Firstly it is important to understand what accented English actually is, it isn’t Scouse, Cockney, or Brummie. These are regional accents and although requested fairly regularly, they are not the same as accented English. It is also not, South African, Australian, North American etc. Again these are regional as they are English native speakers. Accented English is therefore English spoken with an accent when it is not their native language. People in different countries tend to have a similar English accent which can be recognised, for example a person from India who produces an English voice-over will maintain an Indian accent which can be recognised as English with an Indian accent.
So what are the needs for accented English? Why not just have a native English speaker perform the English voice-overs? There are a number of reasons that are listed below.
First of all, speaking English with an accent helps to link the world. We live in a globalised society where virtually everything is spread to other countries, because English has become the global language then it is often used and recognised. Keeping an accent helps it feel more localised and reach more people.
Another reason is workforce diversity, this links to the above point as many companies have offices globally and a lot use English as their ‘business language’ and as a result, maintaining an accent will help to reach employees and maintain a local feel.
Furthermore, Hollywood often uses accented English for characters in certain regions; if a movie is set in a different country the characters will sometimes have accents from that country but still speak in English. This helps the movie feel more genuine (even if the actor is not from that country).
Finally, accented English can sound more legitimate to a target audience. For example advertisements or charity campaigns focused on a region may use accented English artists to give it a more legitimate feel. This can help boost marketing and sales as the audience feels like they are receiving information from someone in that country.
There are some commons problems that can arise when using accented English voice-overs. Firstly, faking the accent. The film and TV industry is often guilty of this and has been criticised in the past for adding to stereotypes by putting on an accent, rather than finding someone from that region. There are many cases of actors and actresses butchering the accents as they are unable to completely rid themselves of their native sound. Examples of this are Brad Pitt’s Austrian accent in 7 Years in Tibet and Mickey Rourke’s Russian accent in Iron Man 2.
Another big problem faced when working in accented English is the needs of the client. There is a fine line between having enough of an accent to be recognised but not too much of an accent that it is hard for people to understand the English. Sometimes clients will want the sound to sway towards a harsher accent or a more understandable/English sounding accent. Finding this balance can be very difficult. When selecting an artist it is well worth listening to their English sample and maybe discussing if you need a harsher or softer accent.
A further difficulty can be whether certain words or phrases need an accent at all. For example if a voice-over is recorded in Dutch accented English and it contains a company name that needs to be said in the strict English style. This can be a major problem if the country as a whole struggles with certain sounds and these happen to be in the name. An example is how McDonalds is pronounced around the world, in Korea it is pronounced mac-don-aye-der and in Singapore mac-donna. These pronunciations are accepted in the countries, this problem basically depends if the client is willing to accept the different pronunciation.
A final common problem is that English accented voice-overs often take more time which is largely due to the artists not being fluent in English and therefore making more mistakes which is completely understandable. A result of this is that pieces are often shorter or sessions may be broken down to allow more time for the artists.
Next time you’re planning your voice-overs, whether as a client or as a voice-talent, keep these points in mind to help your accented English projects be the biggest success they can be.