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The Russian accent is a staple in our films and TV shows, and is therefore incredibly valuable for any character actor to have in their repertoire. This simple starter guide will introduce you to some of the basic rules to follow when learning the accent, resulting in a version that’s perfect for auditioning.



INTRODUCTION

Anytime you explore an English as a Second Language (ESL) accent like Russian, you must consider your character’s proficiency with the English language. Has your character spoken English for many years, or only learned it recently? Did they learn in childhood, or as an adult? Do they speak it everyday, or infrequently? Decisions like these will affect the accent choices you make, just like it does for real world speakers.


And they are indeed “choices”. In real life, ESL speakers are often inconsistent when speaking English. They may speak a word a certain way in one moment, and pronounce it differently the next. This comes from the fact that many “features” of the accent are really just unintentional mispronunciations, adjusting how frequently we choose to utilize them can affect how thick the accent will sound. But while inconsistency is common in real life, as actors we must endeavor to make consistent choices so that our performances are repeatable. 


Let’s begin by covering some of the most common sound shifts you’ll want to try on when switching from a General American dialect to a Russian accent, starting with the vowels. If your own accent isn’t American, the shifts you need to make here may vary.


VOWELS SHIFTS 

1) The “short /i/”, [ɪ] as in KIT may move to a “long /i/”, [i] as in TREE

Bring in six images of the big ship. 

Tip: This change is simple to note on your script, simply replace every “short /i/” sound with “ee”


2) [ɛ] as in DRESS may move to a “short /i/”, [ɪ] as in KIT

Fred the elegant elephant was fed lemons in bed.


3) [æ] as in TRAP may move to [ɛ] as in DRESS

The fat cat had a bath and danced.

Tip: You can indicate this change on your script by replacing any “A” that makes the [æ] sound with an “E”


4) [ɑ] as in LOT is lip-rounded, closer to [ɒ]

I thought of calling Shaun this fall.

Tip: Round your lips on this sound, almost like you’re making a kissy-face. On its own, this sound change may feel British–but trust that when we add the additional features of the Russian accent, it will be distinct.


5) The “short /u/”, [ʊ] as in FOOT, may move to a “long /u/”, [u] as in GOOSE

The cook put away the book after he took a look. 

Tip: Once again, focus on rounding your lips on this sound, while simultaneously raising the tongue slightly in the back of your mouth.


6) [ʌ] as in STRUT may move to the back rounded vowel [ɒ], perhaps as in THOUGHT

My brother stumbled in a clump of shrubs above us.

Tip: This sound may also change based on the spelling of the word. For instance, “us” could be pronounced “oos”.


7) The vowels [eɪ̆] as in FACE and [oʊ̆] as in GOAT are two part vowels for Americans; the Russian speaker may cut these sounds in half, resulting a sort of pure, “punchier” version of the vowel.

As a favor, my favorite flavor was placed on my plate. 

It’s only a stone’s throw to Rio

Tip: To practice these changes, try singing the American version of these vowel sounds in slow motion, then abruptly stop your voice before the vowel “finishes”.



CONSONANT SHIFTS

1) For every <R> sound, we may hear a “trilled-R”, where the front of the tongue rapidly flaps (commonly referred to as the “Spanish-R”). If this is difficult for you, try a singular tap instead, closer to a soft “D” sound.

The enriched rich red rose grew rotten. 

Tip: For those who find this difficult, use the practice phrase “Krispy Kreme”--replace the “R”s with “D”s: K’dispy K’deme. Try saying it very slowly, then work your way up to a rapid pace–notice how the “R”s now sound closer to a trill?


2) Many consonant sounds will be “devoiced”, losing any activation of the vocal cords, including Zs and Js.

The wiz kid’s zit was risen.

Tip: Notice we often pronounce the letter “S” as “Z”s–not so in this accent, everything may feel like a true “S”.

Jerry jumped the judge and jury.

Tip: All the “J”s should now sound like “CH”s.


3) <W> sounds will often change to <V>s.

Which Wally will want to quit?


4) <TH> sounds will often change to <T> or <D>.

Give those things to them or they will go without.

Tip: Soften these sounds by producing them off the back of the teeth.


5) Every <L> should feel dark, almost swallowed in the mouth.

Lily’s light linen tablecloth cleaned nicely.

Tip: Pulling the tongue back to produce this sound can help to find the general mouth feel for a Russian accent, where everything might feel a bit more retracted.


6) Every <H> at the start of a word should happen with your tongue touching the soft-palate.

Happy hippos held their heads high.

Tip: It may feel like you’re clearing a scratch in the back of your mouth.


MUSICALITY

The Russian accent often sounds much deeper compared to most accents of English. In addition, the general resonance of a Russian speaker might feel more retracted in the mouth, resulting in a sort of “darker” sound. Coupled together, it can feel like you’re swallowing everything towards your throat.


