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So you want to travel to the United Kingdom. Can you remember, what was it exactly that made Britain part of your dream destination bucket list?
Maybe you want to go and see a “real” castle, royalty in residence optional? Or ride atop of a double decker bus or on the London Eye as the sun begins to go down? Visit the Oxford hall that was transformed into the Hogwarts dining hall?
There are a million and one things to do and see in the United Kingdom. But one big reason that people want to go is to be surrounded by people who speak in what many feel is one of the sexiest accents in the world – the British accent.
If you are not a native English speaker, it’s likely that you are familiar with two types of “English” accents.
There is British English, which is associated with Britain and its surroundings. So generally, British English is English that is taught and spoken in the United Kingdom.
Outside of the UK, the most common type of English that you might encounter is what is though of as American English. American English is associated with the United States of America.
If you decide to learn English with a native language speaker, it is probably a good idea to specify beforehand if you want British accent training.
There are significant differences in pronunciation between British English and American English that result in the specific accent that we think of as “British”. So, while you will learn “English” regardless of your tutor's accent, if you want a British accent you need a British English speaking tutor.
Most people who say they want British accent lessons mean that they want to sound like the “British” people they hear on TV, the movies, or maybe in the theater.
This type of accent is also known as Received Pronunciation or “RP” and is usually considered “proper” British English or, to borrow a British slang word, “posh” sounding.
Take note however, that there are other recognized British Accents depending on where in the United Kingdom the speakers grew up or where they went to school or even just where they’ve spent the majority of their time.
Scottish English, Irish English, and Welsh English
These are examples of accents that are tied to different regions of the United Kingdom.
Many times this is also the accent that children will hear and pick up in their homes and will be taught to have in schools in those regions.
Speakers in these accents might pronounce certain words and sounds differently or even have to regularly use different words for things or incorporate their own slang words.
You might have heard “tough” guys in English movies speaking a harsh, singsong-y rhyming slang – that’s the Cockney accent and it originated among the working class of East London.
The Scouse Accent originated in Liverpool and is considered rather “nasally”.
For an example, look at Liverpool’s “favorite sons”, the members of the band the Beatles. John, Paul, George and Ringo were from Liverpool, and if you listen closely their Ts sound like “r”.
Another British accent that is becoming wide-spread is Estuary English. You can hear it from some celebrities like the comedian Ricky Gervais, the singer Adele, and the celebrity chef Jamie Oliver.
It can be thought of as “not quite posh”, it still uses a lot of RP rules, but also adds more ”sounds” and slang from other parts of London like Cockney.
Depending on where you go in Britain, you might be exposed to a different type of accent then what you originally thought of as “British”.
However, RP is still common enough and taught in enough schools that many native or even second language English speakers in Britain will use the “rules” of Received Pronunciation. That is why RP is also called “Standard English”.
We should also probably note that the different British accents are not the only type of English accents in the world.
Countries where the majority speaks English as a first language or where it’s considered a national or official language technically have their own English accent. Am referring here to American English, Australian English, New Zealand English, etc.
To simplify things in this post, let’s make it clear that, from now on I mean Standard English when I talk about a British accent or British English. I am also going to be comparing it a lot with American English, unless I specify that it’s another variation of English.
Let’s look a little closer at some common British accent pronunciation rules.
One of the basic ways to sound British is to mind how and when you pronounce your Rs.
A rhotic language is a language where the sound of an “r” is fully-pronounced if it comes before a constant or at the end of a syllable. An example of a rhotic language is American English.
By contrast, British English is a non-rhotic language so they use softer “r” sounds. This means that it’s more likely that a British person will drop the “r” or pronounce it differently.
If the “r” in a word comes after a vowel, you drop it and replace it with an “ah” or “eh” or “uh”.
The sound you replace an “r” with depends on the vowel that is before it. So if it is spelled “ar” you pronounce use “ah”, while if it’s “er” it’s “eh”, and “ur” it’s “uh”.
Example: hardly - >hah-dly
If, however, it is spelled with a double r, just drop the second “r” and leave a little space for it. Think of the “Harry Potter” movies. They don’t call him “Harry”, it’s more like “Ha-ry”.
