Many learners worry that they, or their children, should focus on learning a certain type of English pronunciation – British or American. But I want to reassure you that it is not necessary to learn and change your accent so that you sound British, American, Australian or like any other ‘native’ English speaker.

So, what’s the question you should be asking about your pronunciation?

English is a truly global language, and in fact, there are far more ‘non-native’ speakers than native speakers now. American and British accents are now in the minority. What’s the question you should be asking about your pronunciation? It is – Am I understandable?

How is pronunciation learnt?

It’s a strange and maybe disappointing fact that your accent ‘freezes’ when you turn into a teenager. Children who are learning a foreign language are capable of picking up an accent in a way that adults can’t. No one is really sure why this is. A child who moves to America, before the age of 12 or 13 will soon sound like an American child. But their older brother or sister who is 14 or 15 will not be able to change their accent so smoothly.

Adults can learn a different accent, like actors who learn, but this might be temporary or situational. So if you do want to learn to sound like an American or British person, be prepared to work hard.

But the good news is that with Global English there is now a recognition that all accents are acceptable. The most important thing is to be understood.

Your accent is part of you

Increasingly English teachers are moving away from the ‘native’ model. Meaning they don’t think that the only correct way to speak is with a native accent. In Britain each city has it’s own accent so it is strange for us to force learners to speak with one type of accent.

In Britain part of our identity is related to our accents, you can recognise someone from Liverpool or London. Even BBC News presenters, who all used to have a very formal English accent, now have a range of accents from all over the UK and abroad.

Pronunciation points that don’t matter

Research shows that there are some pronunciation parts that don’t matter. Getting these things ‘wrong’ does not hinder communication. You might be surprised to learn some of the things you’ve learnt in English lessons are not that important for example:

  1. ‘th’ sounds aren’t that important. The two ‘th’ sounds don’t occur in that many words, it just feels like a lot because they do feature in many common words like this, that, then, other, think, and thing. But even native speakers don’t always sound ‘th’ correctly. /d/,/t/ and /f/ are acceptable ways to pronounce these ‘th’ sounds (although /s/ and /z/ are not.) For example you can say ‘I tink I’m right, I fink I’m right’ but not ‘I sink I’m right.’
  2. Weak sounds and the schwa are not important for global intelligibility. In English lessons you probably practiced saying ‘wanna cuppa tea?’ but to be understood around the world it is better to say ‘Do you want a cup of tea?’
  3. Vowel sounds are not, but vowel length is important. Vowel sounds are a big part of what makes Americans, Australians, British and other ‘native’ accents sound different from each other. Learn more about that here. So vowel sound isn’t important for global understanding.
  4. Pitch movement. This is how your voice sounds a higher or lower intonation as you talk. For example you might have learnt in English lessons to make yes/no questions go up at the end, but wh- questions should go down at the end. Confusing, and not actually important for understanding. So don’t worry about it.


4 things that are important

  1. Consonant sounds are important. You should try to get the difference between /r/ and /l correct. For example; Is the bag right or is the bag light? Or /p/ and /b/ are you looking for a pin or a bin? or /sh/ and /ch/ Do you want to buy chairs or shares? Confusing your consonants can lead to misunderstandings.
  2. Consonant clusters are also important for global intelligibility. For example, you should get the ‘str’ of street correct. It’s ok to add sounds, for example, ‘sutoreet,’ but not to delete them – for example sreet or steet aren’t understandable.
  3. Vowels length. In English lesson you probably practiced the differences between ‘it’ and ‘eat’, ‘shit’ and ‘sheet’ and ‘bitch’ and ‘beach’ Or if not, start now, because that’s important! And also vowel length that changes before a voiced or unvoiced consonant, for example the /a/ is longer in ‘bag’ than in ‘back’.
  4. Sentence stress. The one thing about stress in English that you need to remember is that the meaning can change depending on which word of a sentence you stress. For example ‘I didn’t tell him’ (stress on I) is different to ‘I didn’t tell him’ (stress on tell)


Three women changing the world with ‘non-native’ accents

Malala Yousefsai, Greta Thunberg, Nadia Murad are three young women who are changing the world using English and speaking in ‘non-native’ accents. Their messages are the most important, and that’s what the world is listening to, not their accents.

Who’s your role model for speaking English? Let me know below