As with many ESL accents, speakers will often misplace emphasis within a word or phrase. For instance, “mistake” may sound like “MEEsteak”, “speculate” could be “speKYOOlate”, etc. There’s no right or wrong here, just be careful of overdoing this or you’ll start to sound like you’re doing a caricature of the accent, rather than anything authentic.


Russian speakers often eliminate the articles “a” and “the” when speaking, so the sentence, “I’m going to the store to buy a cucumber,” may instead sound like, “I’m going to store to buy cucumber.” Again, this can feel a bit over-the-top if utilized too much…though it is a popular trop amongst writers.


Finally, you may hear a certain increased nasality in the accent after nasal consonants (<N> and <M>), especially when preceding a short vowel. For instance, “beneath” may sound like “behNYEET”, “never” may be “NYEver”, etc.


CONCLUSION

A Russian accent can be very difficult for English speaking actors to perform naturally, without going over-the-top. That said, don’t be afraid of starting with an extreme version of the accent and then pulling back over time. Practice all of the sound shifts on your own text. Then, imagine the “thickness” of the accent exists on a dial from 1-10; what happens if you turn the dial down a little bit? Then a little bit more? As in life, you’ll encounter characters who exist at every point on the dial. There is no right or wrong in regards to pronunciation when performing ESL accents, only how many features may sneak through to the English pronunciation. When in doubt, opt for simple choices that suggest the Russian accent without going over the top. You may also see audition breakdowns asking for “Eastern European” accents, and in those cases utilizing a very light version of the Russian accent will often produce acceptable results.


I’ve provided some links to example speakers below; be sure to give some a listen to hear the accent demonstrated properly.


EXAMPLE SPEAKERS:

Note, Scott Alan Moffitt, The Actor's Dialect Coach claims no ownership of the material in the following links--they are provided for educational purposes only. Certain links may contain language or content not suitable for children.


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This tutorial will cover the basics of a Southern American accent of English. It’s undoubtedly one of the most requested, and therefore most valuable, accents American actors can have in their repertoire. This beginner’s guide is meant to serve as a simple jumping off point in your exploration of the accent. But before we begin, let's first explore the history of the accent.



HISTORY

First, let’s define exactly what we mean by “Southern”. Generally, boundaries of the Southern U.S. include Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Georgia. To a lesser extent, speakers with a Southern accent can be found in Florida, West Virginia, Missouri, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. 


Historically, many distinct Southern dialects existed in the U.S., which were widely affected by British, Irish, and Scottish immigrants in the 17th and 18th centuries, as well as enslaved African-Americans. It should be noted, many Black Americans speak with a version of African-American Vernacular English (AAVE), which shares many common features with a Southern accent. Over time, the Southern accent naturally consolidated into a more cohesive sound, though there are still a wide variety of region specific dialects, such as Appalachian English and Cajun English. 


The amount of people who naturally speak with a Southern accent is steadily declining in modern times, however it remains an important accent for performers due to the large number of roles requiring some version of it. It’s also important to acknowledge the difference between a classic “Old South” version of the dialect, which is easily identifiable due to its lack of rhoticity, or pronunciation of final R sounds. 


Regardless of region, there are many distinct sounds that are pervasive throughout the South. Those common sounds will be the focus of this tutorial. As an actor, you can easily use the accent outlined in this guide for general auditioning purposes; but as with any accent, once you learn more about your character’s background, it’s generally a good idea to further investigate the specific sound shifts of their home region.


As we explore the unique sound shifts of a Southern Accent, remember that we are comparing these sounds to the Standard American Accent. If you have a different natural accent, further comparison of these sounds to your natural accent may be required.


VOWELS SHIFTS 

1) [ɛ] as in THEM shifts to [ɪ] as in KIT when preceding the nasal consonants <M> or <N> in spelling.

It ended when twenty of them were sent home.

Tip: This linguistic feature is called the “pin-pen” merger, as in this accent the two words are pronounced the same.


2) [ɪ] as in KIT may have a noticeable drawl, stretching the vowel towards /EE.uh/ [iə̆].

I saw six images of the big ship.

Tip: The vowel may feel slower and like it’s gliding to a weaker position, try it out in slow motion, gradually speeding up: /EE.uh/


3) [æ] as in TRAP may also drawl, almost towards /AA.yuh/ [æɪ̆ə̆].

The fat cat had a bath and danced.

Tip: As with the previous rule, this vowel may feel like a slower glide.


4) The stressed sound [ʌ] as in STRUT may rise towards a stretched [ʊː] as in FOOT.

My brother stumbled into a clump of shrubs above us.

Tip: Careful not to overdo this sound shift, as it can sound a little stereotypical.


