Spoken English varies from region to region in terms of vocabulary and pronunciation, with the British variant being one of the most desirable.
British accents are divided into several different categories: Standard English, Northern, East Midlands, West Midlands, East Anglia, Southern, West Country and Highland English. Each of which contain many different dialects, including: Cockney, Estuary English, Yorkshire, and the standard British accent (just to name a few).
The British accent is respected because of its clear articulative nature, etiquette, depth of vocabulary, and its rich heritage. However, mastering the British accent for non-native speakers is quite challenging. The Standard British accent or Standard English accent is a relatively new concept – this term didn’t exist previously.
However, it’s become the main accent that non-native speakers wish to acquire because it still sounds educated and relatively neutral but it sounds more approachable and accessible than the Received Pronunciation accent. The following are tips to help you master the British accent:
1. Get Rid of American Pronunciation
American films have a great influence on how people speak English. However, the limited scope of exposure through movies prevents learners from identifying the numerous differences in how words are pronounced in British and American English.
In American English, the letter “r” in words is always pronounced, but “r” is not articulated in every word in British pronunciation. Therefore, understanding this fundamental difference and doing more research on the different terms is a step towards progressing your British accent.
2. Master English Vowels
In pure English, there are five long and seven short vowels, each pronounced at different positions in the mouth. Furthermore, when non-native speakers speak English, they tend to shorten vowels because many languages do not have long vowels. If a person’s original language does not have long vowels, it will be more difficult for them to adjust their vowel length to be longer in English.
When a long vowel is shortened, the word’s meaning may change. Therefore, your vowel length and precision should be accurate for you to have a strong British accent and communicate effectively.
3. Train on How to Pronounce Consonants
When speaking with a conventional British accent, consonants should be uttered with more emphasis than in an American accent. However, you should avoid going too far because too much stress on consonants may imply that the accent is fake.
Pronunciation has a major impact, especially on the “t” and “d” sounds. The tip of the tongue should touch the alveolar ridge (the bony ridge just behind your front top teeth)- not the upper front teeth- when pronouncing “t” and “d”, as well as for “l” and “n”.
The “t” and “d” are used to determine the past tenses of different words. e.g., ‘walked’ (said as ‘walk’); ‘moved’ (said as ‘moved’). Therefore, the clarity of your speech and accent in British English, greatly affect the use of English tenses as well.
4. Use Local British Slang
One of the best ways for you to connect with an accent is to use slang in the language. Using British slang will make your studied British English sound more natural as if you are a native speaker of British English.
However, remember that American and British English give rather different meanings and uses for words such as cheers, lad, mate, and ace. The purpose of certain language might change drastically depending on where you are from, so make sure you’re well aware of the words you decide to use.
5. Work on Your British Accent with Native Speakers
Conversing with native speakers is an important technique to improve your accent. Engaging natives exposes you to numerous norms and vocabulary about the British language not found in books.
For example, you could meet a friend from England through a student exchange program or look for a popular British social activity or setting (such as the local pub) and mix with the locals there. However, you must first identify with a suitable British dialect before undertaking such an activity.
6. Eliminate the Sound “R” From Various Words
Britons remove the “r” sound from the vowels written as a vowel plus an “r”. For example ‘ar’, ‘er’, ire, air, ‘or’. (We have video and audio training on how to pronounce these vowels with a British accent in our online British accent course). When this happens, you should prolong the vowel preceding the “r” sound.
The rule applies only at the end of a word or syllable when the next word or syllable begins with a consonant. For example, the “r” in hardly is pronounced “hah-dly” rather than “r,” whereas the “r” in Harry is pronounced, “Ha-ry.”
When the “r” sound appears at the end of a word or syllable followed by one that begins with a vowel, you should use the “r” sound as a link between words, and not omit the “r”. For example, “car on” becomes “cah ron”.
7. Position Your Lips and Jaw Correctly
Correct positioning of your lips and jaw establishes the framework that enables you to speak in an accent closer to the British accent. To convincingly emulate a British accent, you must move your jaw down nearly twice as much as you normally would with an American accent.
The jaw adjustment, in part, is a different movement; hence it will feel strange to your body at first because of the tension most people have in their jaws. You should incorporate jaw-release exercises into your program if you wish to improve your accent.
Pulling the corners of your mouth forward, and dropping your jaw, will assist you in achieving the deeper tone and resonance that is typical of British speech. American accents are often more nasal in resonance, whereas British accents are less nasal generally, and the vowels may be drawn out longer. With the Standard British accent, the resonance is deeper, comes from the throat in the back of the mouth, and is sent forward out of the mouth.
Your lips will change shape depending on the British dialect you decide to speak. For example, one of the easiest ways to practice the technique for your ‘aw’ (or) sound in words, is to make the sound while shaping your lips similar to a kissing face shape.
Do this for words such as: law, draw, floor, author. This can make a major difference in improving your British accent.