If a word has an “r” in the last syllable, you should also pronounce it like “uh”
Example: perspire -> prespi-uh, mother -> mothuh, father - fathuh
If a word has an “a” in it, stretch it out so that what you're actually saying is “ah”.
Example: cat -> caht, can’t -> cah-n’t
If a word has an “h” in the beginning, then the “h” is usually silent. So that is why, you will tend to hear someone speaking in British English saying “ello” in greeting, rather than “hello”. They are not being informal, that’s just their accent.
If a word has a long “u” in the beginning, sounding more like an “oo” in American English, then it becomes more of an “ew” in a British accent.
Example: stupid -> stewpid, duty -> dewty
If a word has a short “u” in the beginning, then it becomes longer and more like “oohn”.
Example: under -> oohn-duh
For actors and actresses who get British accent training, they are usually made to learn Standard British English. Even if they are not necessarily British or born in the UK, they know how to use the accent.
A lot of programming from the United Kingdom, unless it’s specifically supposed to be set in a region with a recognizable regional accent, is usually in Standard English as well.
Oddly enough, Hollywood movies that are in the fantasy or sci-fi genre also tend to have a lot of British accents, even if the actor isn’t British and the character isn’t said to be British.
To get some British accent practice in then, watch a British program and mouth along with the words.
Take note of the different ways they pronounce things, maybe even make a list of “different sounding words and practice them after.
If you have British friends or work with a British English tutor, you can ask them about the words you didn’t really understand or go through the list you made of “different” words with them.
Try saying them out loud or using them in a conversation in front of them. They can then correct your pronunciation and help you hone your accent.
There are many videos on YouTube, oftentimes made by native speakers, that offer British accent lessons.
There are also many amusing and entertaining videos that point out or make comparisons between how things are pronounced in Standard English and other English accents. These are not just educational but entertaining.
You should also look for videos that discuss British slang terms and how to pronounce and use them properly.
YouTube videos can be effective learning tools because they stimulate both your visual and auditory senses. They are oftentimes designed to be more amusing than a straight on classroom lecture would be, so they can help keep your attention on the lessons at hand.
There’s also no harm in just picking a YouTube video on something that interests you, as long as the language used is British English, you can still pick up the accent while you watch and listen.
Listening to podcasts by people speaking in a British accent is a great way to immerse yourself in the sound of the language as it is spoken “in real life.”
There are a lot of good English language learning podcasts out there that offer short and interesting lessons on grammar, vocabulary, and punctuation.
If you pick a podcast by someone with a Standard English accent, their punctuation lessons will include how to say things in the “proper” accent.
You can and probably should also download and listen to a few podcasts that aren’t necessarily geared towards language learning, but maybe just talk about different things – movies, pop culture, sports, current events – that you are interested in.
Listening to podcasts that you are interested in that are in British English will help ensure that you really LISTEN to the podcast. Not only will you learn new things about a subject that you care about, but you will also pick up and notice nuances of punctuation that might otherwise have escaped you.
Just make sure, of course, that the podcast host and their guests are speaking in Standard English if you want to pick up their accent.
This is especially important if you either speak or are exposed to English in another accent, like American or Australian.
You can try and compile a list yourself; maybe from the word you noted were “different” while watching TV or a YouTube video.
You can also try to find a list on the internet or on a language learning blog. We have a few on our blog, like this one.
By seeing the differences in pronunciation side-by-side, it will be easier to spot and internalize the nuances of a British accent. It will also help keep you from becoming confused between the differences among the “other” English accents in the world.
Much like developing fluency, the best way to really develop the proper accent is to be around people who are speaking in that accent.
In the case of developing and learning the “proper” British accent, you should work with a native language speaking tutor who has the accent themselves. This way, having conversations with your tutor won’t just allow you to practice your English, but also provide you with British accent practice.
While watching British films or programs will familiarize you with how the accent should sound and watching YouTube or listening to Podcasts can provide you with pronunciation lessons, they are no substitute for a tutor.
After all, a tutor can correct you in real time. This ensures that you really learn the accent and – when given the chance to have a conversation with a native speaker, you won’t make any laughable mistakes.
With a lot of work, you could learn British accent in 2 weeks.
Foreign Accent Syndrome is a rare condition when you suddenly start speaking in another accent after a head injury or a stroke.
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