American vs British Pronunciation


General American vs General British – 5 Key Differences

It’s a choice every learner has to make at some point – which model of English pronunciation should I learn? For most, that means a choice between General American or General British, so in this month’s accent article, we look at 5 key differences between the two. The audio to accompany each point contains firstly a General American pronunciation of the words, followed by the same in General British.

1. /r/ – silent or pronounced?

work far pour

In General American, every written < r > is pronounced, whereas in General British, < r > is only pronounced before a vowel sound – it is silent before consonant sounds. This is known as rhoticity – General American is ‘rhotic’ and General British is ‘non-rhotic’.

2. /t/ – tap or plosive?

‘water’ ‘party’ ‘What are you doing?’

When the sound /t/ appears before a weak vowel, in General American it can be pronounced with a voiced tap /ɾ/ – this sounds a bit like a very fast /d/, in General British it will be a voiceless plosive /t/ with some aspiration.

3. /ɒ/ – rounded or un-rounded?

‘stop’ ‘watch’ ‘lot’

In General British, we round the lips with back open vowel in ‘got’ ‘what’ ‘shop’ whereas in Genreal American this is unrounded /ɑ/.

4. Upspeak – statement or question?

“I’m going ˈout later.” “I really want a new ˈjob.”

In General British, speakers tend to use a falling tone to indicate a new statement or utterance. In American, however, it is common to use a rising tone, which to British ears may sound more like a question. It is known as ‘upspeak’, which technically means a high rising tone. NOTE – this type of intonation is becoming more common in British English, although there are reports that some institutions actively discourage its use.

5. j – pronounced or silent?

tuna’, ‘news’, ‘due’

In General British, speakers would pronounce a /j/ before the vowel sound in ‘tune’ and ‘new’ – words where a /t/, /d/ or /n/ are followed by /u:/. In General American, this /j/ is dropped, a concept known as yod-dropping.

Schwa – The Key to English Pronunciation


The schwa /ə/ is the biggest key to English pronunciation a learner can possess.

Using a schwa can increase vowel accuracy by over 30%, it is the star of English speech, but most learners of English pronunciation have never heard of it and do not use it. This article aims to solve that with 4 simple questions…….


1. What is a schwa /ə/?

schwa is by far the most common vowel sound in English – RP English speakers use it about once every three vowels they pronounce. To put it another way if you don’t use the schwa sound in your speech, you are making a pronunciation error 1/3 of the time. To illustrate this, listen to and read the passage below, the schwa vowel is written in.

I’d like tə go shopping fər ə pair əf shoes, bət thə shops ə closed becəse thəs ə weathər əlert. əparrəntly lots !f snow is coming in frəm thə Highlənds so thə govərnmənt həv ədvised peopəl tə stay ət home.

2. How is a Schwa produced?

Schwa is a neutral vowel – in order to produce it your tongue should be flat and resting, your lips should be relaxed (not spread or rounded) and your jaw should be relaxed, half way open.

3. Where does Schwa appear?

The main problem is that you cannot see it on the written page – it can be spelled with ‘a’ (about), ‘e’ (father), ‘i’ (lentil), ‘o’ (polite) or ‘u’ (column), so unless students are trained to spot it, errors will occur. The key to recognising schwa is stress; schwa is only weak.

Schwa also appears in small words like ‘to’, ‘from’, & ‘are’ in connected speech, which are known as ‘function’ words in pronunciation.

4. How can I include the sound in my speech?

Like all language acquisition, you can learn the schwa in a simple 3 step process:

1. PRESENT – Learn how to say it using the correct, neutral mouth position.
2. PRACTICE – Recognise where it is in words and sentences (the script on this page is a good example) and repeat them.
3. PERFORM – Apply it to your own words and sentences.

Repeating this process will gradually incorporate the sound into your speech naturally.

Join a free Schwa class.

Free Class ii

Pronunciation Studio’s 90 minute free introduction class is all about the schwa sound, we learn how to produce it, where to find it and how to incorporate it into your speech. All delivered by an English pronunciation expert. Click here for current dates.

Alternatively download chapter 1 of ‘The Sound of English’ and learn more about the schwa with audio in there!

