British English vs American English

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Once in a while, we get asked questions about accents and pronunciation: How do I improve my pronunciation? How can I speak more clearly? Should I change my accent?

When I was first exposed to the Mancunian accent as a child in Manchester (a city in the north west of England), I remember how surprised I was at how “different” it sounded to my Malaysian ears! It didn’t sound at all like the British actors on TV! It also did not sound at all like American English. 

Nevertheless, I longed to acquire it (learn it) so that I could feel a sense of belonging. Then when I returned to Malaysia, my Malaysian university friends told me my accent sounded “so British”. 

After a few years of studying linguistics at a Malaysian university, I grew convinced that the clearest English accent was the Received Pronunciation (spoken by the British royal family as well as actors in period movies).  Other names for that accent are “the Queen’s English”, “BBC English” and “Southern Standard British English.” 

The modern variety, on the other hand, is known as the Modern RP accent. Many people, not just in the south east of England, speak with this accent, including actors like Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliffe and Emilia Clarke. Modern RP is also considered to be the most neutral accent. 

It’s interesting to point out that many English dictionaries still refer to RP as the standard reference to the British English accent.  Thus, many English teachers around the world (including in Malaysia) are taught the British English RP way of speaking, even though there are other British English accents such as Cockney, Georgie, Scouse, and General Northern English accents.

So what about American English? Is that another accent? American English is also mentioned alongside RP in English dictionaries. It is spoken by Americans in general, even though they too have a variety of accents. (And this should be another long blog post in the future.)

But it was while I was teaching at two local universities that I realised that many of my students prefer American English over British English (much to the dismay of my fellow British-trained Malaysian English teachers!).  It was the exposure to American pop culture that made American English sound so casual, “cool” and familiar to the youths’ ears. 

So what are the differences between British English and American English? Are they so different, and, if so, in what way? I explore this and more with my guest, Syeela Dzul, in these two episodes below. 

You can also listen to these episodes on SpotifyApple Podcasts or Google Podcasts.

Syeela Dzul is a friend from university and an English communication trainer based in Klang Valley. Having grown up in the United States, she is familiar with the American accent. In these two episodes, we talked about the vocabulary and pronunciations differences. Mind you, it was difficult for me to mimic her American accent! Make sure you give it a go can have a go!

As you listen to this episode, please understand that your accent tells a unique story about you: your heritage, education, background, influences, exposure and more. Sometimes a person may have a mixed accent, which can mean that this individual has grown up with many influences. Sometimes a person’s accent may change over the years in order to adapt or blend with the environment.

So I hope you will appreciate your own accent and work on improving the clarity of your speech. Find out which sounds are difficult for you so that you can sound clear and fluent. You do not even need to sound British or American at all!

Enjoy these two episodes and I’ll see you in the next blog post!

Have a  “louve-leh” day everybody!

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Hi there!

We’re Azimah, Amnah and Aisya from Malaysia. We created My English Matters as an online platform to help people improve their English.

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