UK accents. The differences.

Discussion in 'Cultural Discussions' started by olives, Nov 27, 2006.

  1. olives Senior Member

    Hi everyone.

    Which english/uk accent do you find the most difficult to understand?
    CAREFUL! Do not confuse "accent" with "voice" for example. Sometimes they're hard to understand just because their voice, in addition to their accent, aren't clear. And there are probably many other factors to consider.

    By the way, what are the different accents in UK?
  2. sniffrat

    sniffrat Senior Member

    Leicester, England
    English, UK
    Hi, Olives - I'm from the middle of England and here's my opinion

    1) Belfast/Northern Ireland
    2) Glasgow
    3) Newcastle

    The Belfast accent is very fast and the rhythm of speech is very different. The Glasgow accent sounds "slurred" and the endings of words tend to be "forgotten". Most people agree that the Newcastle accent is the most difficult English accent. I have a friend from this city and I understand about 80% of what he says (I guess the other 20%).

    In extreme cases all 3 sound like non-native speakers. Maybe I would understand your French accent better than my friend! Remember that this is just my opinion - I LOVE all UK accents because of the different rhythms, sounds, dialects etc etc

  3. I probably have less experience with it than other British people since I practically never lived there for long. But I agree that understanding Glaswegians is a challenge, indeed!!:)

    Cockney and some areas around Manchester can be tricky too.
  4. Tresley

    Tresley Senior Member

    Yorkshire / United Kingdom
    British English
    Bonjour Olives,

    I live in Yorkshire, in the north of England.

    This is my list, most difficult to understand at the top:

    1) Glasgow (Scotland)
    2) Newcastle (N.E. England)
    3) Belfast/Londonderry (Northern Ireland)
    4) Birmingham/Wolverhampton (West Midlands)

    In Glasgow, it's not only the accent that I find very very difficult to understand, they seem to have their own vocabulary for some things.
    In Newcastle, someone had to interpret for me once!
    I have a colleague at work from Belfast who speaks very quickly, coupled with the accent - I just fill in (guess) the words that I didn't catch.
    In Birmingham/Wolverhampton the accent is very nasal.

    I don't really have any problem with any of the other main accents around the UK.

    I like all the accents in the UK and there isn't one that I dislike. They all add charm and variety to the English spoken in our country. However, some are much more difficult to understand that others.

    I hope this helps
  5. Well, this happens only if you find a real Geordie-speaking person. For most part, they can handle normal English as well.

  6. Tresley

    Tresley Senior Member

    Yorkshire / United Kingdom
    British English
    I forgot to answer the other part of your question - "What are the different accents in the UK"?

    Broadly speaking, (and I am sure others will be able to add to this list):

    Cockney (London)
    Southern English (there are different varieties here - perhaps someone else will explain)
    West Country (Bristol, South-West England)
    West Midlands (Birmingham/Wolverhampton)
    East Midlands (Nottingham/Derby)
    East Anglian (Norfolk/Suffolk [Norwich/Ispwich])
    Liverpudlian (Liverpool)
    Mancunian (Manchester)
    Yorkshire (Sheffield/Leeds/York - but the accents do vary between these cities)
    Cumbrian (Lake District)
    Southern Scottish (Glasgow/Edinburgh - but the accents are different in the two cities)
    Northern Scottish (Aberdeen/Inverness)
    Welsh (Cardiff/Aberystwith/Wrexham)
    Northern Irish (Belfast/Londonderry)

    This is a very broad list and others will no doubt add to it and accuse me of over generalising things. I must have forgotten something I am sure, because the accents vary tremendously!

    Let's see what others have to say.
  7. Tresley

    Tresley Senior Member

    Yorkshire / United Kingdom
    British English
    They could understand me, but I couldn't understand them! That was my point. Someone interpreted to help me!
  8. maxiogee Banned

    Once again, olives, I find myself wondering if you are going out of your way here to give gratuitous offence to people?

    Also, the forum stickies here say
    Do not post
    d) Questions that invite lists (i.e. "favorites"

  9. Pedro y La Torre Senior Member

    Hauts-de-Seine, France
    English (Ireland)
    I find the Newcastle accent relatively easy to understand, the Glasgow one can present problems but only because of their different slang not because I don't get what they're saying.

