Learn What English Accent You Have As We Talk About The Differences Between British & American Accents
Today we are going to look at the differences between British English and American English pronunciation. Do you really want to sound more like James Bond, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Daniel Craig than a mix of Bill Murray, President Obama, and Ben Stiller? If you want to sound more British when you speak, rather than American, then this podcast will share some secrets that will help you understand why we sound the way we do.
Of course, there are many wonderful British accents, and there are a lot of lovely American accents as well. I’m going to give this lesson using my accent. I would class my accent as contemporary received pronunciation RP, which is just a way of saying I speak using an accent you would hear in and around London and the South East of England.
My accent is a clear and correctly spoken accent, so it’s a good place for ESL (English as a second language) learners to start. It’s the sort of accent you would want for your spoken English to be understood around the world. If you want to sound Scottish or Welsh or Irish, or want one of the many lovely regional accents to be found in the UK, then this probably isn’t the lesson for you.
I know I say this a lot, but I think it’s important. Ultimately, having an accent when you speak English should not matter. But accents, especially strong ones, can sometimes impede people understanding what you say. As a new language learner, you probably don’t want any additional barriers to being understood. You will definitely adopt the accent from your English language teacher, and it won’t be easy to correct later on. So knowing that should help you make a more informed decision about what accent your language teacher has, and whether that matters to you.
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In today’s podcast, we’re going to look at accent, pronunciation and vocabulary - specifically at whether you sound British or American, when you speak English? It’s interesting to think about your accent and your vocabulary - when you speak you may be aware of how it sounds!
Hello, I’m Hilary, and you’re listening to Adept English. We will help you to speak English fluently. All you have to do is listen. So start listening now and find out how it works.
Obviously you’ll have your own accent - the way you speak English will be influenced by what your first language is. But when you learn a language, you take on the accent of your teacher - and you absorb accents, pronunciation and vocabulary from the material that you listen to. So today I’m going to run through some of the differences between US and UK English vocabulary and pronunciation.
Where do you sit? Do you speak more American English - or have you got an entirely British English accent?! Or are you somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean?
Before I go on to that, just a reminder to register interest in our Adept English Consonant Pronunciation Course. In return, you’ll receive a discount of 50%, which you will be able to use to purchase the course half price when it’s released. Hurry - because this fantastic discount offer ends very soon! Either click on the popup at the bottom the webpage - that’s adeptenglish.com or go to vip.adeptenglish.com and just enter your email address.
OK, so how do you tell the difference between British English and American English? And when you’re listening to it or in your own speaking? Some people have a strong preference for learning one or the other. And if you’re learning with Adept English, you’ll be getting standard British English, with a slight northern twist on some vowels. That’s the way I speak English. But importantly - everyone will understand you!
So first of all, there is some very different vocabulary that we use. For example, a British speaker would talk about ‘rubbish’, RUBBISH whereas an American would say ‘trash’, TRASH. For the last letter of the alphabet, we would say ‘zed’, but an American speaker would say ‘zee’ for this letter.
Parts of a car - we would put our suitcases ‘in the boot’, BOOT, whereas an American would put theirs ‘in the trunk’, TRUNK. The part of a car that we might lift up to have a look at the engine - here it’s a ‘bonnet’, BONNET and in the US, it’s the ‘hood’, HOOD, which also can be short for ‘neighbourhood’ too, meaning ‘district’ or ‘area’. What the Americans call an ‘SUV’, or a ‘Sports Utility Vehicle’ is known here in the UK as a ‘4x4’ - and it’s written ‘4x4’. Similarly, what we’d call a ‘pavement’, American speakers would refer to as a ‘sidewalk’. So there’s a lot of different vocabulary depending upon which side of the Atlantic you are.
There are many of these differences - some more? In the UK, when the leaves fall, it’s ‘autumn’, AUTUMN, and in the US it’s ‘fall’, FALL. If you have a medical emergency, in the UK, it’s ‘A&E’ or the ‘Accident & Emergency’ Department of your local hospital that you would go to, whereas in the US, it’s ‘the Emergency Room’. And if you just need the doctor - in the UK, you attend the ‘GP’s surgery’. So GP is ‘General Practitioner’ - and in the US, you’d go to the ‘Doctor’s Office’. Our GPs are so-called because they’re General Practitioners, ‘general doctors’ - they’re your first contact point with the NHS and therefore they’re ‘generalists’ rather than ‘specialists’.
