How to perfect an American or British English accent

The problem

Learning a language is one thing, but learning how to perfect a certain accent is quite another. That said, many people embark on the quest for that perfect British or American English accent.  

First steps

First of all, there is no rush. The only way you are going to be able to perfect an American or British English accent is by concentrating on the basics. Many people dream of that stereotypical American movie accent, and forget the fundamentals.

Vowel sounds

In order to try to develop a specific accent, you must first be flawless in producing the sounds used in the language. Vowel sounds are particularly important. A huge part of achieving good pronunciation in a new language is the shape of your mouth and the position of your tongue when you are speaking.

Phonetics

Let us take the word but. An American would pronounce this in a very different way to an English person. An English person would have his/her tongue far back in the mouth whereas an American would have his/her tongue forward in the mouth. This can be represented by using phonetic symbols. With American accents the phonetic transcription would be ‘bʌt’, although for an English accent the phonetic translation would be ‘bʊt’. The only difference in the sound of these two words is to do with the position of the tongue in the mouth and the shape of the mouth when the vowel sound is uttered.

Mastering these phonetic sounds as well as the symbols which represent them can help you to identify the exact sounds you should be making. This is a very good start to getting that perfect accent.

Movies

Once you are familiar with the sounds you should be producing, it will be easy to hear these being spoken in movies. You will be able to become familiar with the words which are pronounced differently and you can rewind and fast forward as you please, unlike in real life.

Get talking

Whilst attempting to improve your pronunciation and develop your desired accent it is vital to surround yourself with the language, and if possible, the accent you wish to acquire. It is widely known that developing an accent is a gradual process, so if you wish to speed up this process you must constantly surround yourself with the language and the accent you are aiming towards.

Elocution lessons

Once you have mastered the pronunciation, elocution lessons are an option. Although it can take years to develop an authentic sounding accent (especially for older people), elocution lessons can help you a great deal, and can provide a structured way of learning and that all important feedback.

Audio books

Audio books can be found at your local library and are a great way of perfecting your accent. If you have a good ear, listening to English being spoken, whether it is with an American or English accent, can result in rapid improvement.

About the author:

Charlotte Beckham is a freelance proofreader for Proofreading.org and enjoys writing articles on ESL related topics.