5) The two-part vowel [aɪ̆] as in PRICE may lose the offglide, resulting in /ah/ [a].

My fine key lime pie was dry.

Tip: On its own, this vowel may sound like a breathy sigh.


6) The two-part vowel [ɔɪ̆] as in CHOICE may have a more neutral offglide, resulting in /OH.uh/ [ɔə̆].

Any noise annoys a noisy oyster.



CONSONANT SHIFTS

1) All <R> sounds that come after a vowel may feel slightly darker or more pronounced.

George steered his car further than ever before.

Tip: Think about pulling your tongue back slightly on <R> sounds, creating a sort of “darker” feeling in the mouth.


2) If an <L> sound is followed by silence or a consonant sound, it may be pronounced more like a <W>.

The little hill’s old bell sure is swell.

Tip: If the <L> sound is followed in the word or phrase by a vowel sound, it should be pronounced normally.


3) Multi-syllable words ending in <ING> may drop the <G>.

Today I’m camping, fishing, hiking, and eating.



MUSICALITY

As with every accent, the variety of music you hear among speakers will be incredibly varied person-to-person. However, there are perhaps a few generalizations we might make about the Southern speaker.


Overall, Southerners may speak slightly slower than the average American, which can add to the negative stereotype that they are less intelligent. This is of course not true, rather they simply favor lingering in vowels as a means of emphasis. A common adage to keep in mind is that “Southerners may talk a little slower, but they’re thinking just as quickly.”


More-so than many other American accents, there is perhaps a greater difference in pitch play between the sexes than normal. Female speakers are much more likely to feature a higher pitch, especially towards the end of sentences, which can make everything feel like a question. Take the phrase “Bless your heart!” This simple three syllable phrase can experience a dramatic rising inflection towards the end.


Southern men, on the other hand, historically associate a deep register with their masculinity, and may feature much less articulation. This often results in an almost mumbled manner of speaking.


Again, these are sweeping generalizations that should be carefully considered and thrown out when appropriate for the character–but sometimes starting from a place of caricature can provide a nice jumping off point.



UNIQUE WORD PRONUNCIATIONS

As with every accent, Southerners have many unique word pronunciations, which don’t necessarily fit into any sort of logical set of “rules”. While it would be impossible to capture all of the unique pronunciations here, here are some of my personal favorites:

-can’t: /KAYNT/

-thing: /THAYNG/

-you all (y’all): /YAHW/

-guitar: /GEE.tar/

-tomato: /tuh.MAY.duh/


Again, these are just a few unique pronunciations. I always encourage my actors to keep a running list of new ones that you may hear when listening to resources. And of course this doesn’t even account for unique vocabulary or slang that accompanies different dialects of English. Be sure to always do your research when encountering unusual vocabulary in your scripts.



CONCLUSION

The sounds of the American South can hardly be considered uniform, but there are certainly consistent sound changes that are heard in a vast majority of accented Southern speakers. Practice the sound shifts outlined in this starter guide to familiarize yourself with the basics, and when exploring a specific character be sure to further research the local sounds.


Explore the provided links below to hear the accent demonstrated by real world speakers.


EXAMPLE SPEAKERS:

Note, Scott Alan Moffitt, The Actor's Dialect Coach claims no ownership of the material in the following links--they are provided for educational purposes only. Certain links may contain language or content not suitable for children.


Elliot, Sam - SAG Interview - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2_8yc5OB6mg

McConaughey, Matthew (secondary)  - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WpZ4kY3AJWU

“The Real Texas Accent” - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s3AuqeI51mY


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INTRODUCTION

This tutorial will cover the basics of an Irish Accent. Before we break it down, it’s important for actors to understand exactly what type of Irish accent they might require, and which one we’re exploring here. 



While in reality the types of voices and accents you will hear on the island of Ireland are as varied as its people, it typically behooves actors when training to focus on the two main accents that will be required of you in performance: a more southern, Dublin-based accent, and a Northern Irish, or Ulster, accent. For the purposes of this tutorial, we’ll be exploring a general rule-set for the former that can be applied to much of the Republic of Ireland. While some sound shifts are also present in the accents of Northern Ireland, that is not the focus of this guide. Think of the accent presented here as the perfect neutral Irish accent to have on deck for auditions; then, once you find out the specific area your character is supposed to be from, you can further investigate the signature sound shifts of the region.


In order to better demonstrate the accent’s unique sounds, we will be comparing the “rules” of an Irish accent outlined in this guide to the sounds of a General American dialect.


VOWELS SHIFTS 

1) [ɪ] as in KIT shifts to [ɛ] as in DRESS.

"Bring in six images of the big ship."


2) [ʌ] as in STRUT shifts to [ʊ] as in FOOT.

