It’s been a while, and I’m back, sharing a bit about Israel, its artists, and their emergence onto the world stage. I could’ve shared much more, but a bit at a time is best, right? Stay tuned… Meanwhile, click on the image to watch the interview.
I received an email from a client in Los Angeles. “Judi, I have an audition for a Russian character for a television pilot. Do you have tips for a Russian accent?” Always eager to help and loving my work, I delved into it, taking her lines from the audition sides and transliterating them with a heavy Russian accent. I sent her my Russian sounding version and told her we could practice together over Skype. And then I reconsidered. I told her that if the audition notes didn’t specifically call for a heavy Russian accent, I didn’t think she should follow the notes I put together for her. Being able to do an authentic sounding accent can be wonderful, but it shouldn’t interfere with the overall performance.
I’m the first to admit that I am majorly impressed by actors who can master an accent that is not their own. Meryl Streep is a true accent powerhouse. You can hear her Polish accent in Sophie’s Choice and one of her English accents in The Iron Lady, roles for which she won Academy Awards. Matthew Rhys also comes to mind. He currently portrays a Russian KGB agent in the U.S. in the 80’s on FX’s The Americans, and he sounds completely American. He also sounded completely American in ABC’s Brothers and Sisters. It’s always a surprise when people hear him in an interview, when he speaks with his native Welsh accent. If you’re a good actor, though, don’t compromise your performance by trying to include an accent that draws too much attention away from the role itself. Have you ever watched a performance of someone trying too hard with an accent that just didn’t sound right? I know I have.
As a speech and dialect coach, I’m the last one who should be telling actors not to work on accents, I know. I do think actors should work on accents, absolutely. I do think, however, that it needs to sound as though it’s natural and not forced. Otherwise it’s a distraction. I also know that opportunities often arise quickly and without lots of notice. So how do you train long term to sound natural for an opportunity that may only present itself suddenly, if at all? Obviously, you can’t. What you can do, however, is the following:
You can work with a speech coach on overall pronunciation skills and mastering of general speech sounds from various regions and languages. This will lay the groundwork for when you need to quickly adjust to a new accent. You will acquire the skills of “learning how to learn” the new accent.
You can also work with a speech coach on polishing your standard American English accent as a base for then tweaking it for regional dialects as needed. This is especially useful for non-native English speakers, but it can be just as helpful for native English speakers, too.
How do you find the right speech coach? I think that it depends on chemistry, and the connection you need to work well with someone, as you would with a personal trainer at the gym. It has to feel right, and it’s a personal preference. Each coach has their own style and approach, and you need to find one that works well for you. When you’re ready, give it a shot, and keep trying until you find what’s right for you.
I don’t claim to be a self-help guru. I do claim to help people express themselves well and be better communicators. But sometimes, the road to improving your communication or your language can seem impossible. And that’s where we turn to self-actualization and basically believing in yourself and believing in the process. I often find with students that it’s not the language that’s keeping them from progressing. It’s their confidence (or lack of confidence). And this gave me a thought.
There’s an often used expression, ‘I’ll believe it when I see it,’ which generally refers to not believing something will really happen until we see it with our own eyes. An example of this notion could be when asked about an upcoming vacation trip to Hawaii, someone responds by saying, “I’ll believe it when I see it. When I’m actually on the plane, I’ll know that it’s really happening.”
But what if we were to switch the order of the words to this expression? I’ll see it when I believe it. To me, this makes a lot of sense. If you don’t think achieving something is possible, chances are that you won’t achieve it. Now think of the converse statement- if you believe it’s possible, then you can actually visualize achieving it. And only then can you set realistic goals and a plan for making it happen and be on your way.
Relating this to the goal of breaking a language barrier or becoming a better public speaker, I see it as a switch you need to make. One student told me when I met him that he had a block against English- some kind of learning difficulty, which kept him from being able to speak the language. The more we met, discussed, read, reviewed song lyrics, watched films- all in English, the more he was able to express himself in English. He then told me that I helped him break down the wall that was keeping him from English. The truth is that I didn’t break down the wall. He did. He did it by talking about his English goals, believing that it was possible, visualizing himself speaking English, and then working to make it happen, jumping right in and speaking.
I was working with another student, an actress, who had an audition for an English language feature film and wanted to make sure she had a good grasp of the scene and pronunciation of the lines. When we first took a look at the scene’s script, she said, “oh, I can’t do this in English.” We visualized her in the role, speaking in English, pronouncing each word clearly and with her interpretation of the character, and then we jumped into it. We practiced and practiced until she felt comfortable with the lines. And then I reminded her that she had originally said she couldn’t do it. And we laughed. I want to tell you that she got the part, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that she believed it, saw it, and did it . As for the casting of the role, we’ll have to wait and see. What is important here is that she is now taking the steps to believe in, visualize, and then prepare for her breakthrough to an international career.
Whatever your career, once you believe it’s possible, which I know is often the hardest part, you can then see it and then make it happen.
I once bought a pair of eyeglasses at a branch of a national optical chain. After I took the glasses home, I returned to the store a few days later, in order to have the glasses adjusted.
I told the salesperson that the glasses felt too small, and she replied, “They’re not too small; your face is too big.”
After recovering from her comment, I decided that a) I don’t want to purchase anything from that store in the future, and b) there’s a way to say things, and this was not the way, especially if you value the importance of customer service and customer retention.
My friend is a kindergarten teacher. She told me how at lunch, one little girl took out a bag of grapes to eat, and her schoolmates told her that she wasn’t allowed to bring grapes to school. When my friend heard what was happening, she confirmed that indeed, “Grapes are an after school snack,” to which the little girl replied, “Oh, right, because grapes are made with nuts.” Cute story about how in today’s allergy-sensitive world, the kindergartener knew that nuts in school is a no-no. Incidentally, the grape issue is that grapes are a choking hazard.
What struck me, though, was how the teacher referred to the grapes being an “after school snack,” rather than saying something along the lines of, “You aren’t allowed to bring grapes to school.”
There’s a way to say things, which has the ability to sound positive, to motivate others, and to empower.
Many people don’t realize the potential power that words carry. I have written about this before, and I believe it bears repeating.
Whether you are an executive, a manager or team leader, a sales professional, a teacher, or any other type of professional, you have the power to influence people at all levels. Thinking about the way you deliver your message and the words you choose to use will give you the opportunity to shape that influence. I’m not advocating always being super-positive. There are times that call for harsh words. The key is to be mindful of your words. We have very little control of our lives. However, what we can do is be aware of what we say. Words can crush confidence, kill a buzz, or build confidence and inspire.
We all can refer to great speakers. We have heard quotes from motivational speeches given by myriad personalities as different as Winston Churchill, leader of the United Kingdom during the Second World War, and Vince Lombardi, renowned American football coach of the 1960’s.
If, as they say, knowledge is power, then awareness of our words is empowerment.