French Speakers’ English Pronunciation Errors


What are the main mistakes for French speakers in English pronunciation?

To coincide with our French speakers’ night at Pronunciation Studio on the 16th December, here we have highlighted the top 10 errors for French speakers in English:

1. r & silent r

French ‘r’ is a voiced uvular fricative, made at the back of the mouth, English /r/ is an alveolar approximant made near the front of the mouth – they should not be confused!

right red lorry great

French speakers tend to say all the written ‘r’s, but in British English you should nor pronounce an r if it is after a vowel:

Four thirty in the afternoon.

2. Vowel rounding

Many French centre and front vowels use rounded lips, whereas in English they would be made with neutral lips – the sound is very different:

The first thing I heard was a scream.

3. th

French does not contain dental fricatives θ or ð, speakers often replace these with /s/ and /z/:

We’ll see them on Thursday, I think.

4. h

The glottal fricative /h/ does not exist in French, it does in English:

house home holiday Harry

5. ɪ or i:?

French has just one close front vowel [i], English has two: /ɪ/ and /i:/ – /ɪ/ should be made with a slightly lower jaw, but French speakers often just use the one position for these vowels:

ship / sheep
fit / feet
rid / read

6. Word Stress

French tends to stress the last syllable of a long word, English does not:

father corruption absolutely computer

7. Intonation

French has a very unique melody – it is often flat and high with rising patterns. English is generally uses falling patterns more and has a greater difference in stress:

Where do you think we should go?
I don’t see how it is that important.

8. Open vowels /æ/ vs /ɑ:/

French contains one open vowel unrounded: [a], English contains 2: /æ/ (cat) /ɑ:/ (cart) so French often the French [a] instead:

hat heart
ham harm
had hard

9. Diphthong ‘o’

French does not use diphthong (double) vowel sounds, so they often come out a bit flat:

Don’t go to the show.

10. Affricate Consonant /dʒ/

French speakers often miss the beginning plosive sound in English affricates:

/dʒ/: James general job agent

Spanish Speakers’ English Pronunciation Errors


What are the main mistakes for Spanish speakers in English pronunciation?

To coincide with our Spanish speakers’ night at Pronunciation Studio on the 9th December, here we have highlighted the top 11 errors for Spanish speakers in English:

 1. /v/ or /b/?

In English /v/ is a voiced fricative using teeth and lip, and /b/ is a voiced plosive using the lips. They often become confused for Spanish speakers:

Next vacation I’d love to visit the river.

2. ɪ vs i:

Spanish has just one high front vowel [i] and Spanish speakers often use this vowel when they see an ‘i’ in English. They shouldn’t! ‘i’ in English is normally the lower /ɪ/ vowel:

Did this thing win?

3. s / ʃ

/ʃ/ is made by slightly rounding the lips and pulling the tongue a bit further back in the mouth than it would be for /s/ – Spanish speakers often do not do this:

push sharp fashion

4. 11 vowel positions

Vowels are a big problem for Spanish speakers as Spanish only has 5. English has 19 formed from 11 positions of the mouth, so often in speech, a Spanish speaker uses one vowel where an English speaker would use 2 or 3:

[a] hat heart hut
[u] good food hurt
[o] pot port
[i] fit feet

5. ŋ

/ŋ/ is made at the back of the mouth in the same place as /k/ and /g/ – but Spanish speakers often replace it with alveolar /n/:

I was walking talking and singing

6. Aspiration

In English, the sounds /p/ /t/ & /k/ are normally aspirated (a big explosion of air), but they never are in Spanish:

Park the car in town.

7. Weak Vowel: schwa /ə/

Spanish is a language of strong forms and you say what you see. English contains weak forms, the most common of which is the schwa /ə/. The problem is that this sound can be spelt with any vowel – a, e, i, o, u:

about tighten lentil today column

8. /r/ and silent ‘r’

Spanish /r/ is rolled, English /r/ is smooth:

rock red arrow try

Also British English ‘r’ is silent at the end of a syllable, Spanish speakers often ignore this:

work court her pour

9. syllable final consonant devoicing

It is not possible in Spanish to have a voiced consonant at the end of a syllable, so Spanish speakers often de-voice the English ones:

bad cod job love

10. s or z?

