So many English students have asked me the same question: What is “correct” English really?
Which accent or vocabulary is the best one to learn?
Which type of English vocabulary and accent is the most correct of them all?
Opinions vary widely on this topic, with most native speakers taking pride in their own version of the language. Many people say that American English is more respected in the business world. Yet Americans are known to think of British speakers as trusthworty and intelligent. Tensions can mount quickly on this topic if you speak with an Oxford man, as Oxford English is widely accepted as being the global reference for “Standard English.”
But that doesn’t mean that the millions of people who are not speaking Oxford English are wrong! On the contrary!
From Nigeria to Singapour, Jamaica to Ireland, the English language is spoken the world over. There are hundreds of different dialects and accents that exist, but most of the time native speakers can understand each other despite differences in these, as well as vocabulary. In fact, using standard English grammar and vocabulary, these variations on English can create quite a rich tapestry of sound and culture. This comes through in literature, music, theater, poetry, and all types of written and spoken art and advertising.
But… what is the difference between a dialect and an accent?
According to “Discovering English Dialects” (Wakelin, 1978), dialect is “sub-forms of languages which are, in general, mutually comprehensible”. The accent is only one element of a dialect; vocabulary would be another, for example. An accent is often defined as a pronunciation difference, however the source of these differences varies from place to place. For example, in England, accent is linked to one’s socio-economic class; whereas in the United States, accent is a much more regional phenomenon. Sometimes these differences in accent and use of local slang can make English unintelligible for a native speaker from another place!
According to Wikipedia, we can divide English into 3 different groups: North America, British Isles, and Australasia.
Isn’t that fascinating?! With that many people communicating with a language that is constantly evolving, it’s no wonder there are so many hundreds of English dialects in the world!
So how can you understand another dialect from the type of English you have learned? It’s easy!:
It’s all in the context: When you hear a word you don’t know, you can guess the meaning based on the rest of the words around it. This is how we use a situation or a context to understand a different dialect.
Watch for signals: Emotional signals such as voice volume, tone, facial expression and hand gestures will give you a plethora of clues to know what message the speaker is trying to convey.
Ask: Don’t be afraid to ask a native speaker about the meaning of a word. From country to country, there can be many words that have totally different meanings. The best way to learn is to just ask!
Watch this video for one funny example using two Scotsmen, considering that the Scottish dialect of English is difficult to understand for many native English speakers. Check it out for a good laugh!
If that happened to you when you spoke your native language, how would that make you feel?
What about these girls who discuss the differences between British and American slang. Do you know any of the words they discuss? :
Well after all that, do you still think your accent is so important?
The real answer is that there is NO SUCH THING as the “most correct” English!
But don’t tell them that in Oxford!
Have you had any experiences with different types of English in the world?
Do you have any funny stories about misunderstandings due to different vocabulary meanings in English?
We love reading your comments about your English learning experiences!