Friday, September 2, 2016

LLA #1 - Let's Learn a Russian Accent

Welcome, finally, to Let's Learn a Russian Accent, the first installment in the Let's Learn Accents series. I opted to start with a Russian accent because I'm actually fairly familiar with it, and therefore perhaps my very first entry here won't result in me being laughed at and booed off the virtual stage for my failures.

For those of you just dropping in out of nowhere (hi!), Let's Learn Accents is sort of a collaborative journey where I pick an accent, study it, dissect it so everyone else can follow along, and then attempt it myself with audio proof so you can hear how I did. Again, I'm a bit more familiar with the accent in question this time around, but I will tackle accents I don't know at all in the future, so that will be an excellent time to observe and explain both where I can improve and how others can sound more genuine as well.

Before we really start, we need to go through the expected disclaimers:

1 - Not all native Russian speakers are going to sound exactly the same. Different regions may have different dialects, some individuals may be better at enunciating English than others, and in the end I may just be a big wet sack of crap. This is my attempt at a very basic Russian accent - a Russian "template," if you will.

2 - I am not a language teacher, but I will do my best to impart what I've learned as clearly as possible.

3 - If you want a "thick" Russian accent, try all of the tips in excess. If you want a "light" one, maybe do only some.

Alright, this officially means I am free of blame from absolutely everything. Let's get started.

How did I study this accent?
Duolingo is always a great source for learning languages free of charge, and learning the basics of a foreign language is a great way to grasp the fundamentals of an accent. After all, nuances that are inherent in a particular language often show up when the speaker attempts a different language. Thankfully, Duolingo does have a Russian course, which I did up to Level 8, as I recall. I suck at the language itself, but the basics did help with the accent.

Various videos were also helpful, like this one by Videojug. Listening to both native and foreign speakers can help identify some key themes.

Lucky for me, I was actually cognizant enough to write some of these points down, so I'll rely on them quite a bit going forward.

The foundation
- The basis of the Russian accent (in my mind, at least) stems from the default position of the tongue. In Russian, the tongue is pulled slightly back and towards the roof of the mouth. Most languages have a sort of "oral posture" that they default to (i.e., French has inherently heavy nasality), and this seems to be Russian's default.

- Russians roll their Rs, pretty much regardless of where they are in the word, in contrast to languages like English or German which sometimes silence them. As such, roll most or all of your Rs. Alternatively, you may consider just emphasizing your Rs harder, but I feel that rolling the Rs creates a more "typical" accent.

- Like German, Russian relies heavily on what's referred to as a "clear L" (or "front L") as opposed to "dark L" (or "back L"). Basically, this just means emphasize your Ls harder by curling the tongue back a little further on them. This results in a longer, clearer sound; in exaggerated cases, it can make the L almost sound like its own syllable.

- The English "th" sound doesn't really exist in Russian (that I know of), so you'll have to pronounce those differently. My preference for this is to "dentalize" them, a term which (apparently) means pronouncing the "th" in a short burst. It's a bit hard to articulate what I mean, but hopefully you'll pick up on it in my recording. You could also pronounce them as a more standard S or Z (i.e. "zis person" or "a sousand people"), but I think that's better suited to an intentionally thicker accent.

These four tenets, I believe, are the big ones to having a believable Russian accent, but I've opted to list a few smaller tenets that technically exist.

The nuances
- When attempting a particularly thick Russian accent (even a comical one), you can try harder emphasis on your Hs. It's absolutely not necessary to make it sound "believable," but that "HHHHow are you?" can give the accent an extra punch. I usually ignore that nuance when trying a Russian accent, but the possibility exists.

- To a limited degree, change your "ih" to "ee"; in other words, "big" sounds more like "beeg." This is partly helped by that position you hold your tongue in while speaking Russian, and I do have to emphasize that it's not a DRASTIC change, just a subtle but noticeable one.

- Similarly, change your "uh" to "ah," i.e. "sun" is more like "sahn." Again, not a dramatic change, but you can throw it in there.

My grand attempt


The script I used was actually the first two paragraphs of chapter one in the English translation of "The Time of Contempt." It was lying around, and I love me some Witcher stuff, so I chose to represent it here.

SCRIPT: "When talking to youngsters entering the service, Aplegatt usually told them that in order to make their living as mounted messengers two things would be necessary: a head of gold and an arse of iron.

"A head of gold is essential, Aplegatt instructed the young messengers, since the flat leather pouch strapped to his chest beneath his clothing the messenger only carries news of less vital importance, which could without fear be entrusted to treacherous  paper or manuscript. The really important, secret tidings - those on which a great deal depended - must be committed to memory by the messenger and only repeated to the intended recipient. Word for word; and at times those words are far from simple. Difficult to pronounce, let alone remember. In order to memorise them and not make a mistake when they are recounted, one has to have a truly golden head."

My personal comments
Come on, you know you envisioned me as a Skyrim guard. Don't you lie to me.

My attempt was a somewhat thick Russian accent, but as I said earlier, if you want a "lighter" one, feel free to drop some of the tenets. If this was an audiobook, I probably should have used slightly better diction at parts, but I think you got the point.

In closing
So, how do you think I did? Any other nuances of the accent I could stand to incorporate or improve upon? Did you learn anything yourself?

Also, feel free to recommend another accent to study, and we can see about tackling it next month. Beyond that, feel free to send me scripts to read in those accents, provided they're PG rated and form coherent thoughts. I have a few ideas of where to go next, but I'd love to hear what you think.

For more Let's Learn Accents (and other voice over goodness), subscribe via the forms on the bottom or top-right of the page, and you'll be notified when another article goes up. Next week: voice over lessons - where do you find them, how much do they cost, what do they teach you, and are they worth it?


  1. I was pretty satisfied with that Russian accent.

    You should audition for one of the minor characters in Crow's Mystery Dungeon Dub with that Russian accent. The characters are from all over, so giving one of them one of these accents would fit right in! You could even use that as a script for your next LLA if you wanted to.

    1. I'm considering trying South African next, simply because I have absolutely no idea how to do it, and thus it's a challenge for me.

      I can take a look at the dub, though I'll be out of state (and therefore, away from my studio) for a week, so it may not be anytime soon. Still, worth looking into, and thanks for bringing it up to me.

    2. South African eh? I've tried learning that for an audition. I've studied District 9 and Blood Diamond as particular references, but there're more media sources here: (

    3. Thanks, PSColdFire. I'll give it a look over and see what I can round up.