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How To Get A Specific Accent

This entry is part 4 of 12 in the series Secrets of Speaking

Thus spake Skyler:

Hello Khatzumoto!

My ultimate goal is to learn to speak French with a native Parisian accent so I have been trying to only listen to content spoken by Parisians. I would think this would be easy to find but it isn’t. All of the content I find is either spoken by people from other parts of France or doesn’t state where the speaker is from. I have tried to search things like “Parisian French podcasts”, “Parisian dialogues”, and searches in French but nothing comes up.

I was wondering if you knew a better way to go about this, and if you try to only listen to a certain accent/dialect when learning a language? Thank you and your blog is seriously the best when it comes to language learning! I mean that!


Skyler, my cup runneth over with thy flattery. As for your question:

I was wondering if you knew a better way to go about this, and if you try to only listen to a certain accent/dialect when learning a language?

No, I just go with the media that are available…I end up with a neutral mix accent…native/native-like but unplaceable. I did want a specific regional accent (Kansai for Japanese), but it was too much trouble trying to acquire and limit the media.

Having said that, one thing I did specifically do was to pick a particular actor and imitate (shadow) him in detail…he thus became my “surrogate parent” and my speech would sound more like his than anyone else’s…so that would be one way of going about it — rather than fuss about dialect-specific media, just pick an individual performer you like and watch and listen to a lot of his or her stuff — that’s of course assuming that this person doesn’t do too much dialect-shifting in their work.

For the record, my surrogates for Japanese have been:

Series Navigation<< Where Not To Learn Japanese FromHow to Pronounce Japanese >>

  37 comments for “How To Get A Specific Accent

  1. Monochrome
    August 15, 2011 at 00:28

    I’ve seen the role model advice here too:
    For Japanese, I like Ted Hidaka –

  2. stan
    August 15, 2011 at 01:37

    My 2 cents for Skyler : native Parisian accent might not be what you’re looking for..

    People in Paris tend to speak more of a neutral French, i.e. without any of either international (ex. Belgium, Canada, etc..) or “local” (Marseille, Toulouse, Lille, Lyon, etc..) french accents. Of course that doesn’t apply if they just move to Paris from there.

    There is one real native parisian accent, but it’s extremely rare to find, and/or recognize. Pretty sure most of Parisians wouldn’t be able to do so. Some of the reasons for that : Paris is a melting pot of people coming from different places, and native parisian accent is much less pronounced than others.

    I was born and raised in Paris and I do not have any parisian accent.

    If you listen to French national tvs / radios, most likely you’ll be hearing as neutral as french gets.

    • August 17, 2011 at 10:39

      That kind of sounds like the problem one would have with trying to obtain a New York accent…  Say they tried to watch shows with New Yorkers, like The Daily Show or many of the news shows that are filmed in New York.  None of those people really have a New York accent, but more of the generic TV accent.  And if you actually go to New York then you will discover all kinds of different ways of talking.  Unless you make a conversation with a trucker or garbage man, you probably won’t hear it.  And those guys aren’t usually on TV.

      • Skyler
        September 2, 2011 at 07:56

           Skyler spaking xD… I like that name Khatz nice choice, and I’m flattered you posted my question on your blog! 
        I guess my idea of a native accent is different than other people’s.  I definitely understand that there will be more than one accent in Paris, but notice I only said A Parisian accent not THE Parisian accent.  I don’t really know how I will choose, but I will be traveling to Paris the upcoming Summer.  I guess will just try to learn the Parisian accent that I like the most (which will most likely be this “neutral” accent especially since it is the accent I probably have been listening to the most).  I think I have heard of another French person talk about this single native Parisian accent.  He/She said it was the accent of the working class in Paris and the people of St. Dennis.
        Now just to share some of my opinions.  I don’t believe there is such thing as a neutral accent nor a generic TV accent.  Either you have an accent or you don’t (and if you don’t then you don’t speak).  If this “neutral” accent is spoken by people born and raised in Paris in their everyday lives then I consider it a native Parisian accent.  And this “generic TV” accent spoken by NY newscasters is probably the General American accent which isn’t a “generic TV” accent; it is a living and native accent of the US.  We use it here in Omaha.
        -Skyler :}

        • Ian Long
          September 8, 2011 at 08:25

          Try watching the BBC news for a ‘TV accent’.  Almost no real English people talk that way, but BBC newscasters do.

