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To Zee Or Not To Zee? Voice Over
Tips From A Yank In The UK ...
January 28, 2014

By Mike Broderick

Voice Actor

I am an American voice over artist who has lived in the United Kingdom for nearly 10 years. As such, I am keenly aware of the well-known quotation, variously attributed to George Bernard Shaw or Winston Churchill, that:
"England and America are two countries divided by a common language.”
In my professional writing I have had to remember that here it is:
  • "programme” and not "program”
  • "centre” not center”
  • "neighbour” not "neighbor”
  • "recognise” not "recognize”

While this has become somewhat routine for me, and while other issues are trickier (Is it: "The team has won,” or "The team have won,” for example), I remain a Yank with a great fondness for the letter Z (or ‘Zed’ as they say here), and a parsimonious attitude to the letter U.

So it came as something of a surprise when I was finalising my business website and found myself asking the question: ‘Should I use British or American English?’

I’d done all the hard work - researching the voice over industry and the craft, joining a weekly workout group, recording a professional demo, hiring a coach/mentor, and working with a web designer to design a clean, professional site - only to ask myself, when proofreading my bio, whether my Tufts University degrees were earned with "honors” or "honours.”

Ultimately I decided "When in Rome ...,” and settled on using British English and spellings on my website.

I reasoned that England is my current home and that my initial client base is likely to be British and not necessarily American (although I expect to have clients in the States and all over the world).

In the meantime, I hope that my American friends and compatriots will understand.

Thinking of all of this raised some other language issues facing the global voice over artist, such as ...


Having lived here since 2004, I know that Chiswick, England is pronounced: "Chis – ick,” that Berwick-upon-Tweed is pronounced: "Bare-ick,” that Berkshire is pronounced: "Barkshire,” and that queue - those lines that Britons tend to arrange themselves into at shops, bus stops, etc. - is pronounced: "cue.”

For a voice over artist sitting in their home studio anywhere in the world, indigenous pronunciations pose a potential problem: A voice actor in America recording an audition for a radio commercial for "Chiswick Tyre and MOT Centre” might struggle to land the job if they pronounce that silent W or read MOT as a single word rather than the letters M-O-T.

IN U.S., TOO ...

And the problem isn’t limited to pronunciations internationally.

I grew up in Holyoke, Massachusetts, 45 miles west of Worcester (which we correctly pronounced as "Wuusster,” but which other Americans sometimes wrongly pronounce as "Wor-Sess-Ter”).

Even the pronunciation of Holyoke, my hometown, isn’t simple. Most people would read it as "Holy-Oak,” but we call it: Hol-Yoke (like "Whole-Yolk”).

Or what about Louisville, Kentucky - birthplace of both Muhammad Ali and also the famous "Louisville Slugger” baseball bat? All my life I’ve pronounced it "Louis-ville” (as in the Louis of Louis the XIV), but apparently local residents pronounce it like something closer to "Lou-a-ville”.

At this point, one might ask: "Does it matter?” Simply put, "yes.”

The essence of a successful voice over performance is providing a read that is authentic, real, and true. Nothing will "cock it up” or "drop a clanger,” as they say here in England, more than mispronouncing the name of the client, product, or geographic location in a voice over.


So what should the voice over artist or actor do?

When breaking down the copy prior to an audition or read, look for any words or phrases that seem unfamiliar - paying particular attention to the name of the client, product, or geographic location, as well as any technical terms or jargon specific to the voice over.

When directing yourself, look for any written direction regarding pronunciation that may be provided. If none is available and you have the opportunity to do so, turn to online dictionaries like Merriam-Webster, Collins, both of which are free to search, or the Oxford English Dictionary, which charges a subscription fee.

Collins also provides a look-up feature where you can choose either British or American English.


Online dictionaries, as opposed to hardbacks, will enable you to listen to the correct audio pronunciation of a word.

Alternatively, look to Google, YouTube, Wikipedia (which sometimes has audio pronunciations of geographic names), client or company websites, internet radio stations, or even consider phoning the local Chamber of Commerce.

If you are being directed, and it’s possible to do so politely and professionally, don’t be afraid to ask for further guidance regarding the pronunciation and/or use of unfamiliar words and phrases.

