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Work The World With Your Voice:
How To Make $$ Outside The U.S.
By Bettye Zoller
Voice Actor & Coach
Note: The following is an info-packed preview of the author's April 5 webinar, Foreign Job Sources for Voice-Over, presented by VoiceOverXtra. For details about the webinar, please click here.)
Can you make money in voice-over markets outside the U.S.? Yes!
If American English is your ‘mother tongue’ - if your first words were in American English and if you have grown up speaking it - then you are wanted as a voice-over talent worldwide.
But there is a special requirement for American English speakers in the world marketplace: Foreign job sources need speakers who are free of any accents, dialects, regionalisms.
That is because colorations to a language - regionalisms, dialects and accents - make speech more difficult to understand, particularly by foreign ears.
Pure American English is also called “Broadcast Standard English” or “Standard American” or “Midwest English” (because people born in and residing in the heartland, the middle, of the U.S. tend to speak with a minimum of coloration).
If your speech is good, but not quite free of colorations acquired from childhood, this is fixable.
We learn to speak under the age of about four years old, and speech is affected by our geographical location, our caregivers, friends, and schools.
By the way, be careful who takes care of and teaches your children. Speech habits are learned quickly!
So maybe it’s not too late to work with a voice speech coach to eliminate mannerisms in your speech that are holding you back from many successes as a voice talent, including working in foreign markets.
That’s a skill I have as a speech coach - the softening of colorations in speech and speech mannerisms - taught in person and also by phone. Trust me, it’s not that difficult to change if you follow directions and practice.
How long will it take?
That is dependent upon your degree of dedication to changing and the extent of your speech problems. Your coach is your guide, but you must do the work!
Foreign-born speakers of languages other than English are heavily represented in the voice-over industry.
They are wanted the world over, too. Jobs are plentiful.
There are production companies exclusively hiring foreign language talents. Some also provide script translation services to clients.
Recently, I was hired to engineer a session for one of these companies. The talent was a Spanish-speaking Puerto Rican male. You see, Spanish and all other languages, are NOT a “one size fits all” proposition.
If you are a native speaker of a foreign language and seek voice-over work in the United States, you must show that language (s) on your demo (s).
Specify your language markets, such as “Swiss German only” or “French Canadaian, not France” or “British English as spoken in ___.”
But beware the High School Spanish Syndrome.
If you are American who speaks a language learned in a classroom, do not attempt foreign language voice-overs. Demonstrating inferior language skills on your demo is a mistake, and frankly, it's insulting to foreign ears.
Obviously, it’s fake. It’s not fluent, it is second-rate. You cannot compete with native speakers, nor should you try.
Why would a producer hire an American-speaking Italian or Spanish over a native-born voice talent? Well, sometimes he or she might, in a crisis situation, and only a few words or short phrases are required.
No, it won’t work to study a foreign language program you found in your bookstore.
These are fine for travelers or people who want to speak informally, but not for a voice talent.
A number of producers seek voices for language learning programs in American English. Be aware that these can be daunting, with lengthy word lists and phrases - some want 1000's of words spoken!
And post production on language programs can be daunting, too.
I learned this the hard way, creating and producing my language program, Power Talk: Standard American English – Your Ladder to Success (a textbook and three CDs).
It’s still sold worldwide and popular with schools, libraries, and colleges!
Yet be careful about accepting jobs in this area if you are not aware of the challenges in editing.
And calculate the time required as a voice talent very carefully before accepting fee structures.
Some producers blindly go to pay-to-play sites to secure voice talents for this work. However, the required engineering skills alone should tell the producer that it will not work out to hire a voice talent with beginning audio skills!
It’s up to you to protect yourself and the client in these cases.
Not all foreign voice-over jobs are complicated, however.
For instance, In 2009 I announced GPS systems for a German rental car company that rent autos to American tourists.
“Turn left at Marketplatz. Be careful in the Roundabout.”
Only short phrases were required. I needed guidance on names, but the job went well .
While I’m not native-born German, seven years of college German, and hearing it during my childhood at home, permits my doing some German voice work.
Of course, I carefully specify my capabilities to the voice seeker prior to accepting a job.
As another example, I narrated scripts for J.C. Penney in French. I inquired why I was being hired rather than a native French speaker (French was one of two minors through my first masters degrees in college).
The producer replied that in French Morocco, an American-speaking French was preferred over a native French speaker because there, that version of French was more easily understood by their workers.
Ah ha!
Internet booking sites often have foreign voice jobs of many kinds.
On the April 5 webinar, Foreign Job Sources for Voice-Over, I’ll provide many web sites you should know about.
I also will tell you:
  • how to search the Internet more effectively for booking sites,
  • what your demo should contain to attract foreign web site bookings and win new foreign clients,
  • about voiceover agents who seek American English speakers in their countries, and 
  • how you can improve your speech by improving your articulation and diction and ridding yourself of distracting speech mannerisms, dialects, accents. As a voice speech coach and linguist, it’s a subject I love.