    • Franck
      August 24, 2011 at 23:26

      You call your accent neutral even being born and raised in Paris, but that that’s the very reason why it seems neutral for you.
      Having left Paris for south France, I can assure they notice parisian accent and feel quite neutral 😉
      So, to answer the question, I think TV will get you a parisian accent, if you are not searching for a specific and probably outdated accent. On average regional accents are quite rares.

  3. 魔法少女☆かなたん
    August 15, 2011 at 02:09

    I was discussing the issue of accents recently with an English-speaking friend who went to the Southern US, who noted that many of the people “didn’t” have an accent, that is to say, the way people talked didn’t really sound different from his Northern US accent. This was blamed on the influence of television in particular on the way young people talk. Of course, there are people with distinct accents, but it’s not that unusual to not have one. 
    You might be able to pick up on a regional accent or dialect by living in a certain area, talking to people and listening to the way they talk, or even perhaps unconsciously picking up their pronunciation habits. However, whether it’s desirable to sound like a poor farmer or something is another thing altogether…

  4. August 15, 2011 at 03:13

    As long as you don’t listen to people who speak with a strong regional accent, you’ll be fine.
    There’s no need to look for the perfect French podcast or the guy who has the perfect French accent.

  5. Jarl
    August 15, 2011 at 08:43

    Disclaimer: I don’t have a degree in pshycology, language learning or any documents of any kind to confirm that I know what I’m talking about and no such claims will be made in this comment so I can not be held responsible for any frustation and/or time wasted on readers part. Keep reading on your own discretion.
    Imitation is the key, that said I think the first step in aqcuiring a specific accent should be aqcuiring the ability to tell the difference between accents. I’m not talking about putting on your awesome lab coat and analyze it into particles, just be able to notice the difference between the most prominent accents. This step should not take a long time and if you can listen to spoken french with ease you may already be done with this step.
    Next is imitating that accent. Accents are usually made of two groups, specific words and how they’re said. The specific words category consists of words and phrases that are solely used by people of that specific accent like how the classes in England used different words for the room of urination and excretion like toilet, loo or restroom. This can be learned both by listening and reading. Pronuciation category is what most people have trouble with since you have to dramatically change how you use your mouth, breath and sometimes vocal chords if your current accent does not complement your target accent.
    If you want people to believe that you were born and raised in Paris then there are over-the-top methods you can use like taking acting classes and record your voice while saying a sentence or a monologue you found on youtube in your target accent and compare it to the original or research how famous mimics like Pablo Fransisco (Only person I could think of) can impersonate someone so well that you can’t here the difference since that is what you will be doing until it starts to settle and becomes your natural french accent.
    After spending a quite some time writing this while I watched Gantz live action movie I found out that I had strayed a lot from the original question. Not wanting to waste all this time and effort on nothing I decided to post it anyway in hope that someone will find this useful.

  6. Saben
    August 15, 2011 at 14:23

    From what stan said above it sounds like France kind of has the same thing going on that Japanese does. There is “standard Japanese” that is typically considered to be “Tokyo Japanese” and now, it’s probably what a lot of people in Tokyo speak (and elsewhere), it’s the Yamanote dialect. But then you have gritty, “real” Tokyo Japanese- the Shitamachi dialect, which is what the working class from Tokyo traditionally speak. If there’s a “Tokyo accent” nowadays, it’s probably more the Shitamachi dialect than the Yamanote dialect. Yamanote is kind of “accentless” (not that there is such a thing), in that it’s what is considered the socially acceptable standard, wherever one is from.