    It's not technically a "UK" accent but for the hardest accent to understand I would have to go with the West of Ireland accent. I really don't understand them a lot of the time, maybe it's a throwback from when they used to speak Irish but they seem to slur a lot of words or change the pronunciation completely.
  10. maxiogee Banned

    Now that's what I call a slur! ;)

    It may be hard to believe but the 'accent' with which regions of Ireland speak Irish is different to that with which they speak English - the vowels are different.
  11. ysigol New Member

    I've never had any trouble understanding Geordies or Northern Irish people myself, but Glaswegians yes... that's definitely the most difficult to understand UK accent for me.
    I sometimes get the idea that people from the South of England think that anyone not from their part of the country is difficult to understand.
  12. Brioche

    Brioche Senior Member

    Australia English
    I recall being in a pub in County Kerry, and thinking "I must be in the Gaeltacht", because I couldn't understand what the locals were saying to each other. Then I gradually began to recognise words, and sentences, and realised that it was English, not Irish!
  13. rubbershoes

    rubbershoes Member

    when i was working in London I had a geordie client come to visit me. he brought his nephew to translate into English . After s few meeting i got the hang of what he as saying but i certainly needed the help to begin with.
  14. Namakemono

    Namakemono Senior Member

    Galicia, España
    Español, gallego (España)
    Are there major accent differences between Edinburgh and Glasgow? I can understand Sean Connery's Edinburghian accent (if such a thing exists) much better than most British actors, so it surprises me that you find the Glaswegian accent difficult to grasp.
  15. jefrir Member

    Birmingham, UK
    English, England
    Glaswegian is very different to Edinburgh, and the only accent I have ever had problems with. I tend to have more trouble with people speaking a language I'm not expecting - French people speaking English, and vice-versa - because it takes a while for my brain to work out which language they're speaking.
  16. Hutschi

    Hutschi Senior Member

    I think, they have an own dialect in Glasgow, called "Scotch". (Some people say, it is another language.) The vocabulary is slightly different. But it is not too difficult to understand. I was there last year during the World SF-Convention, mostly in the convention centre. But in some restaurants, I think, they spoke Scotch.

    I bought a dictionary and there are really some differences.
    Many of the words I could understand because of my native language is German.

    For me the most difficult to understand was a dialect in South England. This was because the omit many of the consonants.

    Best I could understand people from Ireland. I do not know exactly why. This is just a feeling.

    Best Regards
  17. Now, now, mein Herr, which parts of Southern England could you not understand exactly???:cool:
  18. Pedro y La Torre Senior Member

    Hauts-de-Seine, France
    English (Ireland)
    Do you mean Scots?
  19. I think this is true for most people in the world concerning their attitude to people from other regions. Germans have exactly the same. I cannot say that ALL people from other parts of the country are difficult to understand, but naturally some of the Northern dialects would be more difficult for me than southern ones. It is a matter of getting your ears accustomed to a certain manner of speech.
  20. invictaspirit Senior Member

    Kent, SE England
    English English
    In response to the original question:

    I would say there are six huge accent super-groups in the UK. This is to make things extremely simple for you. Within each of these there are huge variations (except RP). But to a non-native speaker of English, the following would be easy to distinguish:

    RP/Standard English English (non-regional)

    These accent groups are entirely different to each other and each has features that unite the accents within it, although those accents can sound very different.

    General London
    East End Cockney/West Essex
    South London
    Strong Estuary (North Kent/much of Essex)
    General Estuary (can be pretty much anywhere in the South these days)
    Rural Kent and Sussex
    Northern Home Counties


    (basically the Northern accents are the most varied of all. Every single town and city in the North has its own accent. The following is therefore highly simplified)
    South Yorskshire/Sheffield
    West Yorkshire/Leeds
    East Yorkshire/Hull
    Yorkshire Dales
    Northwest Manchester/Bolton/Wigan
    General Lancashire
    Most of Derbyshire

    There are lots of Scottish accents and I am no expert. I can more or less identify:

    Once again, I am no expert. I can identify:
    The Valleys
    North Wales

    Crossover Accents
    The following accents are where the 'super-groups' form borders and these accents have features of two of the super-groups and are hard to classify in the above system:
    Thames Valley/M4
    Birmingham/Black Country
  21. don maico

    don maico Senior Member

    UK English /Spanish
    There was a time not so long ago when the general southern accent outside London was a kind of varient from the one found in the S.E. "ooaarrr Jim lad" In Sussex it was called Sussex burr although rather softer than a typical Somerset accent. Norfolk and Suffolk also boasts similar type accents but thes like Sussex burr have yielded greatly to the onslaught brought about by Estuary/ Slack Mouthed Patios which came from the London migrants.
  22. I wonder if there is anywhere on the Internet where you hear those accents?
    I would at best recommend local radio stations to my friends but the only pieces of the dialects even there would be interviews with the locals.
  23. panjabigator

    panjabigator Senior Member

    غریب الوطن
    Am. English
    So which ones are easy to understand?
  24. BBC English, probably.:)
  25. MarcB Senior Member

