Have you ever wondered how Jerry Jewell can portray Russian characters like Victor Nikiforov so eloquently? Have you ever wanted to pull off a noble British timbre like Kevin T. Collins? If so, you’ll probably want to know how they and other voice talent learn the art of the accent, and thanks to our insider information, you’ll know all the best ways to nail any accent you want just like the pros.
The first step a voice actor takes to learn a new accent is one that will already be familiar to many of you: going on YouTube. The videos they’ll be looking for will be basic language tutorials for whichever dialect’s accent they wish to learn, content that is in no short supply. Their focus is, of course, not on picking up the words and grammar, but instead focusing on the cadence, timing and general pronunciation to form a basis for how English words might sound coming from someone used to speaking the target language.
It may sound simple on paper, but in practice, there's a lot to look out for during these learning sessions. Actors need to learn to replicate pronunciation down to each syllable, learning what parts of the English way of speaking they need to keep and which ones they need to replace and how to structure the intonations in their sentences.
Studying Will Be Your Comrade
For example, in Russian, there are only a mere 5 vowel sounds (as opposed to English’s 12) with no differentiation between long and short vowels and the language’s unique grammar means that the emphasis a Russian person uses when speaking English can seem completely backwards to Anglophones. That means that if you're an English voice actor trying to learn how to perform under a Russian accent, you need to get used to using a restricted set of vowel pronunciation, timing all said vowels the same way, and restructuring the emphasis in your sentences, like asking a question with falling instead of rising intonation.
Sounds pretty complicated, right? Well, that's only the basics. Once all of that is out of the way, it's time to take on the hard parts, where actors must face the complicated differences in consonants while mastering sounds not present in English and breaking the habit of using sounds not present in the other language. This requires more intensive resources than one can reliably find on YouTube, though, which means it’s time to break out the big guns.
The Big Guns
Language-learning resources are a good place to get started on a new accent, but direct training is often needed to make it convincing. The internet has plenty of resources for this, but the ones most commonly used by anime voice actors are The Speech Accent Archive, created by the linguistics program at George Mason University and designed by academic experts on language, as well as IDEA, the oldest and most comprehensive accent resource with 1500 samples from 120 different countries. Both sites function similarly, hosting audio recordings of people from around the world reading a piece of English prose in their own accent.
These websites have no paywall, so you can check them out for yourself and see how easy it is to find the accent you’re looking for and how easy imitating it becomes once you get the hang of it. And if you find it so easy you begin to consider a career in voiceover work for yourself, IDEA even offers personal coaching and lessons on foreign accents with material specifically tailored to the performing arts. It’s a good way to learn a new accent in-depth for industry veterans and newcomers alike.
So now you know the exact methods behind the foreign accents in all of your favorite anime dubs from Katie Gray as Seras Victoria to Dan Woren as Von Stroheim and how to get just as good with whatever accent you want to learn. Let us know what dialects you’d like to pick up in the comments and be sure to stick around to learn more about the behind the scenes details of anime.
Below are the links to the resources mentioned above: