Want to Learn British English Speaking? Pick an Accent!
A lot of people have a romantic or glamorized idea of what British English sounds like, but the truth is that there are many different kinds.
However, if you’re interested, this guide will help you get to know the ways of the Brits and start talking like them!
- Great General Resources for Learning to Speak English Like the Brits
- British English Accents with Resources for Further Learning
- British Slang Words to Start Your Learning
Great General Resources for Learning to Speak English Like the Brits
British Council offers face-to-face lessons in their learning centers. There, you can make use of a library with many books and audio resources to learn the different British accents. You can also access lots of online courses and learning tools right on their website.
FluentU is a language learning program that teaches English with captioned web videos like news clips and movie trailers. You can find FluentU videos in a variety of accents and dialects, including British ones. For example, there are videos that explain the differences between types of English, like this one about accents in the British Isles, or this one that compares British, American and Australian English.
BBC Learning English
BBC Learning English offers many online courses for English learners. To improve your speaking skills and acquire a British accent, you can start with the basic course “The Sounds of English,” and then move on to “Tim’s Pronunciation Workshop.” You should know that the English taught here is the standard English accent, or “received pronunciation” (more on this below).
British English Accents with Resources for Further Learning
There’s no such thing as one British English accent. British English is often considered an English dialect along with American English and Australian English.
On the British Isles, which include Great Britain, Ireland and many smaller islands, there are many different accents.
Many people outside Britain think of a British accent as that of English actors like Hugh Grant in “Notting Hill” or Benedict Cumberbatch in “The Imitation Game,” as shown in the following video.
In fact, Hugh Grant and Benedict Cumberbatch speak in “received pronunciation,” an accent that’s considered “posh” (from a wealthier, more upper-class part of society). Only some people from the South of England, the royal family included, speak like that.
Across the British Isles and even within England, accents vary to the point where someone from London, England might find it difficult to understand someone from Glasgow, Scotland.
In the following section, you’ll find the most recognizable accents on the British Isles. Check out the examples included to familiarize yourself with the different sounds.
As an English learner, even an advanced English learner, you may tend to doubt your listening skills if you fail to understand a native speaker. However, it’s important to remember that it could just be that they have an unfamiliar accent. By listening to clips included in the following section, you’ll be more prepared for encounters with Brits in the future.
If there’s a certain accent that you’re fond of, use the example below as a starting point. Then, either find more clips from the same speakers or the same source. That way you can listen more, and eventually imitate and pick up the accent yourself! Combine that type of practice with at least one of the resources above, and you’ll be speaking with a British accent in no time!
Received Pronunciation, or the Queen’s English
Received pronunciation (RP) is defined as “the standard form of British English pronunciation, based on educated speech in southern England” by the English Oxford Dictionary.
As the royal family speak RP, it’s referred to as “the Queen’s English” or “the posh accent.” Though the majority of Brits don’t sound like that, RP is widely portrayed in movies.
The “Harry Potter” series and “The King’s Speech” are two examples. You can also hear RP in this lovely speech by Emma Watson at UN’s HeforShe Campaign in 2014.
The Cockney Accent
The Cockney accent is associated with the working class in East London. Two of the most recognizable features of Cockney speakers are the dropping of the “h” sound in front of words like “hospital,” and the replacement of “th” with “f.”
Sir Michael Caine is an English actor, famous for keeping his Cockney accent in movie roles that he’s played. You can listen to an interview he did for The New York Times here.
The Welsh Accent
Though the Welsh have their own language, they also speak English in a Welsh accent.
If you want a comparison between the English accent in the South of England and the Welsh accent, “Gavin & Stacey” is a fun show to watch. Check out this breakfast conversation: The first speaker is Rob Brydon, a Welsh actor. You can hear him talking about condiments (foods that are put on other foods for flavor, like jelly) for around 45 seconds. Smithy, the character that comes right after and who is played by James Corden, is English. You might recognize him and his accent from his famous “Carpool Karaoke” series.
The West Country Accent
Spoken in the west part of England, the West Country accent has held onto its unique features partly due to its isolated location. You can hear Stephen Merchant’s West Country accent in these funny podcast clips.
The Scouse Accent
The Scouse accent belongs to the people of Liverpool, and it could be referred to as the Liverpudlian accent. Though it’s limited to a small area (compared to the West Country or Wales), the Scouse accent is one of the most famous in England. One thing you might notice when listening to a Scouse is their nasal (from the nose) sounds, such as when a “t” sounds like an “r.” You can listen to the Scouse accent in this interview with Liverpudlian legends The Beatles.
The Yorkshire Accent
This is the accent found in the Yorkshire area, in Northern England. One of its features is the use of the short “a” in words like “class” instead of the long “a” of the Southerners. If you want to check out a Yorkshire accent, “The Full Monty” is a great comedy to watch. It shows industrial communities in Sheffield in the ’80s. You can watch the trailer here.
The Geordie Accent
The Geordie accent is another very famous one from the North of England, in and around Newcastle. Because of its closeness to the Danish Peninsula, the Geordies have some words that sound like modern Danish. For example, bairn and barn are the words for a child in Geordie and Danish respectively (separately, in that order). If you’re in the South of England, you might hear how people struggle to understand the Geordies, just like in this clip from the famous comedy show “I’m Alan Partridge.”
The Scottish English Accent
This is the accent you’re most likely to hear when you travel around Scotland. One of the most noticeable patterns in Scottish English is the change of the “o” sound to “ae.” Another is the disappearing of the “t” sound at the end of words like “it” or “cannot.” If you want to check it out, listen to Ewan McGregor’s accent in the movie “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” or just watch this interview with him and Emily Blunt about the movie.
The Irish Accent
Last but not least, the Irish accent is from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. It varies across the island of Ireland, though. If you want to have a taste, check out “In Bruges.” The two lead actors, Colin Farrell (as Ray) and Brendan Gleeson (as Ken) are Irish. Here’s the trailer.
Now that you have a better idea of how much variety there is in the way people sound in Britain, let’s have a look at a few British slang words that might make no sense to outsiders.
British Slang Words to Start Your Learning
Meaning: to have little or no money
“Fancy going to the pub tonight?”
“Nah, I shouldn’t. I’m skint.”
Meaning: silly, distasteful
“What a naff comment!”
Meaning: a very long time
“I haven’t seen him for yonks.”
Meaning: very ugly, unpleasant, foul
“Man, his toilet is minging.”
Meaning: an informal conversation
“Did you talk to Sarah?”
“Yeah, but just a chinwag about the girls at work.”
Meaning: very tired
“I’m knackered. Let’s go to bed.”
“Stop talking bobbins.”
Meaning: to kiss
“He often brags about snogging the hot girl from his class, but I doubt it’s true.”
So here are two things you need to take away: The Brits speak with different accents, and they use slang words that might not mean anything in any other parts of the English-speaking world.
That’s just the beginning, but if you want to know more about British English speaking, head to the resources above and start learning!