Idioms and colloquial phrases help bring any language to life. As such, they may turn up in a commercial read.

Here in England there is a whole scheme of English phrasing known as Cockney Rhyming Slang, which was developed and is still used by people from the East End of London.

I’ve learned quite a bit of it from my father-in-law who regularly looks for stuff in his "Sky” (Sky Rocket = Pocket), goes out to the "Jam Jar” (car) or looks for the "Dog and Bone” (phone).
(The non-rhyming word is used to signify the object, so an example of the correct usage would be: "Man, my "plates” are hurting,” where "plates of meat” = feet.)
While many idioms are the same on both sides of the Pond, I doubt that many Britons have heard the phrase "lickety-split” (really fast) or that many Americans have ever heard "My stomach thinks my throat’s been cut” (I’m starving/really hungry).


To better understand the context of a voice over script or the motivation of your character when an unfamiliar idiom or phrase is used, turn to Google or other search engines. Cross-reference several results to determine whether the information is likely to be correct.

If you’re likely to be doing several voice overs for clients in a foreign country or in a technical subject with a lot of jargon, invest in a trip to your local library or bookstore.

One last tip: To be "down with the kids” and know the latest street lingo and jargon, I often turn to Urban Dictionary. Like most things on the web, I treat what I learn there with a grain of salt, but it helps give me a clue. So if you don’t know your twerking from your selfie (and how could you not?), turn there first.

Now I’m thinking about "Catching some zzzzz’s” (or should that be Zed’s?).
A native of Holyoke, MA, Mike Broderick is a voice actor living in the south east of England with his wife Suzanne since 2004. A graduate of Tufts University in English and Classical Studies, he also attended graduate school at the University of Texas in Austin, focusing on Public Affairs and Asian Studies. As a U.S. Peace Corp volunteer in Sri Landa he taught English as a second language to prospective teachers, and prior to starting his voice over career, worked for 15 years in economic development in the U.S. and England, assisting businesses in project marketing, management, customer service, employment and skills.

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Comments (5)
Amy Liposky Vincent
1/29/2014 at 10:12 AM
Thanks for the great resouces, Mike! Adding them to my favorites list now. I've also found online videos for specific places very helpful, especially if they are narrated by a docent or local tour guide. It takes a bit longer than looking up one word, but I get context & sometimes emotion or a sense of history with the video.

Also love the site Lee Saunders mentioned. Is there an American equivalent?

PS. My new favorite phrase is "drop a clanger" :-)
Darla Middlebrook
1/28/2014 at 8:58 AM
Thanks for the really good advice. I am originally from Ohio, went to school in New England, trained as a Speech Pathologist in St. Louis, MO, and have lived in Saskatchewan Canada since 1975. As a consequence, I have experienced many of the word/phrase adventures that you have mentioned. Ah yes...and then there are the made up languages of sci-fi/fantasy which I run into during audio book narration. I love being a VO artist, really I do!
Lee Saunders
1/28/2014 at 6:32 AM
Hello Mike,

Nice article. It is good to see that you have embraced English for how it is used over here in England. Far too many people are ignorant about language, and try to argue about correctness. Well, US English and British English are both correct, and so are the localisations of it. We also need to be aware that there is far more to English than RP and GA. Take a look at this website from the BBC: Click on a green spot to listen to voice recordings of local people from those areas. You won't hear much in the way of 'Queen's English' there.

If you want to learn an accent, focus on the vowel sounds. Some may be longer than your own use of them, some may need a more rounded mouth. Once you have the vowels nailed, consider connected speech. Discover which sounds are voiced, and which are not. Do /t/ sounds become /d/ sounds, and which are glottal?

You may be able to find interactive phonemic charts that allow you to click on phonemic symbols (/ˈkemɪk(ə)l/ = chemical) and hear the individual sounds. Be aware that these may focus on RP or GA pronunciations.

Plenty to learn.

All the best folks,
Jason Culver
1/28/2014 at 5:08 AM
Thanks for an informative and entertaining article.
Please add Audio Eloquence - - to your list of web pronunciation resources. In my opinion it is the most comprehensive pronunciation resource available online.
Linda Joy
1/27/2014 at 11:54 PM
Hi Mike,
What a delightfully brilliant article!
Fun, insightful and helpful!
Linda Joy
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