I’m a bit of a sucker for online videos about accents and dialects–I’m no expert, but this video (from Wired) is definitely worth a watch. Dialect coach Erik Singer does a mini survey of actors attempting accents and dialects from all over the world. The results vary from terrible to fantastic, but one of the things that I like about this video is how thorough he is with analysis, using quick clips (often repeated) to highlight specific linguistic features, as well as examples where actors nailed the accent in one phrase, only to miss the mark in the next.
I especially liked how fair he was, pointing out how actors are frequently not given adequate time to prepare and learn the subtleties of a particular accent, and how production factors can also have an impact.
As I listened to the video, I thought of how often language learners seem to hold their accent as a source of ongoing personal shame. I thought this video was a solid reminder that even the most talented actors, working with a dialect coach, often fall short when trying to reproduce a particular accent– even with a coach!
If the experts can fall short, while trying to imitate an accent in their own language, surely normal people trying to polish their accent in another language can take heart in the fact that nobody’s perfect.
Yes, accents are a powerful storytelling and communication tool, and we should try to listen closely to the vocal patterns of the languages we’re studying, but try not to set the bar too high!
Wired video: https://www.wired.com/2016/11/actor-accent-analysis/