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Different British Accents

9 min read
by
24 July, 2023
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When most non-UK people think of British accents, they often think of the posh ‘Queen’s English’. The reality is, however, that this accent isn't spoken by many British people and is generally only used by a small upper-class demographic who mostly went to elite private schools. 

The truth is that there are a lot of British accents and dialects, with one website estimating that there are around 43 distinct dialects in the UK alone – which is huge compared to the estimated six in America! 

It might sound crazy that a country so small can have so many different accents, but due to the influence of different languages and cultures, that is now the reality. In fact, towns just 20 miles apart will sometimes speak and pronounce words differently! For people new to the English language, or just new to the country, this can be tricky. Obviously, you want to learn and immerse yourself in the language so that you can improve your own skills, but it can seem hard when you don't always know what people are saying! 

Don’t worry! We’ve created a general guide to help you identify some of the most popular British accents. 

 

Standard English  

You might be thinking, well, if there are so many British accents, how do English teachers around the world know how to teach? How does anyone learn it? All students in the UK use textbooks that teach received pronunciation, which is considered standard English pronunciation and has roots in the southwestern part of England. Geographically, this area of the country is considered ‘posher’ than the rest, which is why received pronunciation is also known as the “Queen’s English” and is the posh accent that so many non-Brits associate with the country. 

 

London accents 

Upper- and middle-class areas of London generally speak a variant of received pronunciation – however, historically, those in working-class or poorer communities do not. One of the most famous London accents is the ‘cockney’, which originated from the East End of London – a historically poor and working-class area. Most cockneys drop the “h” at the beginning of words and the “r” at the end of words. So ‘heap’ becomes ‘’eap’ and ‘meter’ is pronounced ‘meetah’. 

Even though you can only be considered a true ‘cockney’ if you were born within earshot of the Bow Bells, the accent has spread and evolved within the city and is now well-known across the globe as the working-class accent of England. Since the mid-1900s, London accents diversified further due to immigration, and this blend of world accents with the traditional has created a unique sound throughout the capital and surrounding counties. 

 

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West Country accent 

West Country refers to the area at the bottom of England, including the counties of Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, City of Bristol, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire. Due to the influence of Celtic languages, including Cornish, this area has a distinct dialect and accent.   

Much like our friends in Canada and America, and unlike other areas of southern England that use received pronunciation, West Country accents are mostly rhotic, which means that the ‘r’ sound is pronounced before the consonant. 

 

Northern accents 

To a British person, the Northern accent is considered less posh than a Southern accent, but also friendlier. While the London accent is best known as the hallmark of England around the globe, the Northern accent is considered the hallmark of England within the country itself. If you travel to the UK, you will find many comedians and presenters who are Northern, as well as adverts that feature Northern people and accents. 

There are many different types of Northern accents depending on where you visit; cities such as Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, and Newcastle all have distinct accents, but one of the main features is the use of ‘oo’ instead of ‘uh’. So, instead of catching a bus, a northerner might say that they're catching a ‘boose’. 

 

Welsh accent 

Similar to the West Country accents, the Welsh accent is inspired by the Welsh language, which is still spoken by some in the country today. As a result, this Celtic language has heavily influenced the way in which people in Wales speak English. 

 

Scottish accent 

Similar to the Welsh accent, the Scottish accent is heavily influenced by Gaelic, a language that was spoken across Scotland until 1616 when it was made illegal! However, it is still spoken by some today. 

Again, this accent is rhotic, which means there are some similarities to how Canadians speak. For example, both Scottish and Canadian people use the ‘oo’ sound in place of ‘ow’, so ‘about’ may sound like ‘aboot’ and ‘house’ may sound like ‘hoose’. Or you may hear the ‘ee’ sound for ‘eh’, so ‘head’ sounds like ‘heed’. 

 

These are just some of the most popular British accents, but to really experience them for yourself, why not just come to Great Britain? Discover our great range of English schools in the UK and learn English in exciting cities including London, Edinburgh, Manchester, Liverpool and more! The possibilities are endless – head to our website today! Learn English in the United Kingdom | Kaplan International 

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