Among all the accents in the English-speaking world, there is one accent that is king: the British accent. This is the accent you should be learning. Let me explain why.
British people actually speak with a variety of accents, depending on the region they come from, but there is one accent that you can hear everywhere in the UK. This accent is know as the ’standard British accent’ or ’received pronunciation’ (there are a few other names for it too). Generally speaking, this is the accent of well-educated people in the UK.
Of course there are many highly intelligent, educated and successful British people who speak with regional accents, especially in the north of England, Scotland and Ireland, but, statistically speaking, a ‘standard’ British accent correlates with high social status throughout the UK. Even in Scotland, where most people have a Scottish accent, highly educated people tend to speak with a relatively ‘soft’ accent that is close to the standard British accent, while less-educated people tend to speak with a stronger accent, further from the standard British accent.
An example of a ‘well-spoken’ Scot would be the actor David Tennant. As you can hear, his accent is ‘soft’ and easy to understand even if you are not familiar with the Scottish accent. Now listen to Rab C. Nesbit. His accent is strong, and hard to understand, even for most British people.
Everyone’s Favourite Accent
If you live in an English-speaking country, that means you probably live in the UK, Australia, New Zealand or North America. Whichever of these places you live in, you should learn the standard British accent. (And if you do not live in an English-speaking country you should still learn the British accent!)
If you live in the UK, then of course you should learn the British accent. You should also avoid picking up the local accent of the region you live in, as this will sound strange and make you harder to understand for people in the rest of the world.
In Australia and New Zealand the local accent is very similar to the British accent. In fact the Australian and New Zealand accents could be considered regional variations of the British accent. Just like in Scotland, the most ‘well-spoken’ Australians and New Zealanders speak with an accent close to the standard British accent, so you should too.
the most ‘well-spoken’ Australians and New Zealanders speak with an accent close to the standard British accent, so you should too.
In America and Canada the accent is a little further from the British accent. This is because North America has been populated by immigrants from all over Europe, most of whom have been speakers of languages other than English. To put it bluntly, the American accent is the result of generations of people speaking English badly!
Of course, there is no objective way of defining a ‘good’ accent or a ‘bad’ accent. American English is ubiquitous thanks to the success of American popular culture. Nevertheless, even if you live in North America, or mix with a lot of North American people, you should aspire to speak with a British accent. This is because, even in the USA, the British accent is considered the highest-status, most sophisticated accent.
As anthropologist Professor Gary Ferraro writes,
“Perhaps the accent that carries the highest status in the United States is not from the United States at all, but from the United Kingdom. The so-called British accent is associated – often erroneously – with high levels of charm, sophistication, wealth, and education.”
This sentiment is evident in the characters Fraiser and Niles Crane in the American sitcom ‘Fraiser’. Both characters are obsessed with appearing cultured and sophisticated, and both speak with accents quite close to the standard British accent. (This is particularly true for the character Niles. The actor who plays him (David Hyde Pierce) speaks with a more ‘American’ accent in real life.)
even in the USA, the British accent is considered the highest-status, most sophisticated accent. Again, the most well-spoken Americans speak with an accent that is relatively close to the British accent.
The Foundational Accent
By learning the British accent you are learning a foundational accent that is at the heart of all accents everywhere in the English-speaking world. Through learning this accent you will gain the deepest possible understanding of the phonetics of English. Learning British pronunciation is like looking at the world in white light; learning any other accent is like looking at the world through tinted glasses, and each accent is a different shade.
by learning the British accent you are learning a foundational accent that is at the heart of all accents everywhere in the English-speaking world
Can you Really Learn a British Accent?
Ultimately, unless you have grown up in the UK it is extremely unlikely that you will ever be able to convince native English speakers that you are actually British, as even the tiniest trace of your original accent will reveal that you are not. However, with training you can develop a characteristically British way of speaking that is pleasant and attractive, and sounds sophisticated and educated. This should be your goal. Moreover, accent training will improve your aural comprehension: your ability to understand others.
I hope you've enjoyed reading this post. Take care.
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