Expanding Your Acting Horizon with Accents and Dialects

July 5, 2017

When exploring ways to create a distinct and lifelike character, it’s important for actors to consider which accent and dialect best reflects the person they’re dramatizing. After all, as dialect and voice coach-to-the-stars, Bob Corff says, “Your voice is the audio reflection of who your are.” Well, that applies to both the actor as well as each of his or her characters. So whether it’s Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction, Ted Danson in Cheers, Keri Russell in Felicity, Daniel Radcliffe in Harry Potter, Octavia Spencer in The Help or Meg Ryan in Sleepless in Seattle, Corff has vocally guided actors in custom fitting accents and dialects for their memorable characters. Indeed, Corff along with many other skilled dialect coaches, use their keen ears and knowledge of linguistic variety to support actors in creating characters that go down in television, theater, and cinema history.

People often get confused about the difference between accents and dialects. Here is some clarification.


Accent indicates a way of pronouncing words that occur among the people in a particular region or country. They are associated with a geographical location as well as a socioeconomic background and status. There are variations of accents and they are part of a dialect. Here, dialect coach Amy Walker deftly and entertainingly demonstrates a variety of accents.


Similarly, dialect is a variety of a language that is spoken in a particular geographical area or by a particular group of people. However, dialect is characterized by variations in grammar, syntax, vocabulary, or pronunciation. It’s usually associated with the geographical location as opposed to the socioeconomic background or status. Here is a fun demonstration of dialects encountered in the United States.


Dialect coach Erik Singer encourages actors to master accents and dialects before auditioning for roles that require them. “It’s definitely a good idea to identify maybe the three accents that you’re most likely to need and then work on them now before an audition comes up. Find a good coach, get them really under your belt.” Singer is often asked how long it takes to acquire the new accent. He estimates, “A good rule of thumb is six to twelve weeks for really acquiring an accent from not having it at all to the point where it’s completely in you. But it depends on how often you work, how much you work, your innate facility, how much support you have.”

That may seem like a lot of work, but such dedication may be just what it takes to elevate an actor’s skill set to the next level. Speech and dialect teacher Raife Baker argues, “Making specific, consistent, playable decisions about language, vocal placement, and inflection can take an actor one crucial step closer to fully embodying a character. Familiarizing oneself with different vowel and consonant choices is just another way of empowering an actor. It is also a first step toward becoming versatile and adaptable: ready to tackle any new regional dialect that is required!” Or as Erik Singer summarizes: “If there’s one thing to remember it’s that accent is a crucial layer of storytelling”