An ‘s’ is a dangerous letter for Spanish speakers in English. Why? Because it is often pronounced as /z/:

cheese was news lose

11. ‘sp’

We couldn’t leave this one out! That little ‘e’ often creeps in before a word beginning ‘sp':

It was a(n) splendid night in Spain



Polish Speakers’ English Pronunciation Errors


What are the main errors for Polish speakers in English pronunciation?

To precede our Polish speakers’ evening on the 4th December at Pronunciation Studio, here we have highlighted the top 10 pronunciation errors for Polish speakers.

Audio recordings are by Tom Wisniowski (BA/IPA), Pronunciation Studio’s Eastern European accent specialist.

1. th

Polish speakers often replace the two ‘th’ consonant sounds /θ/ and /ð/ with /f/ and /d/:

I think there’s three of them.

2. Voiced Endings

Polish does not contain voiced sounds at the end of syllables, so Polish speakers often devoice the final consonant:

‘bed’ ‘cab’ ‘rag’ ‘love’

3. Aspiration

/p/,  /t/, and /k/ are aspirated in English – they have a big explosive sound when they are released – but not for Polish speakers:

park / came / time

4. Short vowels /æ/ /ʌ/ /ɑ:/

Polish speakers will often mispronounce the vowels /ʌ/, /æ/ and /ɑ:/ as Polish does not contain them, instead the Polish /a/ is often used. The following words should be pronounced with different vowel sounds:

hat hut heart

5. -ing endings

Polish speakers often mispronounce -ing endings in two ways, firstly by adding a /k/, secondly by using an /n/:

I was walking, talking & singing.

6. Consonant / Vowel Joining

In English, where one word ends with a consonant and the next one begins in the vowel, the consonant moves to the next word, not so in Polish:

What are Ed and Janet eating?

7. ʊ diphthongs

English contains two diphthongs (double vowels) ending with ʊ, Polish speakers tend to mispronounce the first part and over stress the second:

Don’t go so slowly.
How now brown mouse?

8. are

‘are’ is a confusing word to pronounce with at least 5 pronunciations in English (see this article), Polish speakers often struggle with it, using just one pronunciation:

Are you ok?
Where are you going?
They aren’t here.

9. r and silent r

/r/ in Polish is rolled – in English it is smooth.

train three dry crash

Also /r/ is silent in English at the end of a syllable:

burn third cart her

10. ‘o’

Polish is a phonetically written language, you say what you see. English is not so much and one spelling that confuses Polish speakers is ‘o’, which can produce 8 pronunciations in English (Polish speakers may use just 2):

got /ɒ/
do /u:/
go /əʊ/
pork /ɔ:/
gold /ɒʊ/
wolf /ʊ/
today /ə/
women /ɪ/

Polish Speakers’ Pronunciation Courses

Join us on 4th December at 19:00 for Pronunciation Studio’s Polish speakers’ evening, where we will go through each error and how to correct each one in speech. It’s free to sign up. Alternatively, take a look at our 2 level accent reduction program.

Japanese Speakers’ English Pronunciation Errors


What are the main mistakes for Japanese speakers in English pronunciation?

To precede our Japanese speakers’ evening on the 11th December at Pronunciation Studio, here we have highlighted the top 10 pronunciation errors for Japanese speakers.

1. /l/ or /r/

Japanese speakers often confuse the lateral alveolar approximant /l/ with the alveolar approximant /r/:

Roy left the rice in the red trolley.

2. /ə/

There is no neutral vowel in Japanese, speakers tend to say the vowel they see in written form, ignoring the neutral schwa:

Can the prince come today for a chat.

3. Fricatives θ/ð

Fricatives articulated in the front of the mouth are very difficult for Japanese speakers, most noticeably the two ‘th’ sounds: /θ/ and /ð/ which may be replaced by either dental /t/ & /d/ or alveolar /s/ & /z/:

I think the theatre was more than thrilling.

