This is a post I’ve been thinking about writing for a while because I’ve never come across any other discussions about it (though I’m sure they do exist somewhere), and I am genuinely curious to know what other people do when they come across characters with foreign accents in their books.
Now I do realize that there are different accents in different regions of countries, but to keep this post simple, I’m referring to the ones that seem to be the commonly referred to… let’s call them “staple” accents. For example, in the US you can find a southern accent and a Boston accent, but those aren’t the ones you immediately think of, right? Or if you do happen to think of very regional-specific accents, that’s fine too. This really isn’t a strict discussion.
So I don’t mean to offend anyone (though I probably will because this is the internet)—this post is just about having a little fun, discussing how we handle accents in books, and finding out which ones you all are good (and terrible) at ;-)
Accents I’m Good At Doing in My Head
Just for the record, I’m using a very loose definition of “good.” It’s really more like mediocre, but, you know, relatively speaking, these are the best ones I’ve got. And I’m excluding American from my list since that’s my accent. (And just for the record, I’m pretty awful at all these if I try to do them out loud.)
I spent my teenage years watching “The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson” and love Scottish accents, so it turns out I’m pretty good at this one!
I don’t even know why this is one of my best ones. I’ve literally watched one movie that I can recall in my whole life in which the people had Irish accents (Disco Pigs), but apparently that was enough for my brain to make do with. The fact that it was Cillian Murphy speaking must’ve somehow helped to embed it into my brain.
I hate to say it, but my British probably just sounds like Americans trying to do British accents. That at least kind of counts though, right?
Accents That Are Hit-or-Miss in My Head
I don’t know about this one? I would think this would be the easiest one for me (I grew up around Hispanic accents, so my “American” might be vaguely Hispanic already), but I guess I’ve never really gotten to test that theory. (Yes, I’m aware that Latin America actually consists of a whole bunch of different countries, each with their own accents.)
I’ve very rarely heard French accents in life or in movies/TV shows, so it’s just one I’m not that familiar with. I can kind of do it in my head, but it’s a really weak accent. I actually read two books in one series in which the characters occasionally said things in French, and that helped me keep the accent going better because it was easier for me to do the accent when the words were actually in the right language, and that would refresh the accent and carry over into the English.
Accents I’m Bad At Doing in My Head
Regional American Accents
I know I said I wasn’t including America, but now I’m referring to all those accents that are inherent to specific areas, like the South, New York, Boston, etc. And yeah, I can’t do any of those.
If I haven’t mentioned it yet, then I pretty much can’t do it at all and don’t even try. Either I’ve never heard it at all, or I haven’t heard it enough, or I have heard it enough but just plain suck at it.
To Answer the Question… Do I Use Accents in My Head while Reading?
It depends—on my mood, the book, the accent, how time pressured I am to read the book, and whatever I feel like doing at the moment.
I have an advantage since most of the books I read are set in America, which means I can read in my own accent for most books. When I do come across other accents, oftentimes I do try to do them in my head if they’re ones I’m comfortable enough with. I think it’s part of the fun! I like immersing myself in books and don’t worry about reading super fast. I feel like it makes the book feel more authentic and realistic. If a character has an accent, I feel like it’s part of him, and I don’t want to erase that part if I can help it. I might even read the whole book in an accent if it’s in 1st person POV and the POV character has an accent that I can do fairly easily. (I read an entire book with an Irish accent recently, and I swear my own thoughts started being in an Irish accent by the time I finished, haha.)
But the downside to using accents when you read is that it takes more effort. Which means it might take longer to read the book or make it less fun. And as I said, some accents I just absolutely cannot do or don’t know how they sound. Or sometimes my brain just sinks into the story and drops the accents once I stop thinking about it. And in those cases, I don’t force it because at the end of the day reading is just supposed to be enjoyable :-)
P.S. I got distracted by a lot of YouTube videos about accents while writing this, so here’s a funny one for you to enjoy! Some of these people are great, but two of them are just so bad it’s hilarious.