So let’s start by saying There is no British accent. That may sound confusing but if you think about it, Britain is actually a collection of countries; England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland. The people of these countries all speak English differently.
Each of these British countries has one or more dialects, and accents of their own. The common spoken language is English, so there is an English accent, and it will vary depending on which country the person speaking is from and most likely what part of the country they come from.
I think the confusion comes from the common perception that British people sound more like the TV and Film stars you might see and hear if you live outside of Britain. Most of the British people don’t have an English accent like Hugh Grant or speak like her royal highness the Queen or BBC news presenters.
We mostly speak the TV or Film type English accent, you might be familiar with, in the South of England.
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Hi there and welcome to this podcast from Adept English. Our podcasts and our courses are designed to help you with your English language learning – and we’re largely focused on UK English. So of course people who speak US or American English and people who speak UK English can understand each other perfectly well. Some of our words are different, our accents are certainly different, but we definitely understand each other easily. So as I’ve observed before, when you’re learning a language, then to some extent you take on the accent of your teacher. So if you’re listening to me, you’ll certainly be able to learn British accent. My accent is one which would be well understood generally. It’s a slightly Northern accent, but not that much. So today, in the interests of you being able to learn British accent, I’m going to give you an example of what is called ‘Received Pronunciation’. And if you want to hear me attempt ‘Received Pronunciation’, listen right until the end of the podcast.
Now if you’ve not heard of it before, ‘Received Pronunciation’ or RP as it’s shortened to, is defined at the ‘standard English, which is spoken in southern Britain’. But actually Received Pronunciation is spoken by only around 2 or 3% of the British population. So what it’s come to mean is a rather upper class accent. People are more likely to speak in this way, if they come from the south of England and if they have come from a family with money, a family who’re well-off, upper class.
You’re more likely to hear RP, Received Pronunciation in private schools. So there is standard southern English – my children have been brought up in the south, so if you hear their accents on our courses, that’s southern British. But RP or Received Pronunciation is now seen as quite elitist, more of an upper class accent.
So I’ve selected a piece, a recording from YouTube for you to listen to, which demonstrates RP. The person speaking here is another actress. You remember we listened to Jodie Comer for a Liverpool accent, a couple of weeks ago? So this is the actress Joanna Lumley. She’s very well-loved in the UK and she’s known for having a beautifully ‘Received Pronunciation’ Accent. Here she is to help you learn British accent.
So Joanna Lumley is talking her about a project to put parts of the BBC television programme, Blue Planet to music on a big screen. This is a David Attenborough series – about animals under the ocean, with lots of underwater filming. So I’ll read what she says -
A photograph of a man holding a baby you cannot tell the gender of the baby. Used to help explain English grammar she, he and they.
It’s episodes chosen from Blue Planet II, the series, set to music, originally composed by Hans Zimmer, the great Oscar-winning composer. So some of the...some of the little episodic bits are two minutes, two and a half minutes, some are five minutes, some are four minutes. Little bits and pieces of this sensational series of underwater filming, showing us the miracles that exist on our planet today.
So that’s Joanna Lumley speaking in her RP accent. Just a bit of vocabulary. She’s explaining the project. So it’s a project to take bits of the series, Blue Planet II and put it to music. And she says ‘It’s episodes’ - so an episode, E-P-I-S-O-D-E, is typically what a TV series is broken up into – an episode is probably an hour long. A series, S-E-R-I-E-S is the whole thing – like Game of Thrones, or Top Gear or Homeland or The Great British Bakeoff are all ‘series’ and an ‘episode’ is the individual programme or hour of the series.
She says ‘little episodic bits’ - so ‘episodic’ is that just word ‘episode’, being used as an adjective. So she’s talking about small bits of filming and she says two minutes, two and a half minutes long. ‘Little bits and pieces’ - so she means parts of an episode. ‘Bits and pieces’ is a very typically English phrase. ‘Sensational’ means it’s wonderful, it’s great. ‘And showing us the miracles that exist on our planet today’. A miracle, M-I-R-A-C-L-E is something amazing, something that’s so fantastic, so wonderful that it’s difficult to believe that it exists or it’s real.
So which words tell you that Joanna Lumley is speaking ‘Received Pronunciation’? Probably most of her words, but it stands out more on some. She says ‘episodes’. So the o sound is much tighter – I’d say ‘episodes’, she says ‘episodes’ - can you hear the difference? So the vowels are all much tighter, more formal somehow. She says ‘Blue Planet 2’ - I would say ‘Blue Planet 2’. And the same with the word ‘Music’, ‘music’, I’d say ‘music’. When she says ‘Little bits and pieces’, her RP is really noticeable. And then also on ‘sensational underwater filming’, so her vowels are much more tight than mine. I’d say ‘Underwater filming’ and hers is more like ‘Underwater filming’.
When you come to learn British accent, Joanna Lumley’s received pronunciation could also be described as a ‘cut glass accent’. So what’s ‘cut glass’? Well, if you have a vase, V-A-S-E, a container to put your flowers in, which is made of glass, with a pattern, with angles and bumps and edges on the surface – then probably it’s cut glass. And we talk about a ‘cut glass accent’ to mean that the vowels are very tight - ‘blue’ instead of ‘blue’ and the enunciation, the way of saying the words is very precise. A ‘cut glass English accent’ – it’s also about social class. So if you have a ‘cut glass accent’, the chances are, you’re upper class.
Notice that my accent isn’t ‘cut glass’, because I say ‘glass’ instead of ‘glass’ and ‘class’ instead of ‘class’. Those are the more northern accent parts of my speech. And I’m very proud of them! So I don’t have RP, but Joanna Lumley is a really good example of someone who has a beautiful RP accent.
So there you are. Lots of help with learn British accent from Adept English.
Don’t forget, if you would like to have lots of English language listening material, downloaded onto your phone, you can download 50 of our podcasts, at the same time for a small fee on our website. So currently there are three groups of 50 podcasts that you can buy on our website adeptenglish.com. You’re paying a fee because we’re saving you the trouble of downloading them individually one-by-one – that would take a long time. That is a lot of listening material.
Anyway….enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.