Learn How to Speak with a British Accent

Woman smiles as she holds up a large United Kingdom flag

The British accent is one of the most recognizable and distinctive accents in the English language. That being said, there are many variations in British accents, and people living outside of the United Kingdom (UK) may not know about them. The quintessential “British accent” is actually comprised of numerous accents and dialects.

In any case, both native and non-native English speakers can emulate the sounds and nuances of this accent. But what can you do to actually learn how to speak with a British accent? What techniques can you use to sound as if you were from the UK?

We will answer both of these questions and more, but first, let’s look at the geography of the British accent and examine how dialects can differ by region.

Where Do People Speak with a British Accent?

While you will likely hear people speaking with British accents in every corner of the world, the accent originates from the United Kingdom. So, those born and living in England, Scotland, and Wales all speak with some form of a British accent. However, as previously stated, these accents can vary widely by geographic location.

Different Kinds of British Accents

  • Standard British English (“received pronunciation”) – The “standard” form of British English is usually referred to as “received pronunciation” and is commonly used in Southern England.
  • Scottish English – Scottish English is spoken and taught in schools throughout Scotland.
  • Welsh English – Welsh English is spoken and taught in schools throughout Wales.
  • Cockney – Cockney is a strong dialect spoken in various parts of England that likely originated in East London.
  • Midlands English – Midlands English is an accent primarily spoken in Birmingham (usually separated into East and West Midlands English).

It is important to note that this is by no means a comprehensive list. There are dozens of unique dialects and accents in London alone, to say nothing of the rest of the UK. Nonetheless, the forms listed above are some of the most common and recognizable types of British accents.

How to Speak with a British Accent

Since the “Standard British English” of Southern England is often regarded as the quintessential British accent, this is the accent that most people want to emulate. Thankfully, there are a few key traits that are common among native speakers of that region. So, let’s look at a few tips to help you imitate their pronunciation:

  • Most “a” sounds in British English resemble the American version of “o” in words like “pot” or “dock.” (Example – “cat” -> “caht”)
  • If a word has an “r” in the last syllable, it is usually pronounced like a soft “uh” (Example – “perspire” -> “perspi-uh”). Generally, “r” is much softer and less noticeable in British English. American English is a “rhotic language,” which means that the “r” sound is fully-pronounced in most words. Alternatively, Standard British English is a non-rhotic language.
  • An “h” at the beginning of a word is usually silent. (Example – “hello” -> “ello”)
  • A long “u” has a “y” sound at the beginning, just as the letter “y” sounds in the word “you.” (Example – “stupid” -> (styupid”). Alternatively, the short “u,” like in the word “under,” sounds more like “u” in the word “put.” (Example – “under” -> “oohn-duh”)

Unique “Britishisms” (British Vocabulary)

Speaking with a British accent involves a unique vocabulary. There are dozens of words that only exist in British English, and using them will help your accent sound authentic. Let’s take a look at a few common “Britishisms” to get you started:

  • Bloke – Informal slang for “man.”
  • Cheeky – An adjective describing behavior that is slightly rude, albeit in a humorous or cute way.
  • Cheers – This can be used in a variety of situations, but it is most often used in place of “thank you” or “goodbye.”
  • Fit – An adjective to describe someone who is very attractive.
  • Gutted – An adjective to describe the feeling of extreme disappointment or dissatisfaction.
  • Knackered – The feeling of being completely exhausted.
  • Lad – A boy or young man.
  • Mate – A friend. It can also be an informal way to address strangers.
  • Rubbish – In its literal meaning, “rubbish” refers to garbage, but it can also be used to describe something that is ridiculous, bad, or untrue.
  • Cuppa – This word is short for “a cup of tea.”

British Accent Resources

While the pronunciation rules and vocabulary above will help get your British accent up and running, you will also need to listen to actual British people speaking. This is one of the best ways to pick up on the subtle nuances of the British accent. Thankfully, there are dozens of Youtube videos and channels with hosts and guests who speak with standard British accents.

Here are a few of the best ones:

If you’re still in need of more British accent resources, check out some of our Listening Resources for British English!

4 Responses to Learn How to Speak with a British Accent

  1. revolting December 10, 2020 at 9:33 am #

    I find this very insulting as i am british and this is very wrong

    • Sam Ju December 16, 2020 at 7:22 pm #

      Sorry you feel that way Eleanor. It was not obvious to me what was wrong. Would you enlighten us how you would help students sound more British?

  2. Sheila February 13, 2021 at 8:02 am #

    I think it is great! How many voice actors are there? I am not upset that Hugh Laurie or Freddie High more do an ” American accent “. They do a smashing job.😄

    • Sam Ju February 15, 2021 at 4:28 pm #

      I know! Pretty impressive stuff, isn’t it?


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