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How to Do a British Accent

Learn how to do a British accent from voice and speech coach Andrea Caban in this Howcast video.


Let's take a look at the British accent. So I'm going to call this RP, which is "received pronunciation", and it's sort of your more upper class British accent. It's not really spoken today on the streets of London unless you were born maybe before 1950. But it's a really important accent to have, especially as an actor, because RP is used for a lot of period dramas.

So let's take a look at the oral posture for RP British English. So the jaw is raised and brought forward a little, and the tongue is up but never pulled back. So some people find it useful to put their finger in between their teeth, and they find the oral posture of the RP accent like that. So you can give that a try if that's helpful to you.

But the tongue is so far up in the mouth that words like "little" and "department" are easier to pronounce than in a general American oral posture where your jaw is open, where we'd say "little" or "department". We wouldn't get those T sounds.

So let's take a look as some RP sound changes. So the first one I want to look at is the E to the "i" sound, and this, again, is a very upper class, almost an antiquated sound. You will hear it sometimes in people speaking today, but it's a good distinction to make. So in the phrase, "Betty is really silly," "E, E, E" in the American accent. In the RP accent, we'd go, "Betty is really silly. Betty is Silly." Take a look at that American "uh" sound. "It's just another humdrum day," turns into something a little more forward in the mouth. "It's just another humdrum day. It's just another humdrum day." "Uh", "ah". Just a really important distinction there.

Let's took at some A R words. So, "We got married in Paris," is how I would say it. I have a little bit more R coloring than most people. I was raised in Florida. So, "We got married in Paris," is a little lighter American accent for you. But in the RP accent, we would go, "We got married in Paris." It's a more pure sound. It's one vowel as opposed to a diphthong, which is two vowels. "Mar", "married", "Paris" in my accent, and then "Married" and "Paris", one vowel sound.

This is a kicker for British English. And this is actually the way I jump into it. I would say in my accent, "Thought, thought." But in RP, I would say, "Thought." You bring the lip corners forward. "Thought, thought". "Saul's daughter studied Law." "Saul's daughter studied Law," as opposed to, "Saul's daughter studied Law," in my American accent. You want, "Saul's daughter studied Law." And then there's the shorter version of that same sound. So in American English it would be, "Roger lost his dog." In your RP accent, you would say, "Roger lost his dog." Again, these ER sounds, in American English, turn into a more pure sound in the RP accent.

"I don't dare wear my hair like Mary," turns into, "I don't dare wear my hair like Mary." "Mary". "I don't dare wear my hair like Mary." Same thing with the word "sure". In America English it would be "sure". You get those two beats, "sure". And in your RP accident, it would be "sure". And the same thing with the word "far". Far is like two syllables, a diphthong, "ar". And in your British English, it would be "far".

Sometimes you get another diphthong created with words like "here". In American English, it's "here, 'ere". In your RP, it would be "here". So a little bit of a schwa at the end, a little bit of an "uh". "Here". Give that a try.

So you've already noticed that in British English, or RP, there aren't a lot of R's. It's a non-rhotic accent is what we call it, except when a word ends with an R and the next word begins with a vowel. It's called elision. In my American accent, the phrase, "My brother owns a number of them. My brother owns a number of them." In British English, you wouldn't say, "My brother owns a number of them." You would say, "My brother owns a number of them. My brother owns a number of them." I love the liquid U in RP. "Duty", "tutor", and especially if you're in a Shakespeare play, you want to say "duke" and not "duke".

Words ending in A-R-Y or O-R-Y, like "preliminary" and "unnecessary" become shortened. So it's "preliminary", "unnecessary". If you're going for a very high-class British accent, you want to try to tap the R's. Instead of "hurry", you would say "hurry" and "very", "very... very, very very." "I was very much in a hurry." The phrase, "There's a chance the class will laugh," turns into, "There's a chance the class will laugh." Now, this does not happen all the time, so take a look at native speakers and notice when that change happens, from "a" to "ah".

So what is the musicality of the RP accent? So you find a lot more pitch variation than in American English. So pitch variation and length, but don't take my word for it. Like I said, listen to native speakers and notice the musicality for yourself. So there are some tips on the RP or British Accent.

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