All about the British DIALECT and Accent [w/ StewSensei]
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In this episode of the Podcast, I am joined by Stewsensei to talk about the British accent and different British dialects. We are both from the UK, but we do not sound the same. We have different accents and dialects and we got together to talk about that.
Dan: All right, everyone and welcome to another episode of the Dansensei English podcast, where we try and make English fun. Today, I’ve got a very special episode, with a very special guest and we’ll talk about that in a second.
Today’s episode is aimed more at the intermediate and upper intermediate level because I’ve been joined by a native English speaker and we’re going to chat about all things British English, especially about the British accent, British dialects, and just generally a bit of chat about life.
So without further ado, let me introduce my guest. It’s Stew!. Stewsensei’s in the house.
Stew: Great, thanks, thanks for having me. Great to be here.
Dan: Yeah, nice. Thanks for coming along. So, for people that, for some reason, haven’t heard of you, maybe they’ve been living under a rock or something. Tell us a bit about yourself.
Stew: So my name is Stewsensei. I’m from England and I’ve lived in Japan for about 6 years and I’m an English teacher here. That’s pretty much it, to be honest.
Dan: Fair enough. Short and sweet. We live kind of parallel lives because I’m also from England and teach English in Japan for 6 years, so pretty similar, pretty similar. So you said you’re from England. Whereabouts in England?
Stew: Originally from the southeast of England, from Essex and then I moved to the southwest halfway through my childhood to Devon. So quite broad area of the south, anyway. My mom’s from Birmingham though. So there’s a little influence from her. A bit of a mix going on there. Yeah, my dad’s a cockney. I was born in Essex, I’ve lived half my life in Devon and my mom’s a Brummie so. It’s a real mix.
We have different accents:
Dan: Oh, that’s good, that’s good. And that kind of brings us on to today’s episode, right? Accents, especially British accents. Is a wide variety of things going on. I mean, me and you have quite different accents, right?
Stew: Yeah, yeah, definitely, so yeah. Yeah, completely different. Obviously there’s a big … I don’t know where if you can even draw a line to be honest where it is, but the variety of changes. I’d say that a lot of southern accents are relatively similar, depending where we are close to the city or not. But the further north you go, there’s real key differences like Scouse and Geordie and Yorkshire are all completely different and Mancunian you know. It’s interesting.
Dan: It’s definitely interesting. I think it’s kind of a good thing about British English is that there’s a lot of variety going on.
Stew: Yeah. You know, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I think that well, it depends for us, I suppose it’s interesting because we can really dive into it, but for a learner, it must be tricky because it makes it confusing. But I think there is a depth, for sure.
Dan: Yeah, I agree. I agree. It must be a nightmare for students. Like, you kind of have this idea of British English in your head and everybody speaks like the queen, right? I can imagine your land in Manchester airport. That’s going to be a rude awakening, I think.
Stew: Yeah, definitely so if you just think the whole of the UK, like many people do, or when we say British, you know, people, I don’t think people know the differences between Great Britain and the UK and the British isles, you know. So I think they just incorporate everything, including Ireland as a whole and Scotland. And they forget about Wales I reckon so there’s such a deep mixture, you know?
What is the most difficult British accent for us?
Dan: Yeah, like we don’t all speak like the queen. As much as learners probably wish we did, we don’t. And that kind of leads me on to the first question which is what is, for you, the most difficult accent in the UK to actually understand and deal with.
Stew: I couldn’t give you one because I think it’s anything that I haven’t been exposed to much. So many people would say the Birmingham accent is difficult to copy and is difficult, but I’ve had that throughout the whole of my life. So I’m used to hearing that and I can pick out the words very clearly that is being said. I would say that my least… actually, I lived it Wales too for two years. So the Welsh accent is quite nice for me as well.
But I’d say the ones that really get me probably are Scouse, Geordie or Scottish or Irish accents are quite tricky. So yeah, those are really the ones that get me. I would say there’s one, but I’d say that there’s, and that’s been broad. I mean, there’s you go further into those, but those probably are the ones that get me.
Dan: I mean, probably I’m the opposite end of the spectrum. I mean, Geordie is a difficult for everyone, but I think I’ve got a better chance of understanding them. I’m not so far away, whereas if you go really south, I mean, of course I understand. But it’s not as easy as if I’m talking to somebody from the north. Which I think is kind of interesting that there’s such a big divide. If you go from the top of the British Isles right down to the bottom, like this so many accents in between. That it’s so diverse that even as British people. Even as British people, we struggle with it, right?