4. 12 vowel positions

Japanese contains 5 vowel positions – /a, e i, o u/, English contains 11: /i ɪ e æ ɜ ʌ ɑ u ʊ ɔ ɒ/, unfortunately, Japanese speakers often speak English with just the 5:

good/food, hit/heat, hat/hurt/hut/heart, port/pot

5. Word stress

There is a tendency for Japanese speakers to place equal stress on each syllable, making long words unclear:


6. added syllable

Some speakers add a little ‘o’ after consonants at the end of syllables:

Matt made a very nice soup.

7. sentence stress

Japanese speakers often place a roughly equal stress on each syllable of a sentence without using the strong / weak structure of English:

The car was parked on a hill side.

8. Diphthong vowel /əʊ/

One of the hardest English vowel sounds for Japanese speakers is /əʊ/ because it starts neutrally rather than rounded (as the spelling may suggest):

Don’t go so slowly.

9. Joining

There is a tendency to separate words when Japanese speakers pronounce English, instead of joining them with vowels or consonants:

Go over there and ask if we are allowed in.

10. consonant clusters

Some Japanese speakers may place a small vowel between two consonants:

please try three

Japanese Speakers’ Pronunciation Courses

Join us on Wednesday 11th December at 19:00 for Pronunciation Studio’s Japanese speakers’ evening, where we will go through each error and how to correct each one in speech. It’s free to sign up. Alternatively, take a look at our 2 level accent reduction program.

Italian Speakers’ English Pronunciation Errors


What are the main errors for Italian speakers in English pronunciation?

Here we have highlighted the top 10 pronunciation errors experienced by Italian students at Pronunciation Studio:

1. /h/ and silent ‘h’

Italian speakers often miss /h/ when they should say it:

‘house’ ‘how’ ‘horse’ ‘hard’

To compensate, an /h/ sometimes appears where it is not wanted – between two vowels:

“go away”, “she isn’t”

2. Adding a little vowel at the end of a word

When a word ends in a consonant, Italian speakers often add a little ‘a’ afterwards:

“I like them a lot”

3. Open vowel /a/

Italian has only one open unrounded vowel ‘a’, whereas English has 3 – /æ/ in ‘cat’, /ʌ/ in ‘cut’, and /ɑ:/ in ‘cart’. Italian speakers often only use their own ‘a’ in English so these words become ‘cat’ ‘cat’ and ‘cart’.

“I love that park”

4. /ɪ/ vs /i:/

A similar problem in a different area of the mouth occurs with the vowels /ɪ/ and /i:/, which are often pronounced in the same way by Italian speakers, so ‘heat’ and ‘hit’ sound the same except for their length. In fact, the vowel in ‘hit’ should be a lower position.

“Fit it in”

5. Sentence Stress

Italian is a latin language which stresses every syllable. English does not – some need to be weak:

“I want to go to the cinema”

6. Spelling to sound

Italian is a phonetically written language, meaning you say what you see. English is not so much, so a word like ‘particular’ may come out all wrong:


7. th

th words cause problems for Italian speaker, often being replaced by a dental t or d:

“I think its the third thing”

8. aspiration

When a p t or k appears in English it is aspirated, so there is an audible explosion in pronunciation. Not so in Italian where it is never aspirated:

“Pass some time on the coast”

9. diphthong ‘o’

Double vowels do not exist in Italian, so when Italian speakers see words like ‘no’, ‘go’ and ‘don’t’, which should be double vowels, they often make a single ‘o’ vowel:

“No, I don’t think so, Joe!”

10. /r/ and silent ‘r’

English r sounds is smooth, Italian r is rolled. Also watch out for ‘r’ after a vowel – it isn’t pronounced in British English, but Italians often pronounce it anyway:

Words with /r/: raw, right, wrong, red

Words with silent ‘r': word, car, father, four

Pronunciation Courses – Online & in London

Pronunciation Studio offers a wide range of courses to improve second language speakers’ pronunciation skills. These are available in our school in Central London & online via Skype anywhere in the world. Learn more about courses and see a free sample. 

What are the aims of accent reduction?


An authentic ‘English Accent’ or simply ‘Clear Speech’ – what are the aims of accent reduction?

