The English language has many accents, which vary according to country, region, and even social group. Should we deliberately choose one of the many English accents and stick to it?
Choosing an accent
We’ve all been there: after many years of studying English as a foreign language, there comes a time when we realise we prefer a certain accent over the others. Sometimes our choice is heavily influenced by location: someone moving to the U.S. would probably try to follow the American accent instead of a British one. Other times, it just depends on personal taste.
Realising that we have our own preference between two different English accents brings up an interesting question: “Why is American English so different from British English in the first place?” This is one of the most frequently asked questions among learners and native speakers: “Aren’t they the same language?”
Languages change over time
Languages are not immutable; they change over time, but we only notice these changes when we look back. Think about how different your great-grandmother’s vocabulary is from your own, and how different Shakespeare’s works sound in comparison with modern English.
The language that the British took to North America in the early 16th century was quite different from today’s British English, so it’s true that not only the North American English changed over the centuries. There were changes on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, as this cool little video from The Seeker Daily explains:
So the changes that took place have made American English and British English quite different from one another. They are the same language, but they are also not the same language – more or less like twins separated at birth, who were raised in different countries and had entirely different lifestyles — but who still look like twins.
There are accents within the accents
One problem when deciding which accent to follow is that a country’s accent is not uniform: ask an American if a person from New York and another from North Carolina speak the same variation of English and they will certainly say that these two have very distinct regional accents.
The same thing happens anywhere else in the world! Think about how easily you can distinguish the regional accents in your own country, and how you can link that particular accent with a certain state or region.
So it’s pretty safe to say that what we call an “American accent” or “British accent” are in fact two collections of regional accents, making things a bit more complicated for English learners.
Which one of the many English accents should I choose?
Given the wide variety of English accents to choose from, how do we decide which one to pick? Should we choose a specific regional accent?
Well, not necessarily. If you happen to live in an English-speaking country, it makes sense to try your best to speak like a local; but, if like so many other learners, you happen to be working on your English skills in your home country, maybe you shouldn’t focus so much on learning one specific accent.
The benefits of getting acquainted with different variants of English are many: you can expand your vocabulary, improve your listening skills and have a deeper understanding of the cultural differences between countries.
What about proficiency exams? Do they prefer one specific accent?
This is a frequent question among VoiceTubers and learners of English everywhere. And the answer is no, proficiency tests like TOEFL, TOEIC and IELTS do not expect the candidates to have one specific accent! What matters is that your pronunciation is clear and your sentences are grammatically correct and used in the right circumstances.
[ctt template=”1″ link=”IkT1x” via=”no” ]An #EnglishTip from @voicetube: English proficiency exams like #TOEFL & #IELTS do not require you to have one specific accent![/ctt]
Valuable accent tips
Do you want to practice different accents? Follow our tips!
- Look for videos where the same person tries to imitate different accents — like this one or this one. Listen to the video with your eyes closed; can you guess where each accent is from?
- Check out the accent feature at VoiceTube. When browsing any channel, you can select the accent you prefer: American, British, Australian and others.
- Try to imitate a specific accent. Practice it a couple of times, then ask your friends if they can recognise the accent.