Voice Actors should read more

Yeah, that’s right. You heard me. Voice actors: read more. When was the last time you read a book? Which is to say, for fun?

I have an addiction to books. I go through them faster than I go through candy, which is honestly saying something because I go through candy far too quickly for my own good (This is why I am a fat voice actor, folks). My addiction to books started when I was a kid, and I did something stupid and got punished by my parents. They took my TV and computer privileges away for over a year and a half (I was a really bad kid). Disconnected from the world, I turned to books, and started hitting up my library every day.

Pictured: my childhood playground

All of this reading had a profound side-effect on me: I ended up with a great vocabulary. Words that would stump people of my grade level were a breeze to me because I’d read them before a few times in difficult books. Reading international (English) books exposed me to different uses of certain kinds of words, and I picked up on them quickly.

It also had the side effect of helping me learn new words quickly, and even recognize words I’d never seen before and how they should be pronounced. English is a language of patterns (with some exceptions, of course). I was picking up on these patterns and learning how the etymology of words works. (Fun aside: a better vocabulary can also help your rapping skills.)

Take, for example, the word-part bel. I noticed that the words rebellion, belligerentantibellum, and rebel all deal with being combative or warlike. Upon doing some research I discovered that all of these are related to the Latin bellum, meaning “War” or “conflict”. So when I came across, in a cold read, the word bellicose, I had an idea that it might have to do with being combative. And, as it turns out, I was right. Just having a bigger vocabulary from being a reader improved my skills as a voice actor.

So how can a voice actor of today take advantage of this? Some tips for you on improving your vocabulary:

  • Get a word-a-day calendar. Also sign up for AWAD delivered to your inbox.
  • If you find a word in your script or book you don’t recognize, try to guess its meaning before looking it up. You’ll get good at this, I promise, and eventually you’ll end up being right more than you’re wrong.
  • Try to learn bits of the etymologies of words. Wiktionary includes etymology in a lot of its definitions. Also learning a little bit about German and Latin (the two biggest parents of English) can help immensely!
  • Read. Read a lot. Read more! Challenge your own mind and read books slightly above your own reading level and immerse yourself in a chapter or two. Read out loud, if you can, because then you can also work on your cold reading skills.

Best of luck to you. And trust me on the word-a-day calendar.

About 

Sam Swicegood is a Voice Actor from Baltimore, MD, now living in Cincinnati, OH. He is an accomplished radio host, marketing professional, and freelance writer.

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