Accent reduction is a term being used more and more frequently in the world of English speech teaching, but its goals are not necessarily clear. Over the past five to ten years numerous courses have appeared aimed at learners of English offering to ‘lose’ or ‘get rid of’ a non-native accent. The concept is strange in linguistic terms – when you learn a language, you generally ‘do’ things: you learn grammar, you memorise vocabulary, you improve your listening and speaking skills. So where does ‘losing’ anything come into this? Is it an action? Is it a lack of action? It almost suggests that an accent is something you carry around with you and by being careless with it, you might suddenly find that it has disappeared – left on a park bench, perhaps.

A clearer analogy would be to lose weight, but you won’t ‘lose’ your accent by not speaking. The term, I believe, that we are looking for is a positive one – to ‘learn’ pronunciation. When a student reaches a very high level of pronunciation, control over accent follows and therefore choice, but nothing has been ‘lost’.

Learning pronunciation is like learning any other aspect of language – when you learn grammar, you start with the basics – subject, object, verbs, nouns, adjectives, then you move on to tenses and conditionals and gradually you reach a higher level until you know all the grammatical constructions of a language, fluency ensues. Pronunciation is the same – you learn the different areas of pronunciation in roughly the following order:

  • Consonant Sounds
  • Vowel Sounds
  • Spelling to Sound Rules
  • Weak/Strong Structure
  • Joining Techniques
  • Word Stress
  • Sentence Stress
  • Intonation Patterns
  • Shifting Stress

A student who has mastered all of these areas, will have a considerable amount of control over their speech. In English, this is something that all advanced learners could benefit from but have rarely ever studied if they have learnt only through ‘General English’ classes or self study.

This explains why most of the students who come to study with us are not aiming to sound British or American or learn any other specific accent – they are simply searching for this part of the jigsaw of English language that they have never been offered in language schools. Their goals are nearly always clear speech – to communicate in English with native English speakers without having to repeat their words or speak unnaturally slowly. This is a logical part of learning English and should not be confused with the different but loosely connected (through phonetics) world of regional accent modification – where somebody (normally a first language English speaker) wants to alter a local accent.

There are a great many examples of people who use clear speech yet have a ‘non-native’ accent, and the results are wonderfully expressive – the person commands authority through clarity and confidence whilst showing their origins. Some notable examples are Tamara Rojo, the Spanish ballerina:

and Werner Herzog, the Austrian film maker:

In the clips it is clear that each would have to correct certain sounds and structures in their speech if their aim were to adopt a British accent (I will post a pronunciation analysis of each at a later date), but each one of these people speak with enviable command and clarity. An example where pronunciation skills obstruct the delivery of speech would be Marina Abramovich, the Serbian performance artist – in this example it is sometimes difficult to follow the narrative:

There is undoubtably a huge stigma attached to accents – barely a week goes by without an article in the press questioning why people want to speak like the queen or whether there is a link between xenophobia the world of elocution. Perhaps if we could move away from the idea of ‘losing’ or ‘getting rid’ of accents and into the progressive world of ‘learning’ pronunciation, gaining control of speech and clear communication, a more positive and progressive approach could be born and a greater understanding of this bizarre language we all live with reached.

Upper Received Pronunciation

Eton College

How to speak Posh English / Upper RP.

On this week’s blog we have seen three accents well known to any resident of London – Cockney, Estuary and RP. There is one notable absentee from this list – colloquially termed ‘posh’. Technically this accent is known as ‘Upper Received Pronunciation’ and is widely associated with the English aristocracy and educational institutions such as Eton and Oxford.

The accent was also widely heard on the BBC in the first half of the 20th century as Lord Reith, the then director general of the BBC, promoted the accent in order to achieve a standard and ‘proper’ accent among presenters – an attitude that is openly rejected nowadays at the BBC, where regional accents are in demand.

Features of Upper RP

1. Full Articulation of Consonants.

Upper RP does not replace ‘t’ with glottal stops /ʔ/. To speak ‘posh’, you need to articulate fully all of the consonant sounds:
‘football’ is /fʊtbɔ:l/, ‘particularly’ is /pətɪkjuləli/

2. No ‘r’ Joining

Where most accents would use an ‘r’ sound to join words (‘mother_and daughter’), Upper RP would not, instead leaving a pause:
‘four ‘o’ clock’ is /fɔ: əʊ klɒk/ NOR /fɔ:r ə klɒk/.

