5 British Dialects and How English Learners Can Tell Them Apart

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Topics: British Dialects and Accents

Learning English can be difficult if your native tongue is not a Romance or Germanic language.

It may take you awhile to distinguish your “boos” from your “booze” and “to write” from “too right”, but learning English is a marathon not a sprint.

Apart from words that sound the same but are spelled differently (homophones) English will soon throw you another curveball.

Accents & British Dialects

A common problem for English learners is that not everybody speaks English the same way, and there is a plethora of regional accents.

If you watch any amount of television, you’ve probably heard a few British dialects first-hand.

Here are a few tips to help you recognize which British regional accent you are listening to and which area of the UK it originates from.

Queen’s English/London

This is the typical accent heard by non-British people and ESL students on TV. It is the standard boilerplate accent that is used in Hollywood films and most of the media content broadcast out of England.

Those speaking the “Queen’s English” will tend to enunciate very clearly for every word that they say. For example, “January” will be pronounced “Jan-you-air-ree” making sure that every syllable is enunciated. Most people will skip this and shorten the word to “Jan-u-ree”.

Planning to prepare an ESL curriculum? Check this article for useful tips.

Liverpool

Residents who live in this city, famous for the Beatles, have a very distinct way of speaking English known as “Scouse”.

Their accent comes through the nose and they use a long “u” sound when saying words like “book” or “cook” — “buuk” “cuuk”.

Their usage of the letter “t” changes when at the end of words, it becomes what we call fricative where the “t” is vibrated. A person from Liverpool would say “don’t” as “don-‘tttt” instead of stopping short with just “doh-nt”.

Northern Ireland

The northern Irish accent is quite a strong one with a very different rhythm than most ESL students will be accustomed to.

A common feature of this accent is their ability to turn “o” sounds into an “oi” sound. Take for example “cow”. In the northern Irish accent this will be uttered “coy” in the same way “now” will evolve into “noy”.

Manchester

Home to the globally famous soccer club Manchester United, this city has an accent that is arguably easier to understand than other northern cities’ British dialects.

Mancunians (the colloquial term for residents in Manchester) express their “a” sounds as an “ah” instead of an “ar”. For instance, the word “last” will be vocalized as “lah-st” rather than “lar-st”. We see this again where “past” is articulated as “pah-st” instead of “par-st”.

Yorkshire

Located again in the north of England, the occupants in this town are very easily identified by the “eh” sound they attribute to words that would normally end in “ee”. Rather than say “funny” as “fun-ee” they would change it to “fun-eh”. Again, “silly” would be altered from “sill-ee” to “sill-eh”.

British Dialects vs American English

English doesn’t just change regionally, but also internationally.  The difference between American English and British English is a good example.

There are small, slight differences in spelling where the British opt for using an “s” and Americans instead use a “z”. For example, recognize & recognize, and customize & customize.

There are also many cultural differences that worm their way into the language. British people live in flats while Americans live in apartments. British people will go on holiday while Americans will take a vacation.

It may seem impossible to distinguish where a speaker is from. , With practice and exposure it gets easier.


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6 COMMENTS

  1. The spelling of recognize and customize didn’t change and I believe it failed to show the difference in spelling between American and British English.

    • Yes, I noticed that, too. Also, I would like to actually hear a Mancunian say “last” and “past”. It mentions that they say “lah-st” and not “lar-st” (as if /ar/ sound is the norm) and “pah-st” and not “par-st”. Who (which dialect) actually says these two words with the /ar/ sound for /a/? Is it other British accents that use this sound?

  2. Totally agree. Makes teaching English fun. Of course English is not the only language that has these variations. Spanish, for example, also has a similar accent, different words and word meaning variation as well depending on the region. In fact, the alphabet can even vary. There’s an official alphabet from Spain, but the alphabet varies from one curriculum to another.

  3. Noah Webster’s Spelling Reform
    Noah Webster was struck by the inconsistencies of English spelling and the obstacles it presented to learners (young and old alike) and resented that American classrooms were filled only with British textbooks. The spelling reform featured in his first dictionary, A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language, was based on the author’s combined vision of logic and aesthetics. He changed the –ce in words like defence, offence, and pretence to –se; abandoned the second, silent “l” in verbs such as travel and cancel when forming the past tense; dropped the “u” from words such as humour and colour; and dropped the “k” from words such as publick and musick. The “publick” readily accepted many of these changes and just as readily rejected some of the others.

    His spelling books with American Revolutionary English is still available on AMAZON

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