What? I have an accent?
I was born in the great state of New Mexico, and until I moved away, I never thought I had an accent in English. I spoke like most of the people around me. It wasn’t until I moved to the East Coast that I discovered that yes, I do in fact speak with a slight Hispanic accent when I’m not thinking about it. After having this pointed out to me by too many people to ignore, I concluded that my accented English might be affecting my ability to land voiceover jobs. I decided to try some accent-reduction coaching.
My coach gave me specific feedback about which letter sounds gave me away, and I worked on being able to neutralize my accent. But one of the things she told me, which I’m glad I heeded, was “DON’T lose your accent! It will come in handy sometimes.” How right she was! As we broke down last year’s voiceover work by genre and language, it became clear that Hispanic-Accented English voiceover represented a small but significant share of my work.
Work with what you’ve got.
It turns out that there is a market for Hispanic-accented voiceover, and it’s quite broad. We’ve been hired for accented English VO for Commercials, eLearning, medical and corporate projects. There’s never been a greater demand for voiceover that reflects the diversity that is the U.S.A. About the time that I decided to learn to neutralize my Hispanic Accent, I also decided it would also be a good idea to learn to emphasize it, or to vary it. There are many types of Hispanic accents, and someone born in the U.S. won’t speak like someone who immigrated.
How much accent, and which?
While being able to faithfully reproduce all the Hispanic accents in this country would be impossible, it made sense to study certain characteristics of a few of the more common ones. I listen to the differences in speech patterns between East Coast Hispanics of Caribbean descent and Chicanos from California, and how those are both quite different from the accent that I heard growing up in New Mexico. It’s an ongoing study that’s become kind of a game. When I get an audition or job request in Hispanic-accented English, I consider whether to use my Rubén Blades, my Cheech Marín, my Grandma, or something else.
Meanwhile, my wife Rosi and my daughter Alisa have also been able to parlay accented English into profitable work. Rosi’s big discovery was how just a touch of British accent can make a Hispanic accent sound more Chilean, and for Argentine, she just channels her Papi.
While Hispanic-accented English voiceover doesn’t represent a huge percentage of my work, I have to say that it has brought some of my most fun jobs, and even some recognition in the Industry. I recently got to do a commercial for a major sandwich chain in the style of a soap opera, playing a Latin lover type. Then a colleague notified me that I had won a prestigious Earphones Award from AudioFile Magazine for an accented read of the beloved children’s book THE STORY OF FERDINAND.