Word Search Isn’t a Game in Voice-Over

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There are funny little things we all do as part of our work processes. We don’t really talk about them. They’re almost instinctive. Voice-over is no different.

Canadian voice-over pros work for clients around the world. The most sought-after accent is called General American. That means American pronunciations with no regional dialect. That way, the same voice-over can be heard all over the US – and maybe the world – and not sound like it’s Southern or Northern or Mid-Western. Everyone will be able to relate to it.

So, you might think that once we’ve altered our classic Canadian outs and abouts, we’ve got it made, right? Well, it’s more complicated than that.

British English (Canadian) and American English do say many words differently. Take the fruit and vegetable section of a grocery store for example. Canadians in general say produce with a long o, while Americans use the “ah” sound.


When you’re unsure – and you’re often unsure – there are several sources to check.

Cambridge Dictionary is one of my faves. It offers British English and US pronunciations, with a recorded voice saying the word aloud. Recently, I had a project that involved the word roof. I’ve heard with my own ears that some Americans say ruff for roof. So, is that correct, I wondered?

Cambridge answered. A roof is a roof is a roof until I’m told otherwise. The client might come back and say, “here, we say ruff.” You just never know for sure.

Several times over the years an audio producer has told me that, “In the US, we say it… .” That’s what they THINK because it’s how it’s said in their region! But in another part of the US, it might not be the case. In certain parts of the country below us, they also say pro-duce and pro-ject. So, when you’re recording for a Midwestern US client, they might want the long o sound. Even though you know most Americans don’t say it that way.

Confused? Welcome to our world.

Googling a word’s pronunciation brings up Google’s audio result as well. Another reliable source is Emma Saying on YouTube. And if I can’t find the word from any of those, I will go to Julien Miquel but he has too much blather off the top of his videos and wastes my time. He’s my last resort.

Some clients think ahead and include pronunciations. Sometimes, we simply ask the client for their preference but that can be tricky. People don’t think of their pronunciations as being regional. So you can come off like a knucklehead of you ask about a fairly common word.


No source is perfect and we still sometimes find ourselves making an error. You wouldn’t believe how many times we search how to pronounce a common word. It’s like an accountant calculating something simple, like the HST on $100. (100 x .13 = $13) Except that the math equation isn’t subject to interpretation depending on where the client operates.

Meme of a calculator showing 10 + 5 = 15. Caption reads: Me during exams just to be sure because I have trust issues with myself.

Words I have recently searched: iterative, crematory, Pinoy, and Pamlico – a county in North Carolina.

But I’ve also looked up the aforementioned roof, suprematist, and cuckold. Sometimes you simply need to hear a word said after a long while apart from it.

Andt that’s why these online sources exist. It’s very different to pronounce a word with a friend than it is to record it for thousands to listen to as they tour a museum, or whatever the end result will be. Your voice is an authority and you want to get it right. It’s not necessarily just perfectionism for its own sake. I hope to cut down on the amount of effort my client needs to expend once I’ve been hired to solve their problem. The problem of delivering a credible, professional voice-over.

9 thoughts on “Word Search Isn’t a Game in Voice-Over”

  1. This helped me learn about your v/o job. We went to the Buffalo area & a place there was pronounced Cheye-lie & spelled Chili. Locals had us saying dog, roof, out etc. We all got a kick out of our “accents” because we didn’t realize we had one. Something that drives me nuts is when letters are added to words. Many on-air people will say shhtreet for street or hiss out the letter “s” like Nagini, the evil snake in the Harry Potter series. Thanks for explaining your job for us that have no idea how much time you must spend at it.

    1. Americans LOVE to hear us say out and about!

      Another aspect of it is that we stop speaking “Canadian” altogether. So, I’ll say prah-duce for a Canadian ad and the producer will correct me. I think I speak Canarican or Amerdian now!

      Thanks, Pam.

    2. Pam, I think Chili was in the Rochester area. Peter Jennings despite living and working at ABC in NY for years occasionally slipped.
      and would say ‘aboot.’

  2. After 3-decades+ listening to how a screen reader pronounces words and reads text I’m surprised I can communicate, write or even spell these days.

    For example, my friends last name is “Titas” which a screen reader pronounces as “tit-Ass” and “Cindy” needs to be spelled as “Cyndy” to have it pronounced correctly.

    So excuse me if I ask, how do you spell that or can you repeat that?

  3. This reminds me of when I worked in TV. The anchors I wrote for often asked how to pronounce words, mostly names, in the scripts I wrote for them. We often consulted the Voice of America guide.

    Viewers or listeners don’t see all the work that voice pros like you put into getting it right!

      1. I can imagine!

        I worked at a satellite news network that served American viewers, so we knew who was watching!

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