What Accent Is Best? American, British, Australian?
Founder & Head Speech Pathologist
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Students often ask me, which accent should I learn – American or British or Australian?
They might say ‘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?’
It doesn’t matter what accent you have as long as you can be easily understood by others.
It doesn’t really matter whether your accent is British English, American English or Australia or New Zealand English. Speakers from these groups all understand each other very easily. It is very unlikely that an influence from any of these groups will ever cause your English to be unclear.
If people are not understanding you easily, it’s most likely because of the influence from your first language (eg Chinese, Spanish, Russian, Thai etc). Foreign accent influence can cause problems with being easily understood in English.
There are areas of your English pronunciation that affect how clear you are and areas that don’t. The areas that affect clarity are not likely to be the areas affected by UK vs US style English. They ARE likely to be the parts of English pronunciation influenced and affected by your first language.
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.
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.
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 what’s important is to pronounce in a way that is clear for listeners. Let me give you an example. Using a ‘t’ for ‘th’ doesn’t make your speech unclear. It gives you an accent but it people will understand you easily if you say ‘tink’ instead of ‘think’.
However, if you make errors with syllable stress, such as say ‘suBURB’ instead of ‘SUburb’ – that WILL make your English unclear.
So – the number 1 priority is CLARITY!
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
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