What Accent Is Best? American, British, Australian?
Students often ask me which accent is best for them to focus on – American or British or Australian?
They often wonder things like ‘I’ve learnt an American accent and now I live in the UK, should I try and change to a UK accent? Will the locals understand me?’.
If you live in an English speaking country, it doesn’t matter what style of English you use. There are a few reasons for this as we will discuss below.
These are the most important things to consider.
– The most important thing for communication is clarity – being clear to listeners and easy for others to understand
– If people sometimes find your English challenging to understand, it’s unlikely to be because of the influence of an English accent style and much more likely to be differences caused by your first language influence. Native speakers understand most types of English accent (British, American, Canadian, Australian etc) very easily, so if you’re speaking with an American style in the UK, it’s very unlikely it will cause problems.
– As adults, most people will have an accent identifiable from their first language in English eg an Indian English accent, a Spanish accent, a Russian accent. An American or British influence will be secondary and much less noticeable.
Hopefully that gives you some more idea about which English accent is best – American, British, Australian, Canadian, Irish etc. The answer is – don’t worry too much about it! Clarity and having pronunciation that is easy for listeners to understand is what is most important.
Let’s break down the points above and have some more discussion.
- Clarity is what is most important.
For most people, it doesn’t matter what accent you have, what’s most important is that they can understand your message. If people sometimes misunderstand your English, this can make every day interactions challenging for you. It can also mean that you may have difficulty getting certain jobs. Most positions in the business sector require English that is clear and easy for listeners to understand.
- What’s Making Your Spoken English Unclear?
Do people sometimes struggle to understand your English easily? Influence from American English, British English or Australian English is not going to make your spoken English unclear to listeners. And speakers from these English groups all understand each other very easily. So, it doesn’t really matter whether your accent is British English, American English or Australian English. It is very, very, unlikely that an influence from any of these styles will ever cause your English to be unclear.
If people are not understanding you easily, it’s most likely because of influence from your first language (eg Chinese, Spanish, Russian, Thai etc). Foreign accent influence can cause problems with being easily understood in English. This is because any consonant sounds or vowel sounds that are new can be challenging. Also the stress patterns in English are very different to most other languages. See more on word stress.
There are many different things that affect how clear you are when you speak English. Some changes to sounds do not affect clarity and some do. A sound that people often notice is challenging for them in English is ‘th’. Mispronouncing the sound ‘th’ – for example using a /t/ or /d/ instead of ‘th’ eg tink for think, dat for that, does not affect your clarity. It just gives you an accent. So ‘th’ is not an important sound to change.
Other sound problems or changes do affect your clarity. Here are the things that affect how clear your English will be to listeners:
– how well you open and move your mouth when you speak English (don’t mumble!)
– your rate and volume.
– vowel sounds – get to know the 3 different vowel sounds – short, long and diphthong vowels. Revise All English Vowel Sounds.
– consonant sounds – aspects like pronouncing consonant sounds at the ends of your words, pronouncing more than 1 consonant sounds in a row (eg /kst/ in sixty, /skt/ in risked), mispronouncing sounds like using /r/ instead of /l/ can make many words unclear. Revise All English Consonant Sounds.
– word stress – probably the most important area affecting your clarity, word stress is the way we use emphasis on certain syllables. – Improve Your Word Stress. If you make errors with word stress, such as saying ‘suBURB’ instead of ‘SUburb’ – that WILL make your English unclear.
- The Role of a Foreign Accent.
As I mentioned, if you are already an adult, most people will have an accent identifiable from their first language when they speak English eg an Indian English accent, a Spanish accent, a Russian accent. This will be what people hear and recognise. That’s how they know you’re not an English native speaker.
If you began speaking English after you turned about 11 years old it is extremely likely you will always have a foreign accent. That means that while your English might have qualities of an American accent or British or Australian accent, it will mostly sound like an accent from your home country.
For example, someone from China will have a Chinese accent. That is what native speakers will hear. The American, British or Australian quality is usually not as obvious, nor is it likely to cause any problems with being understood. It will be secondary and much less noticeable.
Most students learn American English when they are learning English in their home countries. Having an American accent when you live in the UK or Australia is absolutely fine. You don’t need to focus on changing this.
When native speakers from these countries (UK, US or Australia, New Zealand) listen to each other they usually have no problems understanding each other.
If you have American style English and are now living in the UK or Australia, there is only one word I suggest you change and make more British / Australian. That is the word ‘can’t’. If you pronounce this with an American accent in the UK or Australia, people often hear it as ‘can’. Unless you stress the ‘t’ at the end, they will recognise it as ‘can’. In Britain and Australia we say ‘carnt’ (in the IPA that’s /ka:nt/. Listen to the difference in the UK and US pronunciation of ‘can’t here.
Now you need to double check you are making a long vowel /a:/ in ‘can’t’, not the short vowel /ʌ/ like in ‘cut’. BE CAREFUL!! If you use the short vowel /ʌ/ in ‘can’t’ it will sound like a very bad swear word in English….. : ) See an English Pronunciation video on pronouncing sheet, beach and can’t.
In my opinion it doesn’t really matter what accent you have as long as you can be easily understood by others. If not, your spoken English will likely hold you back in the professional world and even in casual situations, repeating yourself can be frustrating.
There are certain aspects of pronunciation that make a person’s accent hard to understand and other things that don’t.
Some people have a very strong foreign accent and their English is still very clear to listeners.
This is because their accent does not affect the parts of speech that native speakers rely on to easily recognise English words.
So – the number 1 priority is CLARITY!
If your English is sometimes unclear to listeners, our courses will help you correct the sounds and speech patterns required for clear English that is easy for listeners to understand.
Our training also helps people who are already clear and want to perfect their spoken English and sound more like a native English speaker. People often want to do this if they have been in an English speaking country for a long time and identify with being a local. They want a more neutral or more ‘English’ sounding accent. Of course, it’s a matter of personal choice.
I hope that helped you with your research of which accent is best? British, American or Australian.
Now, you may be asking yourself, are there any changes I need to make to my pronunciation to be clearer and not worrying too much about influences of different English speaking styles.
All the best.
What Accent Is Best? American, British, Australian?
Georgie Harding has assisted thousands of people from all over the world with improving their clarity and spoken English skills. A Speech Pathology degree (BAppSc(SpPath) and CELTA qualifications and over 15 years of experience providing 1:1, group and online training make Georgie a leader in her field.
Georgie is the creator the world’s leading English Pronunciation online courses that are tailored to the language background of the student and presents regularly at Universities.
If you’ve ever met Georgie or completed her award winning courses you’ll know how passionate she is about helping people move forward with better spoken English and more confidence.
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