Choosing between a British and American accent

Learn languages November 17, 2014

Every learner of English faces the decision at some point: do I want an American accent or a British accent? Hollywood glamour or London sophistication? Wolf of Wall Street or Downing Street?

Decisions, decisions…

Of course, there are more important factors when choosing where to study English, but people make judgements based on accents, so don’t underestimate the difference that choosing your English accent will make!

Option 1: the American accent

The most popular English accent of them all. Spread around the world by American cinema, music, television and more than 350 million North Americans (including Canadians, eh), this is the easiest accent for most people to understand, whether native speakers or non-native speakers.

There is something inherently glamourous about the American accent: why do you think almost all singers – even Brits – adopt an American accent when singing?

(Listen to the difference when Adele talks and sings)

The accents of North America are less varied than Britain’s accents, but there are still some distinctive varieties, with Boston, New York and the South being particularly noticeable.

What an American accent says about you

Travelled and international, you are just as comfortable in the biggest cities as on a ranch. You consume global culture, know the latest trends and keep up with what’s going on around you. You will be understood around the world.

For: The number one global form of English, understood by the most people worldwide.

Against: The number one global form of English, understood by the most people worldwide… isn’t that just a little bit boring?

Option 2: the British accent

Just what is the British accent? Is it this:

Or this:

Or, most likely, something like this:
…and all of these are just from England. Visit Scotland, Wales and Ireland/Northern Ireland and the accents will be very different again.

Most people probably associate the British accent with the English of the BBC, which is supposed to be a neutral form, but in reality resembles the English of the wealthier middle classes in the counties around London. This is also the standard accent for the supervillain in Hollywood movies.

What a British accent says about you

You understand tradition, enjoy the finer things in life and probably listen to good music. You are plugged into the tradition of conversation and give the impression of being well educated.

For: Sophisticated, respected and often considered the sexiest English accent.

Against: Less understood globally, potential to sound a little snobby.

Option 3: Aussie/Kiwi/South African

Australians and New Zealanders like to tease each other about many things, including accents.

Kiwis teasing Aussies:

Aussies teasing Kiwis:

Meanwhile the South African accent has a unique and distinctive twang:

These accents are less instantly recognisable than the North American and British accents, but each is distinctive in its own right. Interestingly, the Aussie/Kiwi tendency to rise in pitch at the end of a sentence (known as the High Rising Terminal, and used in many languages to signal a question) has spread to other varieties of English.

What these accents say about you

Leave the British and American accents to the masses. You have chosen your own path, gone south of the Equator and experienced another way of life.

For: Individuality. Rucksack on your back, you have been on an adventure.

Against: People may talk to you about cricket, so be prepared!

Option 4: the Chameleon

You pick up an American accent when talk to Americans, an Australian accent with the Aussies, and a British accent with the Brits (and anyone you want to charm).

What this says about you

Flexible, communicative but hard to pin down. A citizen of the globalized world and truly versatile.

For: Demonstrates your skill with English, makes your conversation partner comfortable.

Against: Who are you? Who are you really? Do you even know any more?

What’s your favourite accent: American, British or something else entirely?

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

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By Océane Tache

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