One of the first things non-native speakers often notice about English is that native English speakers pronounce the same words very differently depending on where they are from. While every language has its own regional variations, English accents tend to be especially varied and different from each other. Some strong accents, like Scottish or Irish, can be notoriously difficult to follow for someone living outside these regions.
Regardless, accents are an important part of spoken English. Speaking in the right accent will make you sound like a native English speaker and let you fit in wherever you are. They have a great social impact and can help you connect to and work with local populations much better.
Interesting, right? In this article, we’ll explain everything you need to know about English accents and give you some tips to learn different English accents.
An accent is a specific way of speaking a language that is particular to a country, region, or city. Accents differ by how words are pronounced, the tone of voice used, and the general flow and tempo in which the language is spoken. These characteristics make different types of accents in English instantly recognizable. For instance, the Irish twang and Scottish lilt are both accents that are immediately identifiable by people with a keen ear for the English language.
Although accents are usually specific to particular geographical areas, there can be instances where people in regions far removed from each other speak in a similar accent. This is mostly because of shared culture and history. Accents are often looked at as a part of a region’s cultural heritage and are hence highly valued by its speakers. Catching on to the local accent of a place can help non-native English speakers quickly blend in and communicate more effectively.
But is it really important for you to learn accents to be able to speak like a native English speaker? Absolutely! Apart from having social value, learning an accent can bring practical advantages like communicating better at the workplace and being generally more articulate in conversations.
Consider this scenario: You take the time and effort to learn how to speak English fluently and familiarize yourself with the phrases, idioms, and informal expressions used by native English speakers. But without the appropriate accent, all this would help you a little on the street when you have to communicate with a shopkeeper or ask someone for directions. Being able to understand others and make yourself understood depends on being familiar with and speaking with the right English accent.
When it comes to English, common accents like American English, Australian English, and British English are merely the tip of the iceberg. Over 150 dialects of English are spoken worldwide, 30 of which are from the U.S. However, are there many different ways to speak the same language? Absolutely. Accents are a fascinating part of the English language. Small geographical regions (sometimes even small towns or cities) can have their own accent. Each of these regional accents can be seen as a small tweak in the way English is generally spoken in that country.
For example, the Boston accent is slightly different from the general American accent in terms of how it treats the ‘r’ sound and common vowels. Native speakers from Boston, Massachusetts, often drop the ‘r’ sound at the end of words and replace it with an ‘ah’ sound originating at the front of the mouth. This means,
Teacher becomes ‘Teach-ah’, and
Car becomes ‘Ca-ah.’
Similarly, the ‘a’ or ‘ah’ sound at the end of words is replaced by a subtle rolled ‘r’ sound. So,
Tuna becomes ‘Tun-er’, and
Idea becomes ‘Ide-er’
As for the ‘r’ sound in the middle of a sentence, it is usually dropped without any replacement.
Park becomes ‘P-ak’
and Harvard becomes ‘Ha-vad’
You can practise using both of these rules in conjunction by saying sentences like ‘I want to park my car in the yard at Harvard’, which would read something like ‘I wanna p-ak my ca-ah in the ya-ad at Ha-vad’
Another interesting thing about the Boston accent is that the ‘o’ vowel between words is replaced with a rolled ‘aw’ sound.
This means that,
Cloth becomes ‘Cl-aw-th’
and, Tonic becomes ‘T-aw-nic’
Sentences like ‘I asked ma to get me some tonic’ would read something like ‘ I asked ma-ar to get me some t-aw-nic’.
The Boston accent is just one of many examples of regional dialects that have developed in cities and small regions over the years. Each of these accents has a cultural and historical significance attached to it. The Boston accent, for example, is the result of large-scale Italian immigration to the region at the beginning of the 20th century. This is why the dropped vowels and rolled ‘ah’s in the Boston accent are so reminiscent of the way Italian is traditionally spoken.
It can get confusing and even overwhelming for foreign speakers to tackle English accents head-on. Each accent comes with its own rhythm, pace, and pronunciation, making it sound unlike any other. A good strategy to start learning a foreign accent can be to break the accent down into four key parts - pronunciation, intonation, stress, and rhythm. These four aspects give accents their distinct sounds.
Accents can sometimes be the toughest part of mastering a language. Their wide variety and variations can be challenging to pick up. So here are a few tips to help you learn to speak English with the right accent.
Understanding English accents is easy and fun when you have Immigo to help you along. Our classes taught by world class instructors will help you to speak English fluently in no time.
Browse through our specially designed classes to get comfortable with English diction, pronunciation, accents, and a whole lot more. Immigo has everything you need to master English fluency!