The British Accent: What Is it?

The British Isles contains an enormous amount of accents. The South West British accent sounds, to an outsider, like a totally different language to Northern Scotland, which in turn sounds totally different to a London accent. Between cities, such as Liverpool and Manchester, there are enormous differences. And within cities there are huge differences too, such as between a South, North, or East London accent.

So a more appropriate question might be – which British accent are we teaching you?

Received Pronunciation

Our tutors can teach lots of different accents, but we focus on one in particular: Received Pronunciation. That’s the accent that you’ll hear most often on the BBC, from newsreaders, and often from top politicians.

Received Pronuncation, or RP, is the British Accent that people think of when they think “British”. It’s the accent spoken by Emma Watson and Colin Firth, and it has a reputation among accent specialists as being very clear, precise, and commanding.

Is Received Pronunciation Posh?

Bear in mind that RP is not the accent of the Queen, or of the English Royals. They have their own particular accent, which is often called Heightened RP. Our tutors can teach this accent, but it’s not the accent we recommend for everyday use.

RP is sometimes called a ‘neutral’ accent – the British Accent which says the least about where you are from. People who speak in RP are said to speak almost ‘without an accent’, or ‘are just speaking properly’. The RP accent is certainly very clear, very precise, and fairly neutral – without the posh connotations of a heightened accent.

What Makes Each Accent Different?

A few things distinguish each British accent, as they do with all accents. The first is the way that each accents treats the sounds of English. The English language has 26 letters, but over 52 sounds; in other words, 52 ways of saying those combinations of letters. These sounds have their own alphabet, called the phonetic alphabet, which is what we use to teach.

For instance, the ‘oh’ sound in ‘dog’; an American speaker would treat this vowel very differently to an RP speaker. The ‘ur’ in ‘nurse’; for Liverpudlian speakers becomes more like a long ‘eh’. So each accent has its own way of looking at the sounds of English; changing some, and flattening others.

The second is the general placement of the accent. Each accent can be said to have a focal point in the mouth and throat. Some accents feel more toothy. Some feel more in the back of the throat. Some British accents feel more nasal. Working out where each accent sits in the mouth affects every vowel you say, and every consonant you pronounce.

The British RP accent is very frontal, sitting at the front of the mouth and moving the lips and tongue smoothly and firmly. It’s clear, neutral, and confident – and it’s only 52 sounds away.