How to Do a Canadian Accent

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Photo Source: “Yoga Hosers” Courtesy Invincible Pictures

As fans of “Degrassi,” poutine, and aggressive politeness are aware, the Canadian accent is very similar to the American one—particularly the Upper Midwestern region (you betcha!). Still, several nuances steeped in historical differences make the Canadian accent uniquely its own. If you want to know how to speak Canadian, here’s how to perform the pronunciation, inflection, and grammatical nuances of Canada “a mari usque ad mare.”


Canada accent history and types

Robin Sparkles - Let's Go to the Mall

“How I Met Your Mother” Courtesy CBS

Formed by a “binational colonial history,” according to linguist Charles Boberg, the Canadian accent is broken down into the French Canadian accent and the English Canadian accent. French and English are both official languages in Canada, and the country’s close proximity to the U.S. has also led to an increasing use of Americanized English. 

Canadian French

The Québécois dialect is the most common French Canadian accent, with the Acadian, Métis, Newfoundland, and Brayon French dialects spoken to a lesser degree. Within these dialects are two sub-varieties: joual is a working-class take on Québécois, and chiac blends Acadian French with Canadian English. If asked to perform with a Canadian French accent, try using a Standard French accent but include more informal language and borrowings from American English.

Canadian English

Canadian English is very similar to American English, causing the two to be classified by linguists into the single North American English phonological category. The accent was developed over several hundred years of immigration, colonization, and settlement, and was particularly influenced by Loyalists departing the U.S. for Canada. While Standard Canadian is the most common English dialect used in Canada, other dialects include Standard, Maritime, Ontario, Newfoundland, and British Columbia. 

  • Canadian Maritime English: This distinctly Scottish or Irish-sounding dialect can be heard in the Maritime provinces, which include Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island. Listen to the dulcet intonations of the charmingly precocious Anne (Amybeth McNulty) speaking with her adoptive father, Matthew (R.H. Thomson), to see how it differentiates from Standard Canadian:

  • Newfoundland: The dialect of Newfoundland and Labrador also bears strong similarities to Irish brogue. One of its most recognizable features is its unique mix of h-dropping and h-insertion: removing the “h” sound from some words (“and” for “hand”) and adding it for others (“helephant” for “elephant”). There doesn’t appear to be rhyme nor reason for when to drop or insert the “h,” so mix them up before stressed syllables as you see fit. Listen to the Newfoundland accent Jim Carrey uses for his portrayal of Captain Sham (a disguised Count Olaf) in “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events” to hear his take on the dialect’s unique inflections:

  • Ontario: The Ontario dialect has its own distinct phonetic flavor with more pronounced Canadian raising and Canadian Shifts. An exaggerated version of what Canadian television critic John Doyle calls the Ontario dialect’s “flavorful, salty Canadian vernacular” can be heard in this clip from “Letterkenny”: 

  • British Columbia: The dialect spoken in Vancouver and Toronto is very similar to Standard Canadian and American Pacific Northwest English, as evidenced in this clip from “The Real Housewives of Vancouver”: 

Canadian accent pronunciation, inflection, and lexicon

Degrassi“Degrassi: Next Class” Courtesy Netflix

Use the “Canadian Raising”

Canadian English speakers often use a single-syllable vowel sound, rather than two separate vowel sounds (a “diphthong”). Think of the stereotypical (and somewhat exaggerated) “aboot” instead of “about.” To raise your own Canadian accent:

  • Replace “ow” and “ou” sounds with “oo” when followed by any voiceless consonant (“ch,” “f,” “k,” “p,” “s,” “sh,” “t,” and “th”).

Watch this clip to see how Emma (Miriam McDonald) in “Degrassi” pronounces “out” as “oot.”

Replace “t” with “d”

If a word has a “t” sound in the middle, such as “later” and “wetter,” use a “d” sound instead: “lader” and “wedder.” 

Spill the “t”

In fact, some speakers of Canadian English don’t use the “t” sound at all. “Fantastic” might become “fanasic” and “dust” “dus.” This rule doesn’t always apply (as with the pronunciation of poutine), so use sparingly.

Poutine is “poo-tin,” not “poo-teen”

The iconic Canadian delicacy of french fries, cheese curds, and gravy bears more of a phonetic resemblance to Russian president Vladimir Putin than the way most Americans pronounce it, as Ryan Gosling explains here. 

Take out the ending “g”

For words that end in “g,” particularly “ing,” remove the “g” sound for a more authentic accent. You’re “jokin,’ keepin’ your pals laughin’ ” rather than “joking, keeping your pals laughing.” 

Say “zed” instead of “zee”

If referring to the last letter of the alphabet, call it “zed” instead of “zee”—from a to zed. 

Use Canadian expressions

Add Canadian slang to your lingo to sound more authentic.

  • “Chinook”: a warm wind during winter
  • “Clicks”: kilometers 
  • “Darts”: cigarettes
  • “Double-double”: double cream and double sugar in a coffee
  • “Git’r done”: a note of encouragement saying “you’ve got this” 
  • “Hydro”: electricity or the electric company
  • “Kerfuffle”: a fight
  • “Knapsack”: backpack
  • “Loonie” or “loonie and toonie”: the Canadian dollar
  • “Molson muscle”: beer belly
  • “Pop”: soda
  • “Runners”: sneakers
  • “Timbits”: donut holes
  • “Timmies”: Tim Hortons, the country’s much-loved coffee and donuts shop 
  • “Toque”: a knitted hat—think beanie with a pom-pom
  • “Two-Four”: a pack of 24 beers
  • “Washroom”: bathroom

Say “eh” (but not too much)

Arguably the defining characteristic of the Canadian accent is the way natives add “eh” to the end of sentences. Those two versatile letters are pronounced like “ay” with an upward inflection, as if you’re asking a question (even if you’re not). For example, “Nice day, eh?” 

When you’re mastering a new accent, it can help to use widely known markers that any listener can identify. So use that “eh”—but don’t overdo it. Not only do you want to avoid sounding cartoonish, but experts note that “eh” is growing slightly less common in Canada, especially with younger generations. “This is a linguistic feature that remains a part of Canadian language,” University of British Columbia linguist Stefan Dollinger told the LA Times. “Its frequency may be low but it still is an important element of Canadian culture.”

How to practice a Canadian accent for an audition

Anne with an E

“Anne With an E” Credit: Ken Woroner/Netflix

  1. Study Canadian accents: Watch Canadian TV shows and films such as “Degrassi,” “Letterkenny,” “The Real Housewives of Vancouver,” “Anne With an E,” “Workin’ Moms,” “Heartland,” “Bon Cop Bad Cop,” and “Fubar.” If you know anyone from Canada in real life—despite how “South Park” might depict them, Canadians are real people—spend some time listening to their speech patterns, inflections, and patterns. It’s also helpful to visit the International Dialects of English Archive page on the accents and dialects of Canada.
  2. Go slow: Learning a new accent—even one as similar to American English as the Canadian one—can be an arduous road. Take your time learning and soon you’ll be ordering double-doubles like it’s nothing.
  3. Practice: Practice your Canadian accent as much as you can. Try practicing it with a memorized passage from your favorite film or monologue until each word feels right.
  4. Use the accent pre-audition: Dialect coaches recommend that you use your newfound(land) accent the entire day before your audition so that your mouth, lips, and throat are prepared for the right physical movements during the audition.
  5. Persevere: Casting directors are more likely to notice that you can perform a consistent Canadian accent than that you hit every single “aboot” with nuance. Don’t let a slip of the tongue get you bushed; instead, aim for consistency, and you’ll be sounding like a real Canuck in no time.

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