"My brother stumbled into a clump of shrubs."


3) [ɑ] as in LOT is lip-rounded, closer to [ɒ].

"I thought of calling Shaun this fall."

Tip: Round your lips on this sound, almost like you’re making a kissy-face.


4) [æ] as in TRAP is slightly more open, [a].

"Bradley the fat cat had a bath and danced."

Tip: Careful not to retract your tongue towards [ɑ].


5) Vowels like [oʊ̆] as in GOAT and [eɪ̆] as in FACE will be more pure, towards [oː] and [eː] respectively.

"It’s only a stone’s throw to Rio."

"My favorite flavor was placed on my plate."

Tip: If you have trouble finding this sound, speak the American version of the vowel in slow motion, and stop your voice suddenly.


6) [aɪ̆] as in PRICE will be retracted and rounded at the start, towards [ɒɪ̆].

"My fine key lime pie was dry."

Tip: Avoid going as far as the vowel sound [ɔɪ̆] as in CHOICE–it should be somewhat softer in sound, or only halfway there.


7) [aʊ̆] as in MOUTH should have a more central starting vowel, towards [ɛʊ̆].

"The crowd out at the town house was too loud."

Tip: Start with the same vowel used in the word BED, then finish the sound by rounding your lips.


CONSONANT SHIFTS

1) Avoid dropping <R> sounds like you would in many other accents of the British Isles, a mistake American actors often make when attempting Irish. Also note [ɑɚ̆] as in START will be more fronted in the mouth, towards [a˞ ].

"Carly, are you parked by the star bar?"

Tip: If you have trouble finding this sound, start with a stereotypical pirate sound, “arr”, and then back off it a bit.


2) All <L> sounds should be light, clear, and almost delicate.

"The old bell in the well on the little hill."


3) Words spelled with <WH> that produce the [w] sound should be breathier, towards [hw].

"Which whale whined by the wharf?"

Tip: This sound shift does not occur when the <WH> produces an <H> sound, as in words like “who, whose, and whom.”


4) <TH> sounds should be produced off the back of the teeth, towards [t] or [d].

"That thing over there in the theater is both of theirs."


5) Multi-syllable words ending in <NG> might drop the <G> sound.

"Today I’m camping, fishing, hiking, and eating."


MUSICALITY

The musicality of an accent is defined by tendencies in rhythm, stress, intonation, tone, volume, and pitch–and in reality, all of these things can be highly personal to the individual speaker. Whenever exploring a new dialect or accent, it’s important to compare your own unique musicality to that of the target dialect, or more specifically to whichever individual speakers you are using for resources.


Generally speaking, the Irish accent makes much more use of pitch play than the American accent. American’s may be most familiar with the over-the-top musicality from the old Lucky Charms slogan, “They’re always after me lucky charms!” While basing your accent entirely on a cartoon mascot’s delivery would of course be frowned upon, it can sometimes be useful to start from this place of caricature in order to feel how musical the accent can be. Then try to smooth things out a little bit in your delivery so that you maintain some of the musicality, while not sounding like a cartoon character.



UNIQUE WORD PRONUNCIATIONS

As with every accent, Irish has many unique word pronunciations. Here are just a few common examples:


-my: /me/ (in unstressed positions)

-Jesus: /JAY.zuhs/

-film: /FIL.um/

-tea: /tay/

-idiot: /EE.juht/


There’s also a ton of Irish slang, many lists of which are readily available online. Typically it’s not our job as the actor to incorporate such slang, assuming the writer has done theirs–but you should familiarize yourself with the pronunciation and meaning regardless, should you encounter them in an audition.


Finally, consider that many word pronunciations may favor a more British influenced pronunciation, such as “zebra, adult, vitamins”, etc.


CONCLUSION

The Irish accent can be one of the most difficult ones for American actors to reproduce authentically, due in part to the large number of sound shifts that occur, as well as the many varieties one may hear on the relatively small island. Begin by practicing the general sound shifts on the example sentences provided in this tutorial. If you get an audition or book a role, explore the more specific sounds of your character’s place of birth, and incorporate them into what you’ve learned today. Be sure to check out some of the example speakers I’ve provided in the written tutorial to tune your ears to the sounds of the accent.


EXAMPLE SPEAKERS

Note, Scott Alan Moffitt, The Actor's Dialect Coach claims no ownership of the material in the following links--they are provided for educational purposes only. Certain links may contain language or content not suitable for children.


Farrell, Colin (secondary) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Okh9pXz5oXk

Gleeson, Brendan and Domhnall  (secondary) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ru4f9s3fspw

Horan, Niall and O’Dowd, Chris - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7RWjCe3rX1c

Ronan, Saoirse (secondary) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OLfelKkLemo

Irish Radio - http://www.rte.ie/radio/ 


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