When you make your living talking, you’re bound to run into words you’ve never seen before. And then there are those words you just learned how to say, not realizing that most people don’t even say it the way you do.
Of course, that second group of words will bring nothing but endless surprises when you see people react and you wonder what’s going on.
In that second group of words is the most hazardous month for voice actors to say: February. Do you remember to put in that first “r”?
But let’s get back to those new words which have never passed through your lips before. I recently did a nonfiction book on reptiles and had to deal with “Rhynchocephalia.” It was time to go online and explore the online sources: Merriam, Oxford, Howjsay, Youglish, PronounceNames, and YouTube.
If all else fails, in your web browser, type in the search bar, “How do I pronounce Rhynchocephalia?” That can lead you to help, too.
Then, the trick is to remember how to correctly say the new word throughout the script you’re working with. You might put down a marker in your audio file or keep a copy of you saying the word correctly in a separate file.
(By the way, Rhynchocephalia refers to an order of reptiles called “beak heads” that now exist in only one species, the tuataras, found only in New Zealand. Make a note to look up how to say “tuatara.”)
And then there are place names, like one I ran into while “prepping” a new nonfiction book I’m doing on the history of Yellowstone National Park: Popo Agie. It’s a valley in central Wyoming, important in the history of the fur trade.
Sometimes place names are hard to find online, so don’t hesitate to look for a chamber of commerce near the place, call them and ASK! I called the Fremont County Chamber in beautiful Lander, Wyo., and learned to say Puh-POE-shuh. No kidding. Not POE-POE-AGGIE! The person at the Lander chamber was pleasant, happy to help, and delighted when I said I was an audiobook narrator needing help with a local place name.
There you go. So before you charge ahead, making wild guesses and mangling words and names that will either have to be redone or will embarrass you later, get creative! Look it up or ask for help!