Depending upon where you learn English, there may be a greater tendency to teach a British vs. American accent, or vice versa. However, this may differ from your own personal experience with English, and what you’re most likely to use and hear. We took a closer look at which accent and pronunciation you probably want to focus on when learning English, and why. Be sure to read our English Pronunciation Guide if this is a topic that interests you.
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English is one of the most widely spoken first and second languages in the world. English-language movies and series, music, research, and more are all prolific and consumed in countries all around the world. It’s also an essential language for business and is often a lingua franca — the one everybody uses when nobody speaks the same language. There are many English-speaking countries, including Canada, South Africa, Australia and Ireland. Although most language classes and learners focus on just two main accents: English and American. This is because, unless you’re living in an English-speaking country with its own accent, most of the English you’ll encounter when traveling, watching TV, or listening to music will be one of those two. This article focuses on which of these accents is probably best for you – a language learner – to adopt.
First of all, it’s important to understand that there is no one “British” accent. In fact, there are many different accents that can be found in the United Kingdom. What’s most commonly called an “English” accent is actually called “Received Pronunciation.” It corresponds more or less to a London accent. It’s what you’re most likely to hear in blockbuster films. And if you live in Europe, to have learned in school.
The difference between English accents can be quite pronounced (pun intended ;-)). The Liverpool accent differs greatly from the Welsh accent or from the Scottish accent. Even native English speakers from different places can sometimes have a difficult time understanding each other because of how severely the accents differ.
In a nutshell, the “British” accent is in fact… many different English accents! To give you an idea, a British native gives a demonstration of seventeen different accents in the video below:
First, by “American accent,” we mean the widely spoken general accent, characteristic of the US Midwest. This “neutral” American English accent is the most widely used in the world, but especially in cinema, TV series, and music. Compared to British English, American English is far more present on the international scene, as many political and business exchanges take place in this context.
Of course, you’ll hear very particular accents in certain regions, like the long, southern drawl associated with Texas, or the sharp, angular accent of “New Yaak” (i.e., New York), but these are extreme cases. There’s no doubt that differences exist between states, but they are minimal. Most Americans have no trouble whatsoever understanding each other, and if you learn a Midwest American accent, you’ll be able to understand New Yorkers and Bostonians, Texans and Californians.
To give you a more solid understanding of the differences between American vs. British accents, check out the video below:
In the video below, MosaLingua’s English teacher Abbe goes over some pros and cons of each accent (British vs. American) to help you make your choice between them. Watch it on our YouTube channel, or right here. The video is, of course, in English, but you can turn on subtitles and slow the speed if you need them. Just click the Settings icon ⚙️ at the bottom-right of the video.
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As Abbe mentioned in the video, and as we often say at MosaLingua, we have a slight preference for the American accent. Although not all our English teachers are American, we agree it is usually a more natural and useful accent to learn. Here’s why:
- American English is more widely used as a second language around the world, especially in South America and Europe. American films, TV series, and music are prolific and widely consumed all around the world. You no doubt listen to American English far more frequently than British English. If you don’t believe us, hop on Netflix or your favorite streaming site and take a look at the number of American vs. British shows and movies.
- You’ll have an easier time finding an American language partner to speak with than a British one, for one very simple reason: Americans far outnumber Brits. The United States has a population of about 325 million, and the United Kingdom about 65 million. And, as we’ve already mentioned, second-language English speakers tend to speak American English as well.
- Finally, as we already mentioned, American English doesn’t vary as much as British English does. The number of British accents, and the severity with which they vary, is far greater than for American accents. Scottish and Welsh accents are extremely different, and can be incomprehensible to somebody from London, but most American accents are very similar. It’s a safer bet.
Of course, if you have an affinity for the British accent, by all means, learn it! If you’re planning on traveling to England, for example, it will be far more useful for you to learn the British accent. You can work on your pronunciation by watching British films and TV series or speaking with a British conversation partner.
Just know that, one way or the other, you’ll eventually have to make a decision. Certain terms differ significantly between American and British English. For example, Americans say an elevator and Brits say a lift. Try this one: pants exist in both dialects, but in the US it means trousers while in British English, it more likely means underwear! If your goal is simply to be understood by as many people as possible, though, we do recommend the American accent.
