I’m seeing a LOT of amazing television these days! It seems that every time I turn around, there’s a great new show with lots of buzz. You don’t have to look too hard in some of these great new shows to find actors doing solidly convincing General American accents! I’ll admit, in spite of a show’s fantastic writing, and/or performances, one of the reasons I might continue watching is to hear these actors’ General American accents! Two of my favorite shows currently feature leading male actors from the UK.
When it comes to the accent, most of the time they hit the nail on the head (as we like to say in the US). But there will definitely be times when they’re a bit off. And these times tend to be specifically centered around a VERY common sound that actors from all over the world struggle with… the American R. But let’s go one step further, and focus on a part of this giant, complex sound–the unstressed ER (also known as schwa + R). This is one of the first places my ear goes to when I’m listening to an actor do a General American accent.
Okay, what is the unstressed ER sound? It’s just what the name says–the “ER” sound in an unstressed part of the word. You’ll find this sound in all positions of words–beginning (perform, pernicious), middle (internet, entertain), and end (father, better). In a General American accent, this sound is almost ALWAYS pronounced (with the exception of regional US accents found in places like New York City, Boston, and parts of the South). The challenge that a lot of actors run into is FORGETTING to pronounce the ER in the unstressed syllable!
In one episode of one of the shows I watch (and love), I heard the following words: conversation, father, opportunity, never, under, perhaps, whatever, and information (despite the OR spelling, you’ll still hear Americans pronounce this syllable with an ER sound). In each of these words, the ER sound was dropped by the actor. There were actually a few more unstressed ER words in this same episode, and still the ER sound was dropped.
So, quite simply–don’t forget to pronounce that unstressed ER sound! Go through your lines, identify ANY word that has this sound, circle it, say it over and over until your mouth associates the ER sound with this word. THEN plug these words back into your rehearsal process and see if the ER sound is now there. Common words with the unstressed ER sound include: remember, later, over, never, another, other, and forget; the sooner your mouth remembers to make this sound on these words, the better!
One last thing to think about–the ER SOUND can also be spelled with: AR (vinegar), IR (admirable, circuitous), OR (doctor, actor), and UR (surprise, survive). Pay attention to this sound–it’s everywhere! Be aware of it, but don’t stress over it–relax into it. At the end of the day, a little ER goes a long way!
Adam Michael Rose is a Los Angeles-based accent reduction teacher, dialect coach, and actor. He teaches accents and dialects at theaters, colleges, and acting studios throughout the country.
Adam has a degree in Acting from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, and he’s studied voice/speech at Lee Strasberg Theater Institute, Playwrights Horizons, British American Drama Academy (BADA), The Theatre Lab of Washington, DC, and the Baltimore Shakespeare Festival. He is a member of VASTA, EdTA, and is certified in the Compton P-ESL method.
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