Speak with a ‘proper’ British accent – in 3 minutes!

How to speak with a ‘proper’ British accent – in 3 minutes!

No, I haven’t truncated my coaching into a 3-minute express course – of course there’s so much more to it than that. But Prof David Ley from the University of Alberta has some short, snappy, and quite entertaining tips about how to get the right feel for an educated neutral British English accent. I’m not sure if the end result is anything like how 98% of speakers with this accent actually sound, but his process is pretty bang-on!

Politely disregard the hammy rep-theatre versions of Irish, Southern States and Scottish that he does at the end – don’t call us, we’ll call you, professor :)

English-as-a-second-langu-012

Speaking proper: social mobility and ‘accentism’

I mentioned this last week in a post about accents in urban music so I thought I’d repost the full piece. Leave a comment and let me know your thoughts!

New research from Manchester University has found that many people feel unfairly judged because of how they speak, in a manner similar to racism. Some of those surveyed for the research didn’t mind changing their accent in order to get on in the world, whereas others said they felt pressure to speak differently, leading to a sense of leading a sort of double life: speaking ‘properly’ at work and naturally at home.

Suzanne Moore also wrote a very interesting and quite bold piece in the Guardian a few weeks ago, about how other research has found that a majority of British people believe a good grasp of English is essentially to being British’. She makes the point that speaking fluent English is not simply about conforming to an idea of being British; it’s more to do with the opportunities – employement, social, cultural – available to you as a migrant if you can speak the language.

I think the same is true of accents. it’s a shame that some respondents in the Manchester survey felt like impostors when they changed their accents: I assume they don’t feel ‘fake’ when they put on a suit and tie for work, even though that’s not what they’d normally wear at home.

Just as dressing to impress can boost your confidence, being confident that you are truly being heard when you speak gives you a sense of freedom and power. It can help you feel more at home in your workplace, or among new people, in new situations.

Yes that’s right, the work I do is about building a better world, my friends. I expect to be knighted for services to social cohesion very soon.

Seriously though, I don’t believe people should lose their accents. Some people say, ‘oh I hate the such-and-such accent, it’s so annoying’, and that’s just rude: my work is absolutely not about pandering to some people’s prejudices. But if your accent is tricky for some to understand, why let it hold you back?

Do give these articles a look, if you have time – here they are again:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/28225710

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jun/17/learning-english-choice-work-britishness?CMP=twt_gu

barmitzvah celebrations

Mazel tov! Brushing up on your barmitzvah speech

I was in the north London suburbs recently with a group of lads preparing for their barmitzvahs next year.

My Hebrew’s a bit rusty, but luckily the religious element of the ritual, which involves learning to recite passages from the Torah, is supervised by a rabbi. I came in to help with the less formal, but equally daunting element: the barmitzvah speech.

Imagine a cross between an Oscar acceptance, where you thank everyone who helped get you where you are today, and a best man’s speech, where you to acknowledge the solemnity – and joy – of the day, while keeping the party guests rolling in the aisles with your perfectly-judged witty remarks. And you’ve just turned 13.

No pressure, then.

With younger clients, I always start with the basics: what is communication and why is it important? Most kids are used to being told to stand up straight and ‘speak up’, but we talked about what effect it has on your audience if your physical presence – posture, facial expression, eye contact – and your voice – loud enough to hear easily, not speaking too fast, and with expression and clarity – convey to all the people listening how much you value what you’re saying, and how much you value them.

And of course, it’s always easier to make your point to 12-year-old boys if you throw in the odd impersonation of characters from South Park. Bet you didn’t know my vocal talents stretched that far…

For kids of 10 and up, I can offer a tailored program of coaching that can help boost confidence, and draw on the natural interest in words and sounds that most of them already have, to overcome selfconsciousness and be assured articulate speakers. Email me at anthony@anthonyshuster.co.uk to discuss what we can do.

grime mcs and djs

Being ‘for real': accents, authenticity and urban music

I don’t usually listen to BBC Radio 1xtra for the documentaries (ok, it’s an urban music station and I’m 35 – I don’t usually listen to Radio 1xtra at all). But the other day I stumbled upon a great hour-long program called Speak Britannia, about accents and dialects and how they feature in contemporary UK hip hop music and youth culture.

It was fascinating – especially when discussing the link between accent and authenticity, or being ‘for real’.

There’s nothing more important in hip hop – being true to your roots and the people you grew up around, rather than pretending to be something you’re not.

In terms of how you ‘spit’, or express yourself verbally in your music, that means rapping or singing in your natural accent. Not an issue if you’re from east or south London (“safe, blud”), where grime and other urban music genres first emerged – those accents are the signature vocal sound of UK urban.

But what if being ‘for real’ means spitting in a Scottish, a Bristol or a Yorkshire accent? It turns out there’s a real contradiction in urban music between being authentic and having the right sound for the mainstream.

One section of the program focused on a Scottish MC who was laughed offstage at a contest for rapping in his native accent.

Getting a foot in the door with a Glasgow accent proved so difficult that he went as far as developing an alter ego, an entire fictional persona, who performed in an American accent – and was an instant success. (He later dispensed with the act after losing the will to continue faking it). It seems that urban music, like many cultures, can be deeply conservative about what’s acceptable and what isn’t.

Grime MCs and DJs are in a uniquely tricky position, where the sound of the vocals isn’t just about clarity but about whether you  are reppin’ the ‘real’ voice of the streets. Think of the radio DJ Tim Westwood, the vicar’s son with the infamous pseudo-rudeboy drawl. It’s a cultural issue, not just a vocal one.

This issue of authenticity comes up a lot with my clients, when I try to describe how accent reduction and speech training fit into a contemporary world where you’re constantly reminded to ‘just  be yourself’.
When I meet clients for the first time, they usually start by saying ‘I quite like my accent’. It feels dishonest to try and suppress their natural sound, because it’s part of who they are and where they’ve come from.
They’re right to feel this way. I don’t teach people how to ‘put on’ a British accent, because how are you meant to be confident and speak from the heart in your professional and personal life if you feel like a fake?
Thankfully, I can’t think of many professions where it’s still considered essential to speak with a flawless English accent (actors in Downton Abbey, perhaps?) The British have generally become more accustomed to different accents from their newsreaders, their doctors and their bank managers. Regrettably some prejudice still exists: I shared an article on social media recently about how ‘accentism’ is still prevalent in Britain. I don’t feel that individuals should be expected to pander to these prejudices, but I think it’s important to remember what I say to most clients: that a good communicator doesn’t make her listeners work too hard to understand her.
I always reassure people that accent reduction is about clarity:  finding a sound that is still ‘you’, but that most people can easily understand. Most English speakers, especially in London and the bigger cities, can cope with different accents, but the easier it is for them, the more likely they are to get what you’re saying, and not be distracted by how you say it.

Then you’ll not only be ‘for real’, you’ll be live-o fam, y’get me?

No, didn’t think so…