  7. Sami
    August 15, 2011 at 16:45

    I am your saviour. Parisians on YouTube (comedy of course, if you no like…I don’t really care):

    Bonus (not necessarily Parisians):
    SyldaviaTV (On n’demande qu’à en rire)

    You’re welcome. 🙂

    • Magdalena
      August 25, 2011 at 21:24

      Thanks for those links, Sami! That’s exactly what I’ve been looking for for a couple of days now. Real french on youtube. Cheers!

      • Sami
        August 28, 2011 at 03:06

        No problem 🙂
        A good way to find good native content in many languages on YouTube is to go the most subscribed list for any category comedians and then set your location to the country in which your target language is spoken. 

        • Sami
          August 28, 2011 at 03:09

          “Any category” should be crossed out.
          no formatting=no comedy 🙁 

    • Skyler
      September 3, 2011 at 03:46

        Thank you!  Do you know if Cyprien is also a Parisian?

      • Skyler
        September 3, 2011 at 04:00

        Or are Cyprien and Monsieur Dream the same person?

        • Sami
          September 3, 2011 at 18:27

          Cyprien=MonsieurDream 🙂

  8. BM
    August 15, 2011 at 16:49

    One good way to get a particular accent is to listen to local radio from that accent/dialect area online.  Not everyone at the station (or out on the street when the do outside broadcasts/interviews) will speak with the local accent, but the majority will, and, with thime, you’ll be able to pick out the strays from the locals, and just start to focus on them.  It can be quite good to get some other accents in there, actually, since they will act as a foil, highlighting the features fo your target accent/dialect.

    • September 8, 2011 at 22:16

      Yup, listening to the radio is always a good idea, and something everybody should do more!

  9. August 16, 2011 at 10:46

    I don’t think picking up a specific accent should take up much time once you’re fluent… maybe the best way to do it is not to spend lots of time trying to find media on t’internet, but instead go to Paris and talk to the people there.  (Alternatively, use Skype interviews.)

  10. August 17, 2011 at 02:31

    Just listen to your target language, seriously. I don’t see why people like to make everything so complicated.
    As long as you”re doing something in your target language, you’re winning bro.

  11. Харри
    August 17, 2011 at 18:24

    If someone learning English said to me “I want a London accent!” I wouldn’t really know what to tell them, since there are lots of accents in London. I’d imagine it’s the same for Paris. Watch Parisian local news and radio, that’s all I can think of. Better yet, just go to Paris. My friend learnt his Russian from Muscovite friends, so he sounds like a hooligan. I learnt Russian from cartoons, so I speak like Zuko from The Last Airbender. Get in contact with some people from Paris, and just listen to them.

  12. Joji347
    August 20, 2011 at 10:05

    As a native French speaker, and someone who has also lived in the USA, I find Anotherkanjisite’s supposition to be entirely accurate. A “parigot” accent is something akin to a “New Yawk” accent. Regional accents I find rarely represented on French television or radio, with the exception of short “man-on-the-street” news interviews. It is more or less impossible to accidentally pick up say a Marseille accent just by watching TV. Canadian broadcasts are slightly more distinctive with the t/dsu and t/dzi sounds generally, as well as a more classical respect of such distinctions as â and a, which have been gradually disappearing in the Ile-de-France region. If you want something that sounds less neutral, be it French, Belgian, Canadian, etc. comedy skits are a good bet, as opposed say to news shows.

    • September 4, 2011 at 23:30

      Staying away from the Marsellais accent and the Chti one is probably a good idea too. Basically, listening to the news is the way to go.

      • Nagoya Blue
        October 31, 2011 at 14:24

        ‘Cos every French person you will ever meet talks like a newscaster…..
        In the same vein, all English learners should copy the BBC news, and get RP accents.

  13. August 21, 2011 at 19:25

    Comedy is a really bad idea. Copying people who impersonate celebrities is useless and can be deleterious to your accent.