To learn the American accent, you’ll want to get as much exposure to it as much as possible. Fortunately, with the wide range of resources at your disposal, this shouldn’t be a problem. Next, we recommend speaking it as soon as you can. Listen, imitate, speak, and you’re good to go.
Of course, at MosaLingua, we’re convinced of the importance of keeping learning fun. If you take pleasure in learning, and make sure to keep it interesting, you’ll learn much more easily and quickly.
In this section, we’ll take a closer look at the best way to go about learning the American accent.
It may seem obvious, but the simplest way to start learning the American accent is by listening to it frequently. And there’s no better way to do that than to watch a movie or TV show. By watching TV series and movies in American English, you’ll train your ear, and with it your pronunciation. Subconsciously, and quite quickly, your accent will start to improve on its own. Just make sure you’re making a good habit of it, and doing it regularly and frequently.
Here’s another great technique: there are a ton of great audiobooks out there so you can listen to your favorite stories narrated in American English.
It’s a classic mistake when learning a language with multiple accents to start memorizing words and phrases without paying attention to which pronunciation you’re using. The problem is that you can quickly build up bad habits, which are difficult to break later on. That’s why in the MosaLingua English app we focus on providing users with recordings by native American speakers for each flashcard. (Although if you are learning UK English, we make sure to give you the vocab for both!) One of our exercises consists of listening to and repeating words out loud, a great way to work on pronunciation. This way, memorization of new words and their pronunciation goes hand-in-hand; you can’t learn one without learning the other. And that will help you avoid mispronouncing even the hardest words to say in English.
This is a particularly important point for beginners. If you already have a good (intermediate) level of English, but feel like your pronunciation could use some improvement, don’t worry. It may take a little longer to correct any habits you’ve picked up, but you can certainly relearn and perfect pronunciation. As they say, “Practice makes perfect.”
Each accent has its own characteristics, rhythm, prosody or musicality, and its own particular way of pronouncing letters and letter combinations. Make sure you’re paying attention to these details when learning an American accent.
You’ll find a lot of helpful resources for this on our YouTube channel, and in particular our playlist on English pronunciation. There are many different examples of how to improve bit by bit. Paired with shadowing and repetition, you can rapidly improve your accent.
Of course, to perfect an American accent, you’ll need to speak with Americans! There are many ways to find a conversation partner to help you improve your pronunciation, and you can make great strides by simply listening to and speaking with a native speaker. Talking to other language learners is a fantastic way to share your passion and make great strides in your target language.
It can be hard to change your accent. But it’s easier when you realize that your first goal shouldn’t be to sound like a 100% native American speaker. This is a difficult goal to attain for even the most advanced language learners (of course, it makes a great long-term goal for way down the road!)
The aim is to use the American accent as a model and to try to get your pronunciation as close to it as you can. The best way to approach this is as a game or challenge, and to have fun. In fact, there’s a fun and surprisingly effective technique called shadowing, in which you repeat phrases that you’ve listened to when watching a TV show or movie (or listening to a podcast or the radio), and try to sound exactly like the actor or speaker. Give it a try the next time you watch an American movie.
Sometimes, a little direction and structure can go a long, long way. That’s certainly the case with learning a new language and perfecting your pronunciation. We designed our Speak English with Confidence MasterClass for just this goal. It gives you access to a huge number of resources, exercises, and videos, across 10 learning modules. And, of course, we teach our MasterClass in American English.
It may seem paradoxical, but this can actually be very helpful. Not only will it make it easier for you to understand English speakers from around the world, but sometimes the best way to understand an accent is to listen to what it’s not. But most of all, it opens new doors for you. If you want to go to Liverpool, learning the accent will certainly make it easier to understand people, and it’s a great way to get introduced to a new culture.
However, in your training and practicing sessions, be sure to stay focused on one and only one English accent. If possible, make it the American accent.
For more info about English accents and pronunciation, we recommend the following articles:
- 7 ways to reduce your accent and sound more American
- How to improve your accent and sound like a native in any language
- Why is speaking English so difficult for non-natives?
We hope that this article has helped you understand why we suggest that our users learn the American accent. Best of luck with your learning journey!