Learning accents the modern way

American with a tinge of Irish - David Suchet in Long Day's Journey into Night, . Photo: Johan Persson
American with a tinge of Irish - David Suchet in Long Day's Journey into Night, . Photo: Johan Persson
Susan Elkin
Susan is Education and Training Editor at The Stage
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How do you learn a new accent? If you’re already in rehearsal then time will be very short and if you’re out of work you probably can’t afford a one-to-one voice coach. Enter voice coach Catherine Weate and her new app. The Real Accent App: USA  www.realaccentapp.com was launched last month (follow it on Twitter as @realaccentapp for ongoing information) and I spoke to Catherine about it earlier this week.

The app, built with Catherine’s business partner, freelance app developer Gavin Howard, combines the real voices of accent users with Catherine’s ten step training in how to learn it and use it. So how on earth, I asked her, did she find the right voices to record?

“This first app features ten different regional American accents from New Orleans to Chicago. Gavin and I went to all ten regions last year” she says, explaining that they had some extraordinary experiences on the road including attending a cattle roping party near Oklahoma City, where cowboys with perfect accents were plentiful.

“British regional accents have been much celebrated in the last twenty years so, if anything, they have got stronger, The opposite is true in the US where there’s a strong pull towards standardisation,” she told me. “On the other hand, at least 80% of my teaching work in the UK relates to American accents, which is why we’ve started with US dialects.”

The app, which costs £12.99 from the App Store, is available only for iPhone at present, but Weate and Howard are confident that it will also be available for Android next month. Meanwhile they are currently touring England in connection with a second planned app on English accents with Scottish, Irish/Northern Irish, Welsh and European accents also in the business plan.

I had a call from an actor the other day telling me they were actually using the app to troubleshoot in the rehearsal room and I was delighted because that’s exactly what I’d envisaged – not a substitute for one-to-one voice coaching of course but another tool in the actor’s kit.

And, of course, it will sit happily alongside Weate’s other resources, such as several useful books, a number of which I have reviewed over the years. The latest to arrive on my desk is Modern Voice: Working With Actors on Contemporary Text (Oberon Books) http://oberonbooks.com/voice/modern-voice.

It pays detailed attention to specific plays and playwrights and the emphasis on the different vocal demands of, say, Shelagh Delaney and Arthur Miller or some of the Australian playwrights whose work Wheate has been involved with.  And the idea of a tuneful speaking voice has made me listen afresh to how I speak myself and to the pitching of voices around me.