A question I am often asked is which accent should I learn – American or British or Australian?
Students often say ‘I’ve learnt an American accent and now I live in the UK, should I focus on changing to a UK accent?’ or ‘I’ve lived in Canada for 2 years and I’ve moved to Australia, will the locals understand me?’
My answer is that it doesn’t really matter whether your accent is UK, US or Australian. Speakers from these groups all understand each other very easily. Having an accent from any of these groups will not cause you to be unclear to anyone.
If people are sometimes misunderstanding you, it is more likely to be because of the accent influence from your first language (eg Chinese, Spanish, Russian, Thai etc). Foreign accents can cause problems with being easily understood.
In summary my take-home message is:
It doesn’t matter what accent you have as long as you can be easily understood by others.
Please read more details on this below.
The first thing to realise is that if you began speaking English after you turned about 11 years old you will always have a foreign accent. So 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 first. The American, British or Australian quality is usually not as obvious, nor is it likely to cause any problems with being understood.
The second thing to note is that when native speakers from these countries (UK, US or Australia) listen to each other they have no problems understanding each other. Generally speaking we understand each other very easily.
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.
In other English speaking countries like Australia, NZ or UK we understand the American accent easily – thanks to all their movies and TV!
The only word I suggest people change and make more British / Australian and don’t pronounce with an American accent is the word ‘can’t’. If you pronunce this with an American accent in the UK or Australia, people often assume you have said ‘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 accents here: http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/can-t?q=can%27t
Also, check you are making a long vowel /a:/ in ‘can’t’, not the short vowel /ʌ/ like in ‘cut’. If you use the short vowel /ʌ/ in ‘can’t’ it will sound like a very bad swear word in English….. : )
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. So what’s important is to make sure you 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 – number 1 priority is CLARITY!
Of course there are people who are already clear and want to perfect their spoken English and sound more like a native English speaker. Basically they want a more neutral or more ‘English’ sounding accent. That is a matter of personal choice.
Our 15 week online course will help you be easily understood by listeners, whether you live in the UK, the US or Australia. The areas we help you correct are important for speakers of all types of English.
Whether you want to be more clear or you want to reduce your accent – a Star Pronunciation Course will help you achieve your goal.