logologo
21
NOV
2014

Which is the MOST correct English accent? (with video!)

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!

Comments

comments

April is an e-marketing specialist, English instructor and freelance writer living in Grenoble, France.
  1. English_Tutor100 Reply

    Will Harper TEFL
    HURRAY! I’m “TOP 1%” YouTube To view our teachers’ video introductions http://youtube.com/user/EnglishTutor100

    Well, first of all, as your source article implies, “accents” are regional or social. What you should be asking – and the unanswered question among all English-speakers – is… What is the perfect dialect?

    Actually, neither of those are important. THE ABSOLUTE BEST “ACCENT’ AND “DIALECT” is …. NO ACCENT! But that doesn’t exist in the real world.

    I am the contact for a group of 18 (and growing) highly skilled native American, British, New Zealand and Australian English speaking online ESL/EFL English tutors.

    All of our teachers are selected (and/or not selected) based upon their having NO strong regional accents. The best criterion is clear, understandable speech, and a comfortable tempo and rhythm.

    As your source article says, “it’s all English”. We all understand each other. There are a few problems:

    Vocabulary – each regional accent and each dialect will typically choose a different vocabulary word for a specific intent. That’s no problem, if the speaker and the listener both speak English natively. Your article provides a solution to any issues – understanding the context.

    Idiomatic expressions – Our solution is simple. Non-native speakers should NEVER try to use idiomatic expressions, when speaking English. If the non-native speaker always uses the perfect English that they already know, there will be no problems. For listening to native speakers,using idiomatic expressions, the same rule can be applied. The listener can understand the meaning, from the context.

    Speakers with strong regional accents – these can be the most problematic. Native speakers NEVER TRY to imitate the regional accent of the listener. We usually understand each other, again, simply by listening to the context. Even within native English speakers, there can still be problems. For example, American English speakers may have a great deal of difficulty in listening to a native English speaker from the north of England or Scotland – and they, in turn, may have problems listening to a strong southern US or New England US accent.

    The best conclusion, therefore, is to speak with NO accent. (Admittedly, an impossibility – but a good goal to strive for.)

    • admin Reply

      What about the idea of having students hear all accents to improve understanding?

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