ENGLISH WITH AN ACCENT
This evening my wife was busy talking on the phone but had “West Side Story” on the TV in the background. I happened to walk in.
I’m no movie critic. My favorite movies are “Grumpy Old Men” 1 & 2. But I can tell you that listening to most of the actors on “West Side Story” was a most painful experience! Those are some of the worst combined Spanish accents I’ve heard at one time. Embarrassing!
Now, I realize that movie was done a long, long time ago, but I wonder if directors and producers have changed that much when it comes to selecting English with a Spanish accent. As a bilingual voice talent, I often get requests to do English with a Spanish accent. It’s surprising how many times I get asked to dial back the accent. In other words, to not sound so Hispanic. Apparently, the producers and director of “West Side Story” didn’t have a clue about what they wanted in this area.
I’ve come to realize that there are a number of different reasons that clients want English with a Spanish accent.
First, they want to attract North American English speakers with a slight Hispanic accent. This is usually for the purposes of advertising a Tex-Mex restaurant or other similar place of retail business, implying how Mexican they are. Sometimes this voice is also used in eLearning or corporate narrations to suggest that the company also employs Hispanic workers, but the project is primarily targeted at English speakers.
Secondly, they want to attract 2nd and 3rd generation Hispanic speakers. Usually this style gets used in retail. I’ve done a number of commercials like this for auto, phone, banks, etc. This is generally done by a combination of English and Spanish (Spanglish). This most certainly would have been appropriate for “West Side Story!”
Thirdly, they want to suggest that the voice is truly a Latino individual for whom English is a second language. This is more prevalent in documentaries or specialized retail advertising.
What it really boils down to is that we are a multi-cultural nation. I know there are those that would scream their heads off in opposition, but it is what it is. And frankly, I’m proud that we are multi-cultural. I totally understand that there are legal and political issues that must be resolved in this arena, but the fact is that we are a multi-cultural nation. And that requires that many businesses and organizations present themselves that way.
So, to Bilingual Voice Talents, I would offer some things to consider in how you offer and present your services.
1. Embrace your accent.
Yes, your voice is unique, but so is your accent. Market it. Offer it. Use it. You are who you are, and you communicate to a great group of people. Let advertisers and producers know that.
Make your accent a positive when marketing yourself. And if you can turn the accent on and off, so much the better. It’s called range!
2. Identify your accent.
Are you a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd generation accent? Promote it. Your accent, and the way you can categorize it makes you an expert. Clients hire experts.
3. Consider your options.
This is a big failure for so many bilingual voice talents. Take some time and research to figure out whom all might be interested in what you have to offer. Consider government projects, corporate, industrial, educational, retail, etc. Even take a look at IVR and phone messaging. Why not consider the potential in news presentations, language targeted media, government, etc.
OK, that’s the extent of my rant. I hope it will start a conversation about what is useful for accented VO. Please share and post your comments!