5 Reasons Actors Should Learn a New Language

You'll be glad you did.

5 Reasons Actors Should Learn a New Language

1. It will help you do more realistic accents.

Let's face it. An accent can make or break a film. A bad attempt at producing a British accent could make an actor sound more like they are a deaf speaker at best. The importance of nailing a proper accent is as true for English dialects as it is for foreign ones. You may be thinking, British accent, you say? Easy! Unless you only know Geordie and the script is set in London, where they speak Cockney. Global English speaking countries have varying accents just as numerous as those found in America and anyone familiar with those areas will not be convinced. Film critics may actually be offended by your poor attempt and see it more as mockery. Just as it would not be believable that I was born and raised in New York City if you heard hints of my Hillbilly twang coming through, it also would not be believable that someone had a Spanish background if they couldn't properly roll their "R's" or throw their voice from the back of their throat.

Familiarize yourself with various versions of a set language. English speakers should learn the key differences between Australian, South African, Geordie, Cockney, Southwestern Irish, Dublin, Southern American Twang, New England, etc. When learning Spanish, note the differences in pronunciation in countries such as Spain, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and such. It would be a poor job to be cast in a film set in Spain and speak with a Puerto Rican accent. Audience members would shake their heads. Sure, you can work a couple of weeks with a dialect coach to try to mask your accent good enough for the production but that's merely putting a Band-Aid over the cut. Really solve the problem-really learn the language. Learn the different versions of it. Speak it often. Repetition creates a natural cadence that will allow the sounds to fall out of your mouth and roll off your tongue in a very convincing manner. Your audience will buy it because it's true. You DO speak that language.

2. It will open the doors to roles you might not get otherwise.

Maybe your acting career is going great in the States. Maybe it isn/t and you really wish more doors would open for you. Knock them open with this skill. Learning a new language will allow you to spread across other markets in other countries. If you only speak English, you are most likely only going to be cast in English speaking roles. If you speak Spanish, you could be submitted for telenovelas in many other countries, not to mention films, videos, and commercials.

The U.S. military pays good dollars to actors who speak languages considered beneficial to the U.S. intelligence departments. Actors who can speak various languages from the Middle East are often sought after to create realistic settings of a war zone used by the military to train soldiers. The more fluent you are in these languages (Dari, Farsi, Pashto, Arabic, etc.) the more beneficial you are and the more work you will get. When I say they pay good dollars, I'm talking several hundreds of dollars a day. Trust me, learning a new language is worth the pay.

3. It will elevate you beyond being a triple threat.

Being an actor is nice. Being a triple threat who can sing, dance and act is awesome. Being a quadruple threat who can also model is even better than that. But being a quintuple threat is where it's at! Polish yourself in such a manner that you hone your speaking abilities as much as your artistic ones. It's not called "Language Arts" for nothing. This will make you stand out from the crowd of faces that all look like yours at the casting call. It will make you stiffer competition to beat and will set the bar for the other actors in the room. Production staff will consider the money they save by casting you, who already speaks the needed language fluently versus casting someone else and having to hire a dialect coach to prepare the other person they are considering. Everyone loves saving money and staying under a budget. Make sure to put this on your resume so they will see it right off the bat.

4. It will let you communicate with townspeople in other countries when shooting.

Imagine getting the call that you've been cast in a big budget film that will require you to travel out of the country. You're excited. It's new to you and you can't wait to go abroad. Then you learn you will be shooting in Germany for two months. You don't speak a lick of German. How will you know what's on the menu when you get hungry? You're shooting in Hong Kong but can't read "Bird House" looking symbols. How will you get along for a whole two months? Hoping you run into people who speak English? As much as we would like to think English is a universal language, it isn't. In your spare time, before you are even faced with these situations, it would only benefit you to learn at least the basics of several different languages. When you are on set in other parts of the world you will be more equipped to communicate with local people. You will not only be able to ask directions and how much something costs, but you will be able to understand a fan who comes to visit the taping and asks you for an autograph or wants to chat up a conversation.

5. It is a job skill everyone should have, as it will let you work closely with directors, casting agents and other business professionals in many other countries.

Whether you are working in entertainment, sales, or fast food, being bi- and trilingual is one of the best job skills a person can have. It allows you to communicate with and serve more people. You will be able to take the order of a hungry customer who cannot tell you what they want in your native tongue. You will increase sales because you can hold business conferences with people from other places. Just as a person sells food or security equipment, an entertainer sells themselves. They are their own product-a hot commodity they want the rest of the world to buy into, especially casting directors. Speaking other languages will allow you to be able to meet with casting directors from all over the world, tell them in their own words why you are perfect for the role, and will allow you to land that part that you would not have been able to land otherwise. On set, you will be able to understand the other cast and crew and you will be able to take direction from the Director and D.P.

My final thought: Investing in yourself is one of the best investments a person can make. Actors should keep this in mind and invest in learning a new skill, a new language. There are many free programs available for learning languages. Over the past three years, I have learned Spanish, Italian, French, Portuguese, and Esperanto. I am currently learning Dari, Cherokee, Navajo, Hawaiian and Hebrew. While I'm not 100 percent fluent by any means, I can certainly communicate and that's what is important. I will never stop working at it and learning. My favorites to learn from have been DuoLingo and Mango Languages. Majik app makes some good apps for practicing your Spanish, French, Korean, and German accents and are currently working to create apps for others. To those of you interested in taking my advice, I say definitely check those out. DuoLingo hosts community meetups in many cities for us to gather and practice speaking our new languages on other new speakers. I enjoy these as they are great ways to meet new people while also helping me become fluent. Check them out!

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Melissia-Dawn Hopson

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Melissia Dawn Hopson

A mother, daughter, sister and "Star Stuff". I have worked in arts and entertainment all my life. I'm an observer, an anthropologist, and philosopher. I recreate and interpret people and events to promote universal understanding.

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