  14. Fangio
    October 8, 2011 at 00:45

    To Skyler: to be frank, I’ve never met an English / American able to speak french without an english accent. I don’t know why, but it probably has to do with the heavy inflexions of English language. So if you are an English speaker, I would suggest focusing first on getting rid of it instead of targetting a so-called “parisian accent” (which as already mentioned is either elusive -if you think “accent of the parisian on the street”- or completely dated -if you think of a typical accent such as in old movies like Hôtel du Nord). This advice would apply as well to other student of French or in general to any foreign language speaker of any origin, but there are languages which, in terms of pronounciation, are specially badly matched and French and English is one such pair (French also have this dreadful accent -that for some reason native English speakers find “cute” but that ashames us to no end).
    Actually, I’m realizing that there’s a neglected gold mine in language education here: creating education material targeted not only on language learned but also on the native language of learners to get rid of the native language’s bad influences (accent, but also grammar mistakes, litteral translation of language-specific expressions and idioms often translated literally)…

    • Sarah
      November 28, 2011 at 14:42

      I completely agree on the influences of one’s native language. Native English speakers aren’t usually aware that English has a specific stress-timed rhythm that isn’t found in a lot of other languages. Stress or lack-there-of doesn’t seem to get mentioned very often in foreign language classes, so a lot of learners don’t even realize the problem exists.  

  15. Thomas Smith
    October 29, 2011 at 02:54

    Be sure to avoid choosing a surrogate who’s the target language equivalent of Christopher Walken, coz…y’know…that’dbe…CRAZY!!

    • Nagoya Blue
      October 31, 2011 at 14:22

      Or very cool, depending on your out look.

  16. Sarah
    November 28, 2011 at 14:33

    I like the idea of shadowing one person in particular. This is true when doing an accent in your own language, as well. I think a big mistake a lot of American actors who try to do British roles have is that they try to do a generic accent as opposed to singling out one accent from within the UK and sticking to that. It’s a lot less likely to sound fake if you’re copying one person instead of a patchwork of different people who don’t speak the same way.  

  17. Kagome
    January 16, 2012 at 18:47

    Interesting. I’d love to know more about shadowing. Khatz hasn’t talked about this though so not sure about it. What happens if you pronounce a word wrong ? Just don’t worry about it?

  18. ライトニング
    October 31, 2013 at 11:57

    It’s all about dat 標準語 though.

    Just kidding. When I first watched 海が聞こえる by Studio Ghibli, I was so intrigued by this dialect that was so different than anything I heard, and at the time it was pretty unintelligible for me.

    I watched it so many times (probably around 100+ times), along with some other stuff, and now I can speak 土佐弁, haha.

    I sort of realized most Japanese learners settle for Kansai dialect, which sort of makes most of the other dialects sort of like a black sheep. Kansai is cool and all, but there are just some dialects that are way cooler (in my opinion of course), like Tosa.

    It’s all about the input, input, and more input. Output just follows, and sometimes the dialect just comes out without thinking, lol.

  19. nhairek
    June 6, 2014 at 05:06

    I know this is old (sort of), but I want to comment anyway… can anyone recommend a female actor ‘surrogate’ who doesn’t use overly feminine speech (in their works)?

    I prefer masculine speech but I would only be able to use it in say vlogs or with really close Japanese friends or those learning Japanese (since I’m a girl)… I think most girls speak in a quite neutral way anyway – I just want to find a female actor I really like.

    Any recommendations?

  20. Olisch
    May 21, 2016 at 02:37

    I have always wondered why anyone would want to speak with a specific accent, can somebody explain that to me?
    If you don’t, and have never, lived in Paris why try to sound like you do? Same with any other accent and by extension, dialect.
    I can understand wanting to sound natural, I also suppress my German accent as much as I can and lean towards a “British” pronounciation rather than “American” (whatever that may mean), but I have no interest in speaking a regional accent.
    If anyone could elaborate on this mindset I’d be much obliged.

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