The Difference Between A British And American Accent
One of the most common questions we encounter is: “Which English accent should I learn?” The answer isn’t straightforward. It largely depends on factors like where you reside, who you frequently converse with, and if you’re in an English-speaking country, the predominant accent you hear.
One accent isn’t better than another though there are different elements you need to learn depending on which accent you choose.
Here are a few of the differences between standard British English and standard American English pronunciation:
1. The /r/ sound
The American /r/ sound is said as a rhotic sound. Much stronger and more pronounced.
The British /r/ sound is not rhotic and the tongue tip isn’t held as tight.
We have detailed training on how to pronounce this consonant in our American and British accent courses as well as the difference between how to make the /r/ sound in your mouth, the /r/ sound is omitted in certain words in British English and always said in American English if you see it written in a word.
For British pronunciation, the /r/ is said when it is followed by a vowel such as:
It isn’t pronounced in words such as:
This makes it difficult for people who have learned English with an American accent, and who want to speak with a British accent. It is often harder to take a speech sound out of your speech than to put it in.
2. Pronunciation of the /t/ letter in the middle of certain words
For the standard or general American accent the rule is this, if there is a vowel before and after the /t/ like in the word /better/. Also, if there’s an /r/ before the /t/ and a vowel after the /t/ like in party. The /t/ is said as a quick flicked or flapped light /d/ sound.
This doesn’t happen for the Standard British accent. For example, let’s take the word better again. For the British, it’s said /better/. the American it’s said /bedder/.
For the British, it’s said /batter/.
British: The batter hit the ball.
For the American, it’s said /badder/.
American: The badder hit the ball.
For the British, it’s said /party/.
For the American accent, it’s said /pardy/.
3. Vowel Pronunciation
One of the vowels that is pronounced quite differently is the ‘o’ as in ‘hot’ vowel.
For the British accent, the lips are rounded and forward.
For the Standard American accent, the lips are relaxed and the bottom jaw is dropped.
Hot /hɒt/ Hot /hɑːt/
Stop /stɒp/ Stop /stɑːp/
Off /ɒf/ Off /ɑːf/
4. Past Tense Ending ‘ed’
Not always, but for quite a few words, the spelling and therefore the pronunciation of words ending in ‘ed’ changes. For example, the Americans spell the past tense of the word ‘learn’ with ‘ed’, whereas the British replace the ‘ed’ with a /t/.
5. Patterns of speech stress and rhythm
Both accents are stressed-timed languages. For example, often with French words that are in English, there is a difference in syllable stress. Generally, British English puts the emphasis on the first syllable, and American English puts the stress on the second syllable.
For example, let’s take the word ‘ballet’.
The British pronunciation is ‘ballet’ /ˈbæl.eɪ/- emphasis on the first syllable.
The American pronunciation is ‘ballet’- the stress is on the 2nd syllable.
The vowel is said with a higher pitch, longer, and slightly louder in the stressed syllable.
Understanding the differences between the American and British accents is crucial for effective communication. We have highlighted some key differences, but there is a wealth of knowledge waiting for you. To learn more about stress and rhythm in English, have a look at this article here.
Speak More Clearly provides expert speech training and accent courses to help improve your American, Australian & English accents.