Improving your English Accent

If you’re learning English as an adult, your English accent is affected by the sounds and intonation of your first language.

For many people, accent is not important. But in some situations (i.e. if you’re working in a call centre, or with native English colleagues or clients) you might need to reduce your accent to be more easily understood.

The aspects of an accent that make the most difference (i.e. the parts of an accent that mark you as coming from a particular country or region) are in the pronunciation of individual sounds, and in the intonation (where your voice rises or falls).

A British English Accent

There are a huge range of different accents within the UK. Two of the most well-known accents (and often those you’re most likely to hear in coursebook listening exercises, or via the media such as the BBC) are Received Pronunciation (a formal accent, also known as the “Queen’s English”) and the accent from around the South East of England.

Typical features of these accents are:

– the /r/ is not pronounced at the end of syllables (although it’s pronounced when a vowel sound follows)

fire (= fai-uh)
firing ( = fai – ring)

– the /a/ in words like bath, grass, fast etc is a long sound (the same as in “art” for example)

The RP / Home Counties (the area around London) accent can be heard in wealthier places, while the traditional London (Cockney) accent affects how English is spoken in less wealthy areas. This accent is often called “Estuary English” and some typical features are:

– glottal stop (where the /t/ sound between vowels is not pronounced
(bottle becomes “boh – ul”, for example.)

– the “th” sound is pronounced as “f” or “v”

Accent reduction

Remember that it isn’t possible to completely eliminate your accent. However, there are ways that you can minimise it.

– Identify the sounds (vowels / consonants) or stress and intonation patterns that are different from a native English accent.

– Work on these areas. You might need to “relearn” the way you pronounce different sounds (i.e. not automatically adding an /h/ sound before vowels, or moving your tongue / lips to better pronounce a /t/ or /b/ sound, for example).

– Practise as much as possible. Regular listening and speaking will help you identify the areas in which your accent is very different from native English speakers, while frequent conversation will allow you to put what you learn into practice.

Pronunciation tips

1. To a native speaker, one of the biggest signs of a non-native speaker is in the intonation. Pay attention to where your voice rises and falls.

2. You’re more likely to cause misunderstanding when you speak English if you get the word stress wrong (than if you get an individual vowel / consonant sound wrong). When you learn new words, remember to look up the stress marks too, so that you know which syllables are stressed or unstressed. (See our page on using a dictionary to see how this works.)