American or British? Which Accent is Better?

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In this episode of the podcast, I’m answering a question that we often get:

“Which accent is better? American or British? Should I adopt an American accent? Or should I develop a British accent?”

Listen to the episode here.

You can also listen to this episode on SpotifyApple Podcasts or Google Podcasts.

Let’s take a look at what an accent is.

An accent refers to the way a person pronounces words in a particular language. Accents can vary widely among individuals and groups, and can be influenced by factors such as geography, cultural background, and social environment.

Take my own accent for example.

If I were to describe it, I’d say it’s generally British with hints of Mancunian, as I spent most of my childhood in Manchester, England.

But my accent isn’t exactly pure British or Mancunian, either. This is because when I came back to my native country of Malaysia, I had to tone down the Manchester accent because people often didn’t understand me, as my accent was quite unusual among the locals here.

I’d say something like, “Can you pass me that bottle of wo-uh [water],” to a classmate, for example, and they’d usually say, “Huh? What?”

So after enough instances of being met with a confused reaction whenever I spoke, I started pronouncing my words in a more “neutral” sounding accent, articulating each sound more clearly and precisely.

Another thing I did to neutralise my accent was to start pronouncing the “r” sound in words like “car” and “park.”

Now, doing this can give your accent a more American sound, as one of the most noticeable differences in American and British accents is what’s called “rhoticity”.

American English is generally rhotic, meaning speakers pronounce the “r” sound in words like “car” and “park.” In contrast, many varieties of British English are non-rhotic, so the “r” sound is not pronounced in certain contexts.

So, basically, my accent really is all over the place, and it reflects my culturally mixed background. It’s something that is unique to me, just as yours is unique to you.

So that’s why I believe there’s no such thing as a “bad” accent.

I don’t think any accent is superior to other accents, as long as the speaker enunciates clearly enough for other people to understand.

Because the point of language, at its core, is to serve as a tool for communication, allowing us to convey ideas, thoughts, emotions, and information to others. If putting on a thick British accent when you’re in Malaysia, for instance, makes it difficult for other people to understand you, then that would just cause other issues, wouldn’t it?

Of course, societal attitudes and biases can play a significant role in shaping perceptions of different accents. Stereotypes, prejudices, and unconscious biases may cause some people to prefer certain accents over others based on factors such as race, ethnicity, or social class.

But while perceptions of accents can be deeply ingrained in society, often reflecting historical power dynamics and social hierarchies, I believe it’s important to recognise that all accents are equally valid. 

Placing certain accents above others can perpetuate inequality and reinforce outdated notions of social hierarchies. Embracing linguistic diversity not only enriches our understanding of language but also fosters inclusivity and respect for cultural differences.

I believe challenging these stereotypes and promoting inclusive language attitudes are important steps towards building a more equitable and harmonious society.

The only accent I would consider “bad” is one that sounds forced or unnatural.

This is one reason why I wouldn’t recommend people to “fake” an accent. Because faking an accent requires you to focus too much on how you sound, and this can be distracting for both you and the listener, and can affect your connection with your audience and cause you to lose focus on the message you want to convey.

It can also make you come across as disingenuous, or “fake”.

A natural accent is one that doesn’t require you to think about it. It’s just how you naturally sound.

Of course, you can develop a new accent, but that often takes years and years of exposure to the desired accent and a LOT of practice.

Even actors who’ve been professionally trained to put on accents for films and TV shows don’t always get it right.

Native speakers can often spot a “fake” or “put on” accent, and it can be quite distracting to the person listening.

So if you were to ask me which accent you should learn to level up your English, I’d say focus instead on clear pronunciation.

Here are some things you can do to improve your pronunciation.

  • Take note of the words that people often don’t catch when you say them, and identify the individual sounds in those words that are challenging for you.
  • Use pronunciation guides like online dictionaries to practise clear and correct pronunciation.
  • Record yourself speaking, and listen to the recordings to identify areas for improvement.
  • You can also work on the rhythm and stress patterns in your speech in order to sound more fluent. Practice placing stress on the correct syllables in words and sentences.
  • Another way to improve your pronunciation is to ask for feedback from friends or family members. They can provide valuable insights by helping you to identify where you sound unclear.
  • You can also try dictating to your phone. Instead of typing your texts, use your phone’s speech recognition technology to convert your spoken words into text. For example, if you use messaging apps like WhatsApp, simply tap the microphone button on your keyboard and speak. Your phone will transcribe your speech into written text, allowing you to review and identify any inaccuracies. This process enables you to pinpoint areas where the speech recognition technology may have misinterpreted your pronunciation, providing valuable feedback for improvement.

Remember, improving your pronunciation is a gradual process, and it’s okay to have an accent that reflects your cultural background and identity.

While you may have some control over your accent through deliberate practice and exposure, accents are also shaped by personal background, linguistic history, and individual speech patterns.

The goal is to improve clarity and communication while maintaining your unique voice.

So that’s all from me in this week’s episode of the My English Matters podcast. I hope you found it enlightening. Until next time!

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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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