First of all, it’s important to state that there is no ‘British’ accent. There are so many regional dialects spread across tiny geographical areas that to arrive in, say, Swansea or Leicester (pronounced “lester”—you’re welcome), and launch into a stream of corblimey cockneyisms would go down extraordinarily badly.
Actually, arriving in Glasgow and attempting a Glasgow accent wouldn’t be warmly welcomed either, come to think of it. People don’t always enjoy feeling mocked.
The point is, there’s an infinite world of variety in the accents of the British Isles, as our first video presentation makes clear:
Lesson 1: Everything is connected, but different
Before we get into specifics, let’s just see how accents are distributed geographically. See how each accent morphs and melts into those of neighboring areas while still being distinct? Well, don’t worry if you can’t, that’s just a matter of tuning the ears a bit.
Lesson 2: Do your exercises
As this clip makes clear, the muscles around your mouth are used to making noises happen in a certain way. If you want to make noises the way people with different accents make them, you’ll need to retrain your face.
Note: I’m pretty sure you can do the dumpling thing with cotton wool or something similar.
Lesson 3: Find a key phrase to work from
Some words or phrases highlight the extremes of a dialect or accent better than others. Jimmy Carr is, of course, having fun at the expense of people from Liverpool and Newcastle, but if you were trying to speak with a Scouse or Geordie accent, there are worse places to start.
Lesson 4: English is not universal in English-speaking countries
Like the man says, wherever you go in the U.K. you’ll find people who have watched enough American movies and television to understand everything tourists say. The reverse is not true, and in some places with particularly strong dialects, the code of language is particularly tough to break.
Lesson 5: Learn some history
Thanks primarily to the Beatles, the Liverpudlian accent is one that is instantly recognizable around the world, and yet it is constantly changing and subject to huge variation according to where you are in the city, how old you are, and who you’re talking to. The closer you get to nailing it, the further away it gets…
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Ray Winstone: Voice Coach To The Stars
Meryl Streep Nails a British Accent…Again
Anne Hathaway’s British Accent in ‘One Day’: Did She Get It Right?