This article focuses on “Received Pronunciation” (RP), the stereotypical British accent mainly spoken in the south of England, and exaggerated by the upper classes, sometimes described as “the Queen’s English”. There are greatly differing accents across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and for a more regional or “authentic” accent, it’s best to choose one particular area, and try to learn how to mimic that accent instead. Adopting British mannerisms while speaking will also help for authenticity. This study of RP is concerned largely with pronunciation, while the study of the standard language is also concerned with matters such as correct grammar, more formal vocabulary and style.
1. Start with the Rs
Understand that in most British accents, speakers don’t roll their Rs (except for those from Scotland, Northumbria, Northern Ireland, and parts of the West Country and Lancashire), but not all British accents are the same. For example, a Scottish accent varies greatly from an English accent. After a vowel, don’t pronounce the R, but draw out the vowel and maybe add an “uh” (Here is “heeuh”). In words like “hurry”, don’t blend the R with the vowel. Say “huh-ree”.
- In American English, words ending with “rl” or “rel” can be pronounced using either one or two syllables, completely interchangeably. This is not the case in British English. “-rl” words like “girl”, “hurl”, etc., are pronounced as one syllable with silent R, while “squirrel” is “squih-rul”, and “referral” is “re-fer-rul”.
2.Pronounce U in stupid and in duty with the ew or “you” sound.
Avoid the oo as in pronounced ; thus it is pronounced stewpid or commonly schewpid, not stoopid, etc. duty would be pronounced dewty or more often jooty. In the standard English accent, the A(for example, in father) is pronounced at the back of the mouth with an open throat—it sounds like “arh”. This is the case in pretty much all British accents, but it’s exaggerated in RP. In southern England and in RP, words such as “bath”, “path”, “glass”, “grass” also use this vowel (barth, parth, glarss, grarss, etc.). However, in other parts of Britain “bath”, “path”, etc. sound like “ah”.
3.Enunciate on heavy consonant words
Pronounce that T in “duty” as T: not as the D as doody so that duty is pronounced dewty or a softer jooty. Pronounce the suffix -ing with a strong G. This way it sounds like -ing rather than -een. But sometimes it is shortened to in as in lookin.
- The words human being are pronounced hewman being or yooman been in certain areas, though it could be pronounced hewman bee-in.
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4. Sometimes drop the Ts
With some accents, including cockney accents, Ts aren’t pronounced in words where Americans use D to replace it. However, there is usually a short pause or “hiccup” in its place. So “battle” might be pronounced ba-ill but it would be a rare occasion to find someone saying “Ba-ill” catching the air behind the back of the tongue at the end of the first syllable before expelling it on the pronunciation of the second syllable. This is known as the glottal stop. use glottal stops, too, for words like “mittens” and “mountain”. It’s just that British use them more often.
5. Observe that some words are pronounced as written.
The word “herb” should be pronounced with an H sound. The word “been” is pronounced “bean”, rather than “bin” or “ben”. For RP, “Again” and “renaissance” are pronounced like “a gain” and “run nay seance”, with the “ai” as in “pain”, not “said.” The words ending in “body” are pronounced as written, like “anybody”, not “any buddy.” But use a British short O sound.
6.Observe that H is not always pronounced
The “H” is pronounced in the word “herb,” in contrast erb. However, in many British accents, the H at the beginning of a word is often omitted, such as in many Northern accents and the Cockney accent.
7. Say “bean,” not “bin” for the word been
In an American accent, this is often pronounced been. In an English accent, been is a common pronunciation, but “bin” is more often heard in the casual speech where the word isn’t particularly stressed.
8. Notice that two or more vowels together may prompt an extra syllable
For example, the word “road” would usually be pronounced rohd, but in Wales and with some people in Northern Ireland it might be pronounced ro.ord. Some speakers may even say “reh-uud.”
9. Listen to the “music” of the language
All accents and dialects have their own musicality. Pay attention to the tones and emphasis of British speakers. Sir Johnathan Ive is a good example, listen to his accent at Apple revealings. Do sentences generally end on a higher note, the same, or lower? How much variation is there in tone throughout a typical sentence? There is a huge variation between regions with tonality. British speech, especially RP, usually varies much less within a sentence than American English, and the general tendency is to go down slightly towards the end of a phrase. However, Liverpool and north-east England are notable exceptions!
10.Get a British person to say well-known sentences:
“How now brown cow” and “The rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain” and pay close attention. Rounded mouth vowels in words such as “about” in London are usually flattened in Northern Ireland.
11. Immerse yourself in the British culture; this means surround yourself with individuals that speak, live, walk and talk British English.
It’s the surest way to learn a British accent quickly. Soon, you’ll find yourself naturally able to speak with the variations above. Anything with a British speaker will work—try listening to the BBC (which provides free radio and television newscasts on the web) songs with British singers, or movies with British characters.