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I've always enjoyed playing in games where the GM/DM/ST makes use of a variety of accents to differentiate between NPCs. I've always wanted to learn how to do that, but I realize that I'm not particularly skilled with accents: I can fake one or two, but that's about it.

How do I learn to speak in an accent? Any good advice for someone starting up? I've read How do I respectfully make use of non-Western accents?: I'm looking for advice for the general use of accents in gameplay so that you don't either spend ages trying to work out what you're going to say ahead of time, or wind up flipping between three different accents in a single sentence (I tend to do that with Australian/American).

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It sounds like what you're looking for is advice on how to use accents in general gameplay. That's a solid question, no need to ask for outside resources when you could just ask for the advice right here. –  wax eagle Jun 20 '12 at 11:28
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To me it sounds like he wants to learn how to produce accents (something that I'd love to know about). Resources are probably better, due to the huge amounts of video/audio files almost certainly necessary. –  Brian Ballsun-Stanton Jun 20 '12 at 12:15
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@BrianBallsun-Stanton How is fine; a good answer will link to resources when necessary. –  AceCalhoon Jun 20 '12 at 13:16
    
I don't know how to answer you, but I enjoyed reading the beginning of WanderingOnes.com and practicing the various accents within. –  Yianes the Sneak Jul 4 '12 at 23:53
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5 Answers

up vote 16 down vote accepted

I've made some use of accents when DMing, so here's some things I've figured out.

The main tip is to try to avoid having to produce more than one accent in a given amount of time (1 per session is ideal, while 1 per 30 minutes or so is pushing it). That lets you concentrate on which accent(s) will be used, so they don't get all mixed up in your head.

You can make use of this limitation by saving accents for NPCs that you want to seem especially foreign to the party. My experience has been that word choice alone is usually enough to distinguish socio-economic status (upper-class people in particular are unlikely to have an accent; they interact with enough different people to realize they have one and have the leisure time to train it out).

Before the session, spend a couple minutes practicing each accent you intend to use during the session. While you can practice by merely thinking in that accent, it's much more effective to speak. If possible, record yourself and then listen to it to see how it sounds.

Regarding learning to mimic an accent, I found these two videos helpful: How to Learn Any Accent (Part 1) by Amy Walker & (Part 2). They're about 15 minutes total. Finding resources for this online is actually a little bit challenging: most people who want to learn accents are doing it to work as actors or voice actors, so most of the resources I found were for paid classes.

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Something I've found useful to go along with practicing each accent beforehand, and an extension on the word-choice part, is to prepare a phrase that features words that stress the particular quirks of that accent; it helps to kickstart it, so to speak, so it becomes easier to launch into the accent. 'She got peg shet allooverha' is unfortunately the only phrase that springs to mind by way of example. –  Ananisapta Jun 20 '12 at 15:43
    
@Ananisapta - It's a shame you didn't post this as an answer. For me it's the marriage of accent plus a few key phrases that makes it work (when it does work for me). –  Erik Schmidt Jun 20 '12 at 17:30
    
@Ananisapta, I'll second that. Post your comment as an answer, it's awesome. To get into a New Zealand accent is always hard for me, till I bring up a phrase from Flight of the Conchords, and suddenly the whole accent clicks. –  Joe Jun 20 '12 at 21:08
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By popular request :P

Something I've found useful to go along with practicing each accent beforehand, and an extension on the choice of words, is to prepare a phrase that features words that stress the particular quirks of that accent; it helps to kickstart it, so to speak. By leading with the phrase, it becomes easier to launch into the accent.

'She got peg shet allooverha' is unfortunately the only phrase that springs to mind by way of example, but it serves to illustrate the point; it stresses the mutated vowels, clipped endings and blurring-together of words. I don't know precisely what this accent would be, but it's fairly obviously rural.

You can cheat a bit with an upperclass British accent - the kind of BBC english spoken by Stephen Fry - just ennunciate each word very clearly, and slightly slowly, and it will fall into place.

It also sounds as though what you are trying to achieve is less about accurately imitating an accent and more about making NPC's sound distinctive. Something to consider along those lines is word order. If whatever passes for the common tongue in your campaign is not the first language of your NPC, expect the words to be a bit jumbled, and verbs, adjectives and nouns used a bit haphazardly. Everyone knows what Yoda sounds like, but his froggy voice is only half the equation - the other half is the distinctive way he reverses his sentences. This can also lead back to the first point; its pretty hard to say something like 'Is good to be having' without at least a passing stab at something approximately Russian.

Verbal tics and quirks are also fun. Lisps are obvious, but aren't limited to hunchbacked assistants - 'Yearth, marthter'. They can also portray someone childlike, or simpering, or effeminate, or who's just been punched in the mouth, depending on where you put the emphasis. The way sentences are ended can say a lot - it runs rampant in anime, where half the cast of some shows ends up with a 'dattebayo', 'un', or whatever stapled on the end of each sentence. But for a westernised example does 'yess, preciousss' ring any bells?

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I will always fondly remember one special character from Mercedes Lackey's "Heralds of Valdemar" universe: Weaponsmaster Alberich, and his peculiar grammar. "Immediately doing this will help you, how?" :-D Fooling with grammar like that is difficult to do consistently, but it goes a long way towards making speech patterns peculiar and unique. Prattchet's Igors are, of course, legendary. –  DevSolar Jun 21 '12 at 11:00
    
I remember him, though the particular example I had in mind was Binabik from Tad William's 'Memory, Sorrow, Thorn'- didn't much like the books, but was taken with the character. Yoda-speak is pretty easy to pull off, but you're right, any more complicated pattern may need to be written down first. With a bit of concentration it's possible to speak fairly consistantly in rhyme, if you aren't fussy about how it scans. And yes, the Igors are legendary XD. –  Ananisapta Jun 21 '12 at 12:06
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Something that I have found to be useful when trying to mimic accents is to either say something in the language's accent that you are trying to mimic and then continue in that tone and the way that the language sounds in your own language. I personally like to introduce myself in whatever language it is to get the sound down. However, I realize that this might not be easy for everyone because it is easiest when you have had some kind of training in the language--although resources like google translate that say what you are translating do help in this if you do not have access to language classes.

Another way that I use is to either find or write down the stereotypical accent and what letters do not translate the same and then add that to your speech. For example, French accents typically replace the "th" and sometimes the "s" or "c" sound with the "z" sound. German accents typically replace "w" with "v". Asian accents normally cannot pronounce the "l" sound and instead use the "r" sound. Now this method is not perfect, and can sometimes sound like you are trying to make fun of the accent because these are all very stereotypical pronunciations that have found their way into popular culture. However it is easier than the previous method I mentioned. I hope this helped.

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The most pronounced differences between accents is actually in the vowels. Listening to how the vowels are sounded can make for a much more authentic accent reproduction than the common consonant replacements. –  SevenSidedDie Jun 22 '12 at 22:40
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A generic guide to European accents can be found towards the end of the 7th Sea Player's Guide. It has some pretty useful tips for the non-speaker to at least make an attempt. Having familiarity with some of the accents but not others, I have fallen back on their cheat sheet many times.

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I can highly recommend Accent Your Character - an accent training course for roleplayers and other casual users from a renowned acting accent instructor.

They used to come all together, but now Standard British English, Cockney, Scottish, and Irish are available separately. They come with a written cheat sheet to help you remember, too.

I've used these tips at the table as well as to get myself through a period production of Lady Windermere's Fan without embarrassment.

Paul Meier's other accent trainers are also very good, but good luck getting a better deal than $1.95!

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