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When it comes to multilingual voice overs, depending on what content you’re creating, you need a voice/accent to match. If you’re a Swiss private bank, then a jovial, jokey voice isn’t going to cut it. After all, you’d want to convey trustworthiness and dependability. Likewise, if you’re advertising a sporting event or a pop concert, you wouldn’t want a stuffy, professional-sounding narrator voice. It’d just be too boring. 

But how do you decide? There is a wealth of research on how various voices and accents affect audience engagement. Read on to find out more. 

 

 

Accent bias

Whether you like it or not, we live in a hierarchical society. Some people believe that changing your accent is as important as dressing smartly for a job interview. In the UK, received pronunciation, or RP, is the term for what many would call an upper-class accent. BBC broadcasters used to train in this accent to convey authority, hence its ‘BBC English’ moniker. And former prime minister Margaret Thatcher ditched her north Lincolnshire accent and deepened her narrator voice to convey authority in what was then a male-dominated arena. It worked.

Going in the opposite direction, upper-class politicians, such as former UK chancellor George Osbourne, who attended boarding school and Oxford University, have been known to adopt a more working-class accent to appeal to a wider section of the electorate. This has been parodied by comedians as a ‘mockney’ accent. But why bother?

Research shows it takes listeners just 30 milliseconds to form an opinion as to what a person’s accent reveals about the speaker’s ethnic and social background. This process comprises an element of bias and assumption. This is bias in action. 

These assumptions can encompass sexuality, ethnic identity, socio-economic status and even character. Listeners, research shows, react differently to different accents, even if there is no evidence on which to base these assumptions. Knowing how this process works will help you identify which type of narrator voice and accent are most suitable for your content voice over.

 

Attitudes to accents

Though we should all make an effort to challenge our unfounded accent biases, the truth is that these prejudices exist, and are likely to continue. Accents that are commonly perceived to be standard, whether that’s Beijing accented Mandarin or RP, are perceived to be of a higher prestige, and thus are better suited for higher status professional content. 

One element of standard pronunciation that has been proven, is that listeners generally think speakers with this accent are smarter than the general population. Pleasantness is also attributed to standard accent speakers. This is true across various cultures. For example, in Singapore, which has a sizeable Chinese population, research shows citizens perceive Taiwanese, Beijing and Singaporean accented Mandarin differently. Beijing accented Chinese is in fact viewed more favourably than the local accent. Only a highly experienced multilingual voice over services provider would be able to advise on the type of accent / voice needed to match the content. 

 

multilingual voice over

Accents convey a lot of information about the speaker, and therefore the product or service they are talking about

 

Positive vs negative traits

 

Discrimination based on accents is very real and is part of what makes us human. After all, when we were competing with fellow tribes over resources millennia ago, it was important to be able to distinguish which person belonged to what group. 

In the modern day, this is reflected in the numerous polls that seek to find the world’s sexiest or most trustworthy accent. In a recent global poll of 2,500 single men and women, Scottish men (think Outlander) and Spanish women (think Penelope Cruz) were determined to have the world’s sexiest accents, though these findings tend to change with each new survey.

 

Women favoured the following accents:

Scottish 86

Irish 77

Italian 68

French 61

Spanish 56

Brazilian Portuguese 48

Queen’s English 47

Australian 35

South African 29

Mexican 23

 

Men favoured the following accents:

Spanish 88

Brazilian Portuguese 76

Australian 72

French 69

American 62

Kiwi 54

Czech 47

Italian 43

Mexican 31

Scottish 29

In Asia, one study found that listeners expressed a positive perception of Taiwanese accented Chinese, even though it is thought of as a non-standard dialect. 

It’s not only the voice that can prompt accent bias. One study found that a person’s face can affect how a listener perceives their voice. This research shows that seeing an Asian face makes American English appear to sound more accented. However, this aspect isn’t so important when it comes to voice overs. 

 

multilingual voice over

What accent do you find to be the most trustworthy?

 

Multilingual voice over tips

Given the myriad perceptions that different voices and accents can convey, an expert voice over service provider will be able to recommend the perfect match for your content. Most importantly, you’ll need to clearly identify your consumer persona. You need to determine exactly who you want to engage. Is it middle-aged dads, young students, or female retirees? The voice will need to match. Also, you’ll need to align the voice and accent with your product or service. For example, if you’re selling legal or financial services, a deeper standard accent tends to convey authority and dependability. If you’re targeting a younger demographic and your service is music-streaming, a young voice and hip accent are more appropriate. Also, consider the reach of the language and accent / voice. For example, if you’re in Hong Kong, consider whether Mandarin or Cantonese would be the best fit. One consideration to bear in mind is where in China do they speak Cantonese. Then you’d need to settle on the accent.

When looking for a voice over service provider, make sure they can provide a range of voices and accents. You don’t want to be shoe-horned into an inappropriate voice if the service provider doesn’t have a wide enough range on offer. 

If the voice over is part of a social media marketing campaign, it’s worth considering engaging a popular influencer that appeals to your audience persona. 

 

Final thoughts

Whether you’re looking at elearning voice over or voice over podcasts, navigating the nuances of voice overs is much more complicated that first appears. Getting it wrong could result in a waste of resources and a product or service that flops. Seek the advice of an expert and professional voice dubbing service provider. They will be able to determine the right fit for not only the audience segment you’re targeting, but for the product or service you are selling, and will find the very narrator voice. Whether you’re doing elearning translation, multilingual SEO, additional dialogue recording or an animation production, getting the voice over right is critical. It is this alignment that determines the success of a voice over project. Get in touch today to explore your voice over options.