Intrusive ‘r’ is impossible – ‘China_and India’ would not be connected.

3. Frontal Diphthong /əʊ/ 

The diphthong sound /əʊ/ from words such as ‘go’, ‘no’, ‘show’, ‘don’t’, shifts starting position from the centre-mid /ə/ to front-mid /ɛ/:
/gɛʊ/, /nɛʊ/, /ʃɛʊ/, /dɛʊnt/.

4. Weak Final /i/

Words ending in the weak /i/ sound, such as ‘finally‘ and ‘slowly‘ are pronounced with a more open /e/ sound:
/faɪnəle/, /sləʊle/.

5. /r/ Replaced by Alveolar Tap /ɾ/

Wherever an /r/ sound appears before a weak vowel (ə, ɪ, i, u), it is replaced by a tap /ɾ/ (this is very clear in the 2nd video below):

‘very’ becomes /veɾe/, ‘horror’ becomes /hɒɾə/

Who speaks ‘posh’?

It is not possible to attribute ‘posh’ to a particular region of England, but it is often indicative of a high social class or of particular educational institutions. It is also often reported in the media that people alter their accents to achieve higher social or employment status. The current conservative government has several Upper RP speakers, most notably Jacob Rees-Mogg (who hails from Somerset):

A longer example is from the 90s television series ‘House of Cards’ about a fictional Prime Minister:

Cockney – England’s Most Famous Accent


Everyone’s heard of ‘cockney’.

If there is one English accent that everyone has heard of, far more so than either RP or Estuary, it is Cockney. Pronunciation teachers will confirm this – students who have never heard of other regional accents will always recognise Cockney (at least by name).

Characteristics of a cockney accent.

There are a great many phonetic differences between Cockney and RP, some of the most noticeable are:

1. ‘th’

Cockney would replace voiceless ‘th’ /θ/ in words like ‘think’, ‘theatre’, ‘author’, with /f/, so they would be pronounced /fɪŋk/, /fɪəʔə/, /ɔ:fə/.
Similarly, voiced ‘th’ in ‘the’, ‘this’, and ‘Northern’, would be pronounced /v/, so /və/, /vɪs/ and /nɔ:vən/.

2. Glottal Stops /ʔ/

Cockney speakers will use glottal stops to replace /t/ before consonants and weak vowels:
water – /wɔ:ʔə/, cottage – /kɒʔɪdʒ/
It is also common for a glottal stop to replace a /k/ before a consonant:
blackboard – /bleʔbɔ:d/

3. /æ/ replaced with /e/

Any word producing the front open /æ/ vowel would be pronounced with mid-open /e/ instead:
‘black’, ‘hat’, ‘that’, ‘ran’.

4. ‘h’ dropping

In cockney, you don’t pronounce /h/ at all. So ‘house’ is /a:s/, ‘he’ is /i:/, ‘horrible’ is /ɒrɪbəw/.

Who speaks Cockney?

Traditionally a cockney speaker was born within the sound of the ‘Bow Bells’ (St Mary Le Bow Church), the accent is associated with East London – particularly the boroughs of Hackney and Tower Hamlets.  This is not really the case any more, with large parts of modern East London inhabited by Asian communities who speak ‘Multicultural London English‘, many of the cockney speaking communities have reportedly moved further East into Essex.

Cockney rhyming slang.

A highly distinctive feature of cockney, is its use of rhyming words to communicate meanings. Some examples are below:

‘Would you Adam and Eve it?’ (believe)
‘We had a Bull and Cow last night.’ (row)
‘Give me a butcher’s‘. (look, from ‘butcher’s hook’)

Influence on other accents.

Estuary English is somewhere between Received Pronunciation and Cockney phonetically, although it does not incorporate the slang elements of cockney.

To hear the difference between Estuary and Cockney, watch this interview between Jonathon Ross (Estuary) and actor Ray Winstone (Cockney):

© 2007-2013 Pronunciation Studio Ltd.