Stew: Yeah, yeah, yeah, and that’s something that I’ve been trying to reinforce and help my students understand that. It can be difficult to understand things that you’re not exposed to and same for us. And also context, sometimes we watch a clip of something with no context to it and then we don’t understand it and then people are like my English is bad, but if you heard the first 5 minutes of that conversation you’d understand a lot more. there’s things leading to what they said at that point and then you’d be able to understand it a bit more. So yeah, same for us. We have the same issues just as anyone does, you know, so.
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Do accents cause problems?
Dan: And has your accent ever caused problems for your students?
Stew: Definitely when I first arrived, I had plenty of problems, plenty of people asked me if I was Australian. That seems to be a common thing in Japan. For anything that is an American. So yeah, there were people I’d say that my accent has changed since becoming a teacher and realising the necessity of changing it because for me communication is more important than anything. So if you can’t, if a student can’t understand what you’re saying, I don’t think you’ll be in an effective teacher. So I have to change it. I don’t think there’s I don’t think you have a choice really.
So I’d say it’s improved, but definitely at the start, I was very fast and I could use simplified language very easily because I used to teach kids, but before coming to Japan, but I found that just probably the speed I could cut it down a little bit and just adjust the way I pronounced certain things and even downside the TH sound for me from my background, usually I use a V or a head that’s just one of the F sound instead and because the learners are looking at your mouth a lot and it was confusing for people. So I’ve started even working on that. Even if it’s not natural, I’m still adjusting myself as well.
Dan: Yeah, same. I mean, I came here with a thick Yorkshire accent. Even people from England can’t understand me most of the time. So I really had to build a teacher voice almost. When I came here because nobody could understand me. So like TH sound, you know, in your Yorkshire, we just becomes a ‘t’ sound most of the time. So yeah, I completely feel you on that one. I know I had to do the same kind of thing, so. Yeah. It’s a little tricky.
How to understand British accents:
Dan: So next point, then stew, if students want to be able to understand British English more, what should they do?
Stew: It’s a deeper question than it sounds. People just think it’s the thing is English is kind of people just think if they listen to any type of English they can improve their English, my personal theories are a bit different to that. I think that if you want to improve your understanding of the British accent, you need to shut out most of the sounds in order to focus on it and then improve so I kind of go down the route of if you’re practicing it, say 6 out of 7 days or 7 days a week, 5 days should be just British some specific type of British accent.
I’ve been broad there just say a British to be honest, but and then the other two days can be like American or something so you don’t lose touch of those kind of things, but you should go even a bit deeper and realise that there is such, erm… 40 or up to 40 accents in the UK and that a lot of them are super different. So don’t be disheartened if you hear someone you don’t know or don’t understand. Because you should be working towards improving the things that you’re going to use the most.
Just like a native speaker, we get exposed to the people around us. So we are very good with those accents and varieties around us and then the ones away from us. We don’t care. To be honest, it’s not that we don’t want to understand it’s just that it’s not important to us at that time and then when we are confronted with that situation that one time a year were once in a lifetime conversation with someone from the outer Hebrides or somewhere in Scotland you know we just deal with it with just and then we still go through the same concepts that are learner does, could you say that one more time? Could you say that a bit slowly? Can you use the simpler? We do the same thing. So I try and explain that as best as possible and get them to work out. Get them to really think why they want to practice them. Why they’re practicing it because those questions are not really answered at the beginning for many students.
Dan: That’s a good point. Like, understanding British English is not one thing. Like if you’re going to be living in Newcastle, you don’t need to be practicing a Brummie accent, right? You don’t need to listen to that, because you’re going to be in Newcastle. So yeah, like, it all depends on the goal at the end of the day. Just like anything in English. Your goals are going to tell you what you need to do to get better. And case in point, like my wife’s from Brazil and we speak together in English, right? And we can communicate no problem. However, she came with me to Yorkshire, and she couldn’t understand anyone. Because she’s not exposed to it. I mean, I don’t blame her. But she’s not exposed to it. So I found that I was constantly translating, like Yorkshire to English that she could understand.
Stew: When did you meet your wife was it before you became a teacher?
Dan: No, like after I came from England, so I’ve automatically been grading my language and changing my accent to make it easier to understand, right?
Stew: So you’ve adjusted yourself so she could understand you as best as possible and then in the real life situation, not real life situation, but in the situation where you meet someone who they are not thinking about those things, it’s a completely different situation. So exactly what you’re saying.
Practice What You NEED to know:
Stew: I try and explain to students it’s a situational thing. It’s not necessarily your English is bad. It’s nothing like that, actually. It’s just you’re not in the situation you’re used to. And just like Cristiano Ronaldo or someone like that, they practice in multiple situations before the games, they go to do. It’s the same thing for us. We have to focus on the things that are important to us. Cristiano Ronaldo doesn’t practice as a goalkeeper that he does try many different potential scenarios in his position. That’s what we should do when we practice listening skills.
