How to do an Australian accent with VCA Senior Lecturer Leith McPherson

How to do an Australian accent with VCA Senior Lecturer Leith McPherson

My name is Leith McPherson and I’m the
Head of Voice and Movement at the theatre department at the Faculty of the
VCA and MCM at Melbourne University. I think one of the most important things
to remember is there is no one Australian accent. There’s a spread of
Australian accents as there is in any country in the world. So one of the key
characteristics of an Australian accent which is much maligned is the rising
inflection so Australians will often but not always
speak with a tune that goes up at the end of a sentence
even if it’s not a question and it sounds like I need your affirmation even
though I’m giving you my opinion. So one of the things that I think is really
important when you’re doing Australian accent is to get your tongue placement
right. So if you think of your tongue being nice and flat and wide in the back
of the mouth like you’ve got space between your upper and lower teeth and
you feel like there’s a bit of a breeze going over the back of your tongue so it
flattens some of your vowels out and the tongue is a little bit higher, which can
cause the accent to sound like it’s got a bit of a, a bit of nasality or a bit of
twang to it. The more broad you go the more of that nasality the more of that
twang you want to bring in to the way that you speak. This brings me to the
next thing that I wanted to mention which is what’s called the hesitation
sound and it’s important when you’re studying
any accent in an Australian it’s the sound that you make when you’re ah trying to you know ah think of ah what to say next and it gives you an indication of where
an accent’s tongue position rests, so for example if like em gone like Scots em
you want that high front kind of feeling like your tongues like up and forward
and in Australian it’s much more relaxed it’s very it’s very flat and central so
the middle of your tongue should feel like it’s just resting really
comfortably there ah as you ah think of what to say next I think one of the
things that foreign speakers tend to get wrong about the Australian accent is
that they key into the sounds that you’ll hear in a cockney accent. There’s
a quite a famous or infamous episode of The Simpsons where the characters travel
to Australia and I think pretty much every actor that they chose to play an
Australian is doing a fairly terrible cockney accent. That’s a bloody
outrage it is! And there’s definitely an overlap between those two accents there
are qualities of cockney that are present in the Australian accent but
it’s quite distinct so if you’re doing a word like laugh ah ah go back to that
hesitation sound it’s that A sound that happens in the middle of the mouth
laugh whereas like laugh laugh if I’m talking like that
laugh it’s a much it’s a it’s a position that’s much more open in the
back of the mouth. So within the spread of Australian accents they’re not necessarily geographically determined and sometimes it’s um it’s more of a
socio-economic difference between the two or it might be the kind of education
that someone had. Obviously if you’re in the bush, as we call it, you do tend to
get a broader Australian accent so there’s a lot more tune to it. You have
a much more of a sense of kind of sing-song going up and down a lot more, there’s
more nasality to it and some of those vowels really shift so they become a lot
more is a much bigger spread as the tongue moves from one part of the vowel
to the next. One of the examples of a good Australian accent on film actually shows one of the things that people often get wrong and that was Jude Law in
a movie called Contagion. And that’s why you won’t even tell us the number of the
dead will you Doctor Cheever but you’ll tell your friends when to get out of
Chicago before anyone else has a chance. He does a really good job it’s a really
good Australian accent but there’s one mistake that so many people make with
Australian accents which is that at the ends of words we will add a schwa sound,
an uh sound if the syllable is unstressed so if you had a word like
women rather than women or ah faces becomes faces and that’s something that’s really
a really important factor in doing a good Australian accent. Kate Winslet does some terrific Australian accent work in like The Dressmaker. I hear the
footballers dance is Saturday night. I could make you something. She has a way of of finding those vowel sounds without over-exaggerating them. So the key things to keep in mind when doing an Australian accent is to try and get cockney out of your head so listen afresh to an Australian accent
find a good central example that isn’t true sing-song and doesn’t make you feel
like you’re a bit of a caricature and then relax the tongue, work with a tune that’s a little more controlled so you don’t find that your tongue is
stretching into different positions and overworking those vowels. So keep it
fairly central, keep it relaxed. No worries mate.

18 thoughts on “How to do an Australian accent with VCA Senior Lecturer Leith McPherson

  1. This woman is like a juke box of accents. Seamlessly goes into so many different voices. What a mastery over her mouth! Haha

  2. Not sure someone with such a un-Australian accent should be advising on this subject. Key thing is that Australians don’t often use all the syllables. Clearly never been to the bush, as that bush accent sounds like it is from wales.

  3. Absolutely correct. Class in Australia is more determined by education than income. I have a "high" accent despite my parents bring low middle class.

  4. There is one Australian accent that knows no region, it’s the uni student accent. It’s a middle class accent with its own verbal cues. As many university students may be more educated than people who have not been to university, thier grasp of correct pronounciation is sometimes more advanced. An example of the Uni student accent post graduate, can be found in careers as diverse as human rights lawyers, art gallery directors, social workers and members of the Australian Greens.

  5. I'm so sorry but I've seen Contagion, and as a born and bred Australian I can confirm that Jude Law's accent was 100% shithouse

  6. There are some geographical differences between accents and pronunciation. South Australians, for example, use the 'long a' in chance, dance and grasp whereas other states tend to use the 'short a'. Adelaide in particular has developed its own unique accent, particularly in middle and higher socioeconomic strata, with a large portion of the city using the cultivated Australian accent.

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