Now here’s where I apologise in advance for my attempts to do American accent. Hopefully I manage it well enough for our purposes here! So there are also words which are the same word effectively, but which we pronounce differently like vase, VASE - that’s British - and the US pronunciation for that same spelling is ‘vase’. There’s ‘tomato’ and ‘tomato’ of course, ‘route’ and ‘route’, ‘leisure’ and ‘leisure’. I know I’ve given you some of these different pronunciations before, but what I’m suggesting you do with them is use them to notice whether you’re listening to US English or UK English.
They’re reliable indicators these words. So they’re different vowel pronunciations and some words have a different consonant pronunciation - so ‘schedule’ is British English and ‘schedule’ is American English. And then there are some words which British English speakers and American English speakers would just put a different emphasis on. So these are words like ‘brochure’ or ‘brochure’, ‘garage’ and ‘garage’, ‘address’ and ‘address’.
So what are some of the more general differences in pronunciation? One of the more noticeable differences is in the pronunciation of the letter T. It’s the same if it’s at the beginning of a word, but it can be different if it’s in the middle or at the end. So in British English, it’s much more of a ‘t t t’ sound, whereas in US English, it’s more like a ‘d’, a D sound.
So in British English, we’d say ‘charity’ and ‘party’, but US English would more be ‘charidy’ and ‘pardy’. And words like ‘frustrating’ in British English - you’ll hear that ‘ting’ but it’s more like ‘frustrading’ in US English. ‘City’ or ‘ciddy’, ‘water’ or ‘warder’ - paying attention to these little words will tell you whether you’re hearing British or American English. There is also a version of British English, which is further away from standard or ‘received pronunciation’, RP English. And that’s when we use what’s called the ‘glottal stop’ in place of a T. So you might hear in British English ‘par’y’ and ‘ci’y’ and ‘wa’er’.
This is more down to accent, which of course is different in different parts of the UK. And certain regional accents are particularly given to this glottal stop version of the letter T. There are all kinds of things that go with a glottal stop - it’s seen as one indicator of being ‘working class’, in the UK!
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Another consonant where there’s a distinct difference between British English and American English - the letter R. In British English, if the R occurs in the middle or at the end of a word, we sometimes de-emphasise it, or we miss it out altogether. So there is a difference there in pronunciation. I’ll say the British English one first, and then the US English pronunciation. ‘Saturday’, ‘Saturday’ and ‘waiter’ or ‘waiter’, ‘work’ and ‘work’ are examples.
Vowel sounds are also different. In British English, we make much more use of ‘the schwa’. That’s SCHWA - and it’s that ‘uh’ sound that we substitute for the vowel sound sometimes when we de-emphasise a syllable in a word. In British English, the schwa is much more apparent than in US English.
We say things like ‘gOVernment’, TELevision, ‘biOLogy’, ‘philOsophy’. So you can hear that one particular syllable has emphasis and is pronounced properly and the other syllables are reduced to that ‘uh’ sound. It gives emphasis and rhythm. So if you want to sound British English, work on your schwa - it’s much more pronounced than it is in US English!
A photograph of Oxford Street in London. British English vs American English. Do you want to know the basics about how to pronounce British English?
And of course there are also a number of straight vowel sounds, which have a different pronunciation in British and American English. The simple ‘o’ sound - that’s very British - imagine someone posh British upper class - ‘o, o, o’! We say ‘chopping board’, rather than a US version, which is more like ‘charping boarrd’.
We also say ‘hot’ rather that the more US ‘hart’. And the long U sound can also be different. So we would say ‘tube’, TUBE - as in YouTube, but Americans might say here ‘toob’. ‘Duke’, DUKE and ‘dook’ is another example - same spelling, just a different pronunciation. So ‘dook’ and ‘duke’. Notice also that here, in the British English - we say ‘duke’ with a J sound - as in the Duke of Edinburgh. Don’t ask me why!
OK, so there are some differences to think about. Notice how you pronounce these words. It’s really easy to pick-up the accent of your teacher, without realising it. You may not realise - do you sound British English, do you sound American English or do you sound some other kind of English? And this may inform how others view you - not necessarily in a way that’s a problem, but it might just be that you’re perceived as someone who has an association with Britain or an association with America.
Even though your accent may just reflect how and where you learned your English! So once again, if you would like to have a British English accent, then look no further than here, with Adept English.
And if you’d like some more, at length, English language listening and a course that’s more structured, with spaced repetition and which includes English conversation, with two voices, not just Hilary - then have a look at our courses page at adeptenglish.com and Course One Activate Your Listening.
This will really help you understand English conversation - and it’ll help you learn vocabulary for common subjects.
Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.
Thank you so much for listening. Please help me tell others about this podcast by reviewing or rating it. And, please share it on social media. You can find more listening lessons and a free English course at adeptenglish.com
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