What are we using it for? I had a student who was in somewhere like Malta. I can’t remember from where exactly. But she was like, I can’t understand the people. Ah! She was in Italy. And she said, I can’t understand the people I talk to in my workplace. So I need to improve my listening. My first questions were where are they from? That’s all you need to know in that situation. She said, one is from Birmingham ones from Ireland and ones from London and she said she could kind of understand. Actually basically could understand a Londoner, but the other two is a bit more tricky. I said, well, ignore everything else. just find material on those two people and highlight that because that’s what you need now. The other stuff is just luxury.
Dan: Yeah. It’s like, it’s cool to have a load of tools in your toolbox, but if you just need a screwdriver, that’s all you need. Like,
Stew: exactly, yeah, exactly.
Dan: It’s cool to have all the other stuff, but if you’re not going to use it, don’t worry about it. Don’t worry about it.
How to Practice a British Accent:
Dan: And yeah, I mean, we’ve kind of already talked about the last point, but if I often get students in Japan, they’re like, I want to sound British. I want to practice like a British accent. I need to there was like, what can I do? And that’s a tricky question. And I’ve got an answer, but I’m interested to see what you think. If someone says to you, Stew, I want to practice a British accent. Maybe they’ve seen too much Harry Potter or whatever. Like, what do you say to somebody that says that?
Stew: So we’re going to have different answers, I think, because of our locations. So that might be something that, yeah, that could be causing a problem for students as well. I think nailing down what accent they actually enjoy listening to is important. Some people just want to defect from the dark side, shall we say, and not want to be speaking in American English anymore. That happens quite often. But then they don’t know what they’re looking for, really, in terms of specifics.
So if that’s the case, as the very broadest, simplest version of the one they probably heard, which is either RP or Estuary English, just out of chance on TV, then it’s probably knock off your R on the end of the sentences and for me, just the glottal stop or something like that, but always the answer is immersion. You know get rid of anything, any other accidents you’re listening to or of course you might come up against the book. We’re talking about accent training. You need to tone your ears to that accent. That’s why I had a strong exact accent when I was in Essex and then when I moved my accident really neutralised because of the people around me, you know, so that’s important. That’s really a big factor, listening, portion of it. So you almost brainwashes you into thinking I should I’m not saying it correctly or something like this.
Listening is very Important:
100%. Yeah. Yeah, exactly. So I think it’s important listening. Obviously speaking is exceptionally important for improving your accent and you should try to do something every day, even if it’s just ten minutes because you’re training your mouth to do something that you taught to do already, but in a different way. So you’re teaching the time to do something else on your lips to do something else. So you have to think about that and your mouth movements are important to ingrain this new skill. But listening to people, you’re probably going to mimic them when you speak. So that’s really the key thing, I think, inputs important.
Dan: Like you said, immersion is everything. I think things like shadowing can be quite useful if you find somebody’s accent you want a copy. But basically like you said, there’s a few things that are quite general to UK accents, you know, like making schwa your best friend and, you know, quality and stuff like this. I mean, if you’re listening to this podcast and you don’t know what that stuff is, a quick Google search will probably point you to papa teach me to be fair, but you’ll find a lot of stuff that can actually help you.
Practice that stuff, but once again, you’ve got to ask yourself, why? Why is it you are trying to achieve and that goal will tell you what to do.
Dan: Nice. Okay, so just for a bit of fun then stew, let’s do a bit of a quick quiz. You know, yes or no questions or quick answers and let’s see what happens. So tea or coffee?
Stew: Tea probably. I mean, I drink a lot of coffee, but if I’m going to enjoy it, it’ll be tea. I mean, the only way I can enjoy coffee, this is not a short quick answer apologies. But anyway, I can enjoy coffee if it’s got something sweet in it, to be honest with you, like enjoy it. I can drink black coffee because it does a job for me. But, you know, it has to be sweet or something ridiculous to it, but tea is just tea. So I don’t need anything special just the tea bag and some milk and I’m good to go. Hot water useful.
Dan: Cool. Cats or dogs.
Dan: Summer or winter?
Stew: If we’re in England, I’ll be saying summer. For sure, but Japan is like another kettle of fish, isn’t it? I can’t answer it because you know what? My office doesn’t have an air conditioner. So right now I’m freezing. So at the minute I in winter, but I know what someone’s going to do. So it’s a tricky one.
Dan: So spring, right?
Stew: Actually I would say Autumn.
Dan: Books or movies? books or films?
Stew: You know, I never have been a good reader to be honest. I’ve never been interested in reading. But I would say TV series more than anything. I watch YouTube. I just did like a marathon. Do you know James Acaster? Comedians. I like to watch comedians these days. I don’t know why. It reminds me of home a bit.
