and sound like a bad impression – I refer to this as the “Swedish Chef” effect, after the repetitive vocal qualities of the beloved Muppets character.

Actors can combat this by “humming” the words of their example speakers back at them while listening, almost as if you were humming along to a song on the radio. Ask yourself the following questions: Do they stress words more with pitch, volume, or duration? Does their inflection rise or fall at the end of sentences? Are the words in their sentences more staccato (detached and repetitive) or legato (connected)? Where in their vocal tract is their resonance centered?

These are just a few things to pay attention to, and each of your example resources will have subtle differences between them. Unless you’re portraying a real person, your character’s voice should be unique, so don’t be afraid to attempt a combination of the features you hear when first learning a dialect.


When you’re practicing a dialect, you may occasionally hear yourself say a line and think, “Wow, that sounded really good!” While your ear training may or may not be developed enough to accurately critique yourself, don’t ignore those positive thoughts. These standout lines are potential “trigger sentences”, or lines that you speak exceptionally well to the point you almost feel you could no longer say them without the dialect.

These sentences can be incredibly useful to “trigger”, or turn on, the dialect before you perform. Think of it as a way of resetting your voice and finding a baseline in the dialect. Trigger sentences can also be reused for years to come. As an actor, I do my best to find an appropriate trigger sentence for each dialect I have on my resume . . . some I’ve been using for over a decade!

In a similar vein, you may consider finding a new “thinking sound” for the dialect. In a GenAm dialect, most people think with an “uh” or “um”, a flat, neutral vowel sound which is in the very center of the mouth. Finding a different placement for your character’s thinking sound can shift your vocal resonance toward that of the target dialect. For instance, an RP dialect may have a thinking sound closer to “eh”, while a Boston speaker could lean toward “ah”. You will hear a variety of different thinking sounds when listening to your example resources – use whatever sound is most beneficial to you and the character.


Twenty years ago, it was difficult for everyday working actors to hire a dialect coach. It was cost-prohibitive, there weren’t as many coaches, and it wasn’t possible to work virtually. Actors would be lucky to work with a dialect coach if one was hired on a project they booked.

Nowadays actors have much greater access to coaches, to the point that agents and managers often expect their clients to seek coaching on larger auditions and nearly every production will have a dialect coach on set if any of the characters have an accent. Plus, even if an actor has a fairly good natural ear for a dialect, it is difficult to be objective about the sound of one’s own voice.

There are a variety of approaches to teaching dialects out there, so chances are there’s a coach that’s right for you. My goal as a dialect coach is to give actors the tools to be independent when learning a new dialect or accent, to help actors make strong, specific, and repeatable choices, and the ability to maintain the dialect when receiving direction.

Schedule a free 15-minute consultation to learn more about my Dialect & Accent Coaching services.

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