Globalization – the blurring of ethnic lines across the world. With melting-pot metropolitans, where geographical, racial, cultural and ethnic boundaries are crossed over time, what emerges is an unidentifiable human being; one that is from no particular background, ethnicity, region or country.
What has this got to do with VO you might ask? A whole lot actually! Increasingly, media messages, public service announcements, corporate videos, commercials and ads look to cater to this ambiguous Global Citizen. Therefore the quest for & surge in the requirement of English Voice Artists with a “Neutral”, universally pleasing sound.
So what is this popular “Neutral” accent anyway? It’s simply an unaccented, clear, clean & articulated English that is pleasing the World Over to all speakers of English irrespective of their ethnicity.
Neutral Sells well!
An Accent the World Understands. If your accent is clean, clear-cut and easily understood by speakers of English without any recognizable regionalism, your voice over services will most likely be in demand especially in Asia and Africa.
Let’s take a look at some tips to Neutralize your English accent.
The Americans, the British, the Canadians, the Aussies all speak English as their official first language, however, the Indians with a whopping 125 million English speakers; second only to the USA, the Pakistanis (94m), Filipinos (90m) and Nigerians (79m) all speak English but there’s an inherent difference in their pronunciations, intonation and stress marks.
Mastering the right way to speak the English language without any tilt to any country where English is the native language. You shed all your typical pronunciations and learn to speak English that is neutral and easily understandable.
Learn to drop the intonations of your native tongue.
English has its own melody, just as French does. Native speakers are in-tune with this intonation and voice modulation. Try to shed the tune of your native or vernacular language. If your native tongue has a musical rhythm and inflection to it, lose that while speaking English. This would be the first step to neutralizing your English Accent.
Exposure to articulated English: Listen to the BBC Newsreaders, watch English movies especially the classics like Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights etc or Take a YouTube Tutorial. Watch and observe carefully how each word is pronounced and how their lips move and curl while pronouncing common words. Take notes especially how they pronounce common sight words, how they pronounce vowels, roll their ‘Rs’ or widen and lengthen their ‘As’ in a word. Listening and observing are the best ways to learn. Practice makes perfect! Practice this over and over and get objective feedback from those who speak the language well. They will be able to point out various stress marks you’re getting wrong.
Learn the right phonetics: Phonetics is the pronunciation of letters in a word. A letter has a certain pronunciation but could vary depending on the word and context. To learn this, the dictionary is the best resource. The phonetic symbols given on the top of the word should help you learn the correct way to pronounce the word. You could also invest in a phonetics class so your coach can help you pronounce each word correctly. The British Council usually holds sessions like these.
Download on-the-go pronunciation apps on your smartphone: These could prove very useful when you have difficult words in your voice over script and you’re in the middle of a recording session. Apps like ‘How-j-Say’ even give you pronunciations in Amercian and British English just to be sure – as various clients will request different styles of English for their projects.
Stress Marks: Stress marking is an important part of speech. Every word has a certain stress mark given to it either at the beginning, end or somewhere in the middle. Shifting the stress mark can even change the meaning of the word completely. Learning the correct stress marks of the words is important to communicate clearly. Examples of these are process – pronounced prah-cess in American English and proh-cess in British English.
Diction: Articulation is pronouncing the words in the right manner. Clarity in diction will result in the clear pronunciation of words. The pace of speech, modulation of words and sentence construction while speaking, mark diction.
Pronunciation is key:
English is one of the toughest languages to master as so many words are not phonetically pronounced intuitively as it’s done in other languages where the spelling and pronunciation match. In English, the spelling is one, the pronunciation is quite another for example tricky words like ‘chassis’ where the ‘s’ at the end is silent or ‘phone’ where ‘ph’ denotes the ‘f’ sound or ‘quinoa’ where the right pronunciation is actually ‘keenwa’ instead of ‘quin-o-aa’ and sometimes the spelling is different but the pronunciation is the same, for example, ‘pear’ and ‘pair’ or ‘bare’ and ‘bear’ or ‘fare’ and ‘fair’. There are more exceptions to the rule and it can get very confusing. For example, in the word live – You’d say, “I live in England” but refer to someone full of life as a live-wire where only in the second instance you’d follow the rule that states the silent ‘e’ at the end of the word changes the sound of the vowel followed by a consonant to the original sound of the vowel – ‘i’ as in ‘Lie’ not liv.
Many words in English are just half pronounced while articulating. For example, ‘Never’ is pronounced as ‘Nev-uh’. The ‘r’ in the end is not pronounced fully. The teeth do not touch the lower lips as they would do in ‘v’. For a ‘w’, the lips should make a small o while pronouncing the ‘w’. Like ‘went’ and ‘vent’; ‘wow’ and ‘vow’; ‘wine’ and ‘vine’.
With a neutral accent, you can get your message across to any native English speaker. Ensuring you take a bit of effort to Neutralize your accent at the outset will hold you in good stead. You may then go on to master other native English accents. Practice is the key to mastering Queen’s English or the perfect Neutral Accent which is bound to widen your scope as an international voice-over artist.