Dan: I saw him on Taskmaster a few seasons ago. He was really funny. Just watch the new year’s special, which the other day. So if anybody is interested in UK accents, Taskmaster, look it up on YouTube. Great show.
Stew: You don’t need to think as well. That’s the great thing. It’s comedy, but you don’t need to think about it. So that’s why I like that.
Dan: It’s funny though. You said you’re not really into books and reading, and I’m also the same. And as a teacher, people expect you to be like really into reading.
Stew: Yeah, exactly. People would ask me what books I recommend. And that’s probably the one question I’m stunted on the most, you know? Because I just don’t read that much, but I’ve read some history books about English language, but that’s different because that’s like a hobby, but just general reading fiction or something I’ve never really been interested in. So I’ve read I have read a couple of books. I’ve read, I watched Game of Thrones, season one, about three times and hated every time. And then I was traveling to Japan just before I moved. And I read the first book and that got me into the series, because the series starts off with no context, just people falling out of buildings. So that’s the only time maybe Harry Potter red when I was a kid, but that’s it. Probably.
Dan: Interesting. Anyway, city or countryside.
Stew: Countryside. I lived in the country for such a long time.
Dan: What item would you take to a desert island?
Stew: I have no idea. I mean, these days I use my phone so much because of work, but if it was just me and I’d gone there for just to get away from everyone, I need a couple of items and also need electricity. It’s difficult. I would take something like a Sega mega drive to be honest with you.
Dan: I very nearly bought a mega drive yesterday as it happens. But decided against it last minute. It was close. Close call, close call. So I was going to say next, what’s your favourite film, but you mentioned you prefer TV shows, so what’s your favourite TV show series?
Stew: Well, actually I can link the two together. I do have a favourite film and I do have a favourite TV show and they’re both connected. I like The Karate Kid film.
Dan: I watched Karate Kid 3 Last night. My wife was watching Cobra Kai last week.
Stew: That’s the one with the guy who just literally just came into the new season as well. I can’t think of his name. I just, maybe a week ago, I just realized the fourth season because I don’t really keep up to date when they release it. I just marathoned the whole thing. It’s so good.
Dan: Last question… favourite food?
Stew: Japanese curry. And easily for that one is super easy from here. I could eat it for days, literally.
Dan: Me too. I’m a big fan. So what’s your favourite restaurant then?
Stew: Not a curry restaurant ironically, it’s probably, I don’t know, maybe a soba restaurant to be honest. Because I don’t eat it that often. So when I go to a soba restaurant, it feels kind of… I mean, not including like restaurants, Station restaurants, that doesn’t really count. Like a proper soba restaurant. Having temporary or something is nice. I don’t have it that regularly. So it feels good when I have it. So it’s probably just a soba restaurant. Yeah, exactly. I mean, ramen is well, of course, but soba restaurant. I had it literally yesterday. I was like, this is so good. I shocked myself I think.
Dan: It’s one of those things that’s like after you’ve not had it for a while, you’re like, oh yeah, I remember this is awesome.
Stew: Yeah, exactly. It’s completely that.
Dan: Yeah, nice, OK, good. Nice little quiz. Cheers for joining today Stew, it was really interesting. For people listening, where can they find you? How can they find out more about you?
Stew: Instagram probably is the most active place at the minute. I’m on TikTok Twitter and YouTube and probably Facebook can’t really remember. But yeah, you can find me just type in Stew sensei and I’ll definitely be there somewhere.
Dan: Nice. And I’ll put a link to your stuff in the show notes, so if you’re listening to this, you can check the show notes and there’ll be a link. Good stuff. Well, Stu, thank you very much for coming on. It’s been a pleasure.
Stew: Thank you. It was great to chat. So yeah, thank you very much. It was a pleasure.
Dan: Yeah, let’s do it again soon.
Dan: So that was the little chat with stew sensei. About all things British English, hopefully you enjoyed it. Hopefully you learned some stuff about the British accent and British pronunciation and what you can do if you want to improve those things in your English.
And speaking of improving English, why not download my study hacks guide for free? It’s a free ebook that I wrote full of study tips to help you level up your English quicker and you can get it right now for free. DanSenseiEnglish.com/studysquad Put your details in there. You’ll get an email with the link to download it. Get it read. And improve your English today.
Thanks so much for listening to today’s podcast. Next week, we’ve got another podcast. Back to the usual style. And we’re going to be talking about idioms, based on cold. It’s based on a recent experience I had last week, but we’ll talk about that next week. Until then, good luck with your studies. But that’s it for this podcast. So I’ll catch you in the next one.
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