It's an actor's nightmare -- you've spent seemingly hundreds of hours on an accent or dialect that just doesn't seem to want to stick. Or perhaps the dialect has been changed in the final hour, giving you precious little time to nail a new sound. Although incredibly frustrating, it's imperative to have a game plan in situations like these. Today, a little advice from a dialect coach...
1. Slow Down ... the dialect sample. If you are working from a recording in order to learn a new accent or dialect, I recommend that you use an audio editor such as WavePad, Adobe Audition, or Audacity in order to slow the sample down 200%. At this point you can begin to listen to the tiny nuances in the accent, and you can mouth along to the recording in order to begin to inhabit the accent in your body.
2. Breathe ... the dialect. OK, this may sound a bit 'woo-woo', but ultimately our impulse to speak inspires an inspiration of breath, and voicing is maintained through the use of the breath. Thus, finding the breath of the character can help support the accent. Whether that breath lives in the solar plexus or in the back, tapping into breathing can also often lead to new accent discoveries.
3. Ground Yourself ... in the oral posture. The way a speaker habitually holds their mouth is highly influential on accent -- just think of General American lip spread, or the classic French pout. If nothing else seems to be working, locate the key oral posture changes from your own accent into the new accent. For example, when doing my mother's Central Missouri accent, I have to flatten my tongue out inside of the mouth. But once I've done this, the other sounds tend to shift, and I sound like I am from Central Missouri without much extra effort. Ground yourself in the oral posture, and watch the accent begin to click.
4. Change One Thing ... from your own accent. Identify one massive change from your own accent into the new accent, and nail that down. Does the new accent pronounce every R? Commit to only that. Maybe the accent changes every 'eh' into an 'ih'. Drill that to perfection. Don't overwhelm yourself with 27 different things to juggle if you don't have the time or ability. Instead, narrow your focus in on one thing, and do it well.
5. Sing Out ... the melody. Hum along to the intonation of the accent, and beat out the rhythm -- anything to get the rhythm, intonation & melody of the dialect into the depths of your body and soul! The more you involve the whole of your body, the quicker the brain begins to assimilate the accent, and the quicker you will be off to the races speaking in the accent. Besides, dialect is as much mental and physical as it is what we hear. So constantly combine aural, visual, and kinesthetic learning methods for smooth accent study!
I hope that these tips may prove helpful in your toughest dialect dilemmas. However, do not be afraid to step back and ask yourself -- is this dialect absolutely necessary for the role right now? I love accents as much as the next dialect coach, but there are times when it may be better to use your own accent in a solid performance, rather than sacrificing performance for an ill-prepared accent.
Remember, dialect change occurs on a muscular level, and ultimately only time and dedicated practice are true recipes for dialect success. But I hope that in a dialect crisis, you remember to 1. slow down, 2. breathe, 3. ground yourself, 4. change one thing, and 5. sing it out loud!