Are British accents or American accents preferable for ESL learners?

If you are learning English as a second language (ESL) the question of English accents, and whether you should take on a British accent or an American accent, becomes important. Most often the English language is either spoken with an American accent from the United States or with a British accent from England, but English varies immensely. British accents vary from city to city, and American accents vary from state to state, so really there is no superior or preferential English accent. There are also Canadian accents, Australian accents, Scottish accents, Irish accents, South African accents, and New Zealand accents which all have unique sounds and need to be considered when learning English.

Even with all these English accents from across the globe, figuring out how you as an ESL learner should speak is fairly simple, just pay attention to the following points.

  1. Mimic those around you  

People learn their accents from those around them. If a British couple raise a child in America, the child will learn to speak with a British accent because he will be imitating his parents, but when he goes to school and is exposed to American accents his accent will change and he will start to say things the way his friends and teachers do. If your ESL teacher has a British accent, you will inevitably learn British terms and pronunciation. If you are using tapes or video recordings to teach yourself the language you have more choice as to what kind of accent to learn from and in that case it’s more about preference than exposure.

  1. What do you prefer?

If you are a fan of American television and music an American accent may be easier for you to recognize and imitate, but if you prefer British accents because you think they sound more proper and sophisticated than learning English with a British accent may be better for you. It depends on what is available to you, what you pick up on, and what you prefer, but the most important thing is to speak clearly.  

  1. Work on articulation and pronunciation

No one way of speaking English is better than another. Any accent is accepted and respected worldwide, the only thing you need to focus on is speaking clearly and effectively. If because of your first language an American accent is impossible for you to imitate than feel free to adapt your speech and use a different accent.

  1. Use your own accent

Usually when you are learning English as a second language you naturally create your own accent based on your primary language. If your first language is French you may speak English with a French accent and the same is true for all languages. It’s okay to have a unique accent and you shouldn’t try to cover up or disguise your natural dialect with artificial British or American accents.

Even though British accents and American accents are most popular for ESL students to learn from there is no right or wrong accent. It depends on so many factors, and as long as those around you can understand what you are saying the accent you use is irrelevant.