If you speak languages other than English, or you live in countries outside of the U.S., this webinar will contain material of interest to you, too.
This webinar has entailed over three months of research, and I’m pleased to share what I’ve learned.
I’m confident you’ll learn a lot and I hope you will work the world! I’ve been doing so for over six years now and travel to Europe at least once each year.
And start thinking about your webinar questions now, as they'll all be answered live!
Bettye Zoller is one of the nation's best-known voice, speech, acting, and voice-over coaches, and is a winner of ADDY, Clio, Golden Radio and Audie Awards. She holds advanced degrees from three universities, has served on university faculties for 30 years, and currently is the Feagin Artist Guest Professor at Tulsa University, and presents workshops sponsored by Women in Film and Television. She is a professional audio engineer and producer, and a Simon & Schuster audiobook author and reader. Her VoicesVoices recording studio and training facility is in Dallas, but she also teaches by invitation worldwide.
Foreign Job Sources for Voice-Over Webinar, April 5:


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Comments (4)
Marcus Weems
3/18/2010 at 8:53 PM
Excellent article AS ALWAYS, Bettye! If you haven't had a chance to study with her here in Dallas there are more and more valuable Voice Over seminars that Bettye Zoller offers via telesiminars. She also has a vast library of CDs and informational guides and reference materials that make up the majority of my Professional Library. Check her out at'll be glad you did.
rosalyn smith
3/18/2010 at 2:14 PM
Paul Strikwerda
3/18/2010 at 11:19 AM
I'm one of those European voice-over guys that set up shop in the States. Most of us grew up watching American TV and movies, eating American (fast) food and listening to American music. Many of us have had the opportunity to vacation in the U.S. or spend a year at a high school as part of an exchange program. When I finally came to America, I had a pretty good idea of what to expect.

Most of my American friends on the other hand, still can't find The Netherlands on the map; they have never seen a Dutch movie and can't tell the difference between Swedish, German and Flemish. They don't even own a passport.

Without any idea of cultural context or customs, they started marketing their voice-over services in Europe, the American way. That didn't work out so wel l... And that's why I am happy that Bettye is doing this seminar!

I wonder about one thing, though. Bettye wrote: "There is a special requirement for American English speakers in the world marketplace: Foreign job sources need speakers who are free of any accents, dialects, regionalisms."

An accent is a way of pronouncing a language. It is therefore impossible to speak without an accent. No one is neutral. If we attempt to neutralize our accent, aren't we killing the goose with the golden egg?

At the danger of banging my own drum, I recently wrote about the impossible requirement of so-called "neutral" accents ( I happen to believe that having an accent can actually be a Unique Selling Point. It is for me.

Now, speaking with great articulation and diction is different from speaking without an accent. The Italian film director Roberto Benigni ("Life is beautiful"), has a very distinct accent, but his pronunciation is very clear and his diction is very melodic (as one would expect from an Italian).

The BBC has long abandoned the policy of hiring announcers that speak the "Queen's English," and if you've ever watched BBC America, you'll hear many wonderful regional accents. "Neutral" is nowhere.

If European producers want someone who speaks American Broadcast English, they'll usually find an expat in their own backyard. But it's not as easy to find a voice-over talent with a more regional and authentic twang. In my opinion, that's where some of the opportunities are!

Having said that, I'd encourage every voice talent to learn at least one other language. Not only will it introduce you to a new continent and/or culture; it is the perfect way to increase your vocal flexibility and range as a professional performer. It doesn't have to be Dutch, by the way. But if you need some help, give me a call!

BP Smyth, Narrator
3/18/2010 at 8:17 AM
Thank you for all the advice. I am very fortunate to be doing foreign projects, with representation in Australia and England. In all my foreign work the client is looking for North American English with No Regional Accent, just like you mention. You make excellent points. I will try and be available to take your webinar on April 5.
BP Smyth /
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