Five Lessons That Will Help Sort Out Your ‘British’ Accent

This fellow is simply trying too hard (Pic: John Gomez via AP Images)

This fellow is simply trying too hard (Pic: John Gomez via AP Images)

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…

Good luck!

See more: 
Five Strong UK Regional Accents That DID Succeed In America
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?

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2.

He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.

Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic

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