    US English
    Here you can listen to samples from all of the UK, with links to speakers from all over the world including non natives.
  26. don maico

    don maico Senior Member

    UK English /Spanish
    That lady speaking with a Hampshire accent - that is similar to the Sussex burr
  27. Sepia Senior Member

    High German/Danish
    Which BBC English? Like Richard Quest? (Except for the fact that he is now with CNN. Or like the rising number of Irishmen "voicing" the BBC?
  28. Well, there are traitors anywhere.:D
    I was talking about my young days:D, in the 80ies.:D

  29. A great job, Marc. Any idea where one can get more of the accents and dialects to hear?
  30. MarcB Senior Member

    US English
    Hello Setwale_Charm,
    Try here
  31. ernest_

    ernest_ Senior Member

    Catalan, Spain
    For Scottish accents, look at (sorry but I still can't post URLs) [Mod note: But the Culture Mods are so lovely that they edit them in for me!!].
  32. So can anybody sum up these differences between the dialects by means of describing the peculiarities here?
  33. jabogitlu Senior Member

    When I listen to them in succession, I can hear some differences. But if I just pick out a bunch of UKers at random and listen to them, the only differences I can grasp are Irish, Scottish, and English!
  34. Toepicker Member

    Manchester England
    Listening to those different English dialects, I can instantly pick out the differences. Liverpudlian is the most obvious, especially pronouncing words ending in a 'K' sound as if trying to clear the throat! (A bit like loCH in Scottish). Interesting that the more educated individuals have a much mellower accent, although still retaining the flat vowel sounds of Northern English. I find myself talking my native 'mancunian' in certain situations, but adopt a more neutral accent in others, which is perceived by fellow mancunians as 'posh', but still distinctly 'northern' by a southerner. When I hear my own voice recording I am taken aback at how flat the vowels are! Take the word 'Manchester' itself. Many locals pronounce it: 'mAn'ches'tOr' ('O' pronounced as 'O' in 'opera'), whereas others with a less-pronounced accent say 'Man'ches'tA'. Some of the older generation of BBC announcers say 'Manshs'ter' (2 syllables).
    A couple of years ago I saw an American cartoon programme where the Manchester-based rock group Oasis were portrayed as having cockney accents. Is that, I wonder, because some American English speakers presume that all working class Englishmen speak with a cockney accent, and everyone else talks like the Royal family!? I could go on, but I've probably bored everyone already!

  35. panjabigator

    panjabigator Senior Member

    غریب الوطن
    Am. English
    I had no idea of the diversity of accents in England until recently. So yes, everyone was either Cockney, or Queens English!
  36. sniffrat

    sniffrat Senior Member

    Leicester, England
    English, UK
    As a native Englishman, here is the difference that I hear.....

    Grass, last, pass (the 'a' is long - gr-aaahhh-ss, p-aaahhh-st etc)
    Southern or RP/BBC accent

    Grass, last, past (the 'a' is short - p-a-st, l-a-st)
    Northern accent

    Cocknies, The Queen, David Bowie, President Tony Blair and Michael Caine (first category)

    Noel Gallagher (Oasis), John Lennon (or any Beatle), Daphne (from Frasier)
    (second category)

    Listen to an Englishman/woman say any of the above words and you can immediately tell. It's a real "give-away". This a vast generalisation (there is some "cross-over") but I believe it works in almost all cases.

    Of course, which part of the North or which part of the South is a different matter.........
  37. maxiogee Banned

    I can't imagine that (assuming such a conversation could happen) a cockney would understand the Queen if she asked them to "Pass the grass" ;).
  38. Sallyb36

    Sallyb36 Senior Member

    Liverpool UK
    British UK
    when i first moved to Liverpool from Eastbourne aged 9 (to the North from the South) at school in an English lesson the teacher asked the class to tell her 2 types of ant. Everyone but me put their hand up, I could only think of the insect. The other one that everyone else knew was aunt. I used to say aunty (arenty).
  39. tvdxer Senior Member

    Minnesota, U.S.A.
    Minnesota, U.S.A. - English
    I find the various Scottish accents difficult to understand.

    An excellent website on this topic, with sound samples, is
  40. Macunaíma

    Macunaíma Senior Member

    Um ninho de mafagalfinhos
    português, Brasil
    It's amazing to me that such a small island should have so many and so different accents. Brazil, for instance, is larger than Western Europe and we don't have half as many accents, I guess.
    To me the most difficult of all UK accent is the upper-class southern accent, the so-called posh accent. To my non-native ears, insensitive to the social connotations of that kind of accent, it sounds not only the hardest to understand, but the most unpleasant to listen to. I'm no expert on UK accents because I've only been to the UK once and unfortunately I didn't have the chance to have much contact with locals, but my former teacher, Francis, was from Ely and he had that accent to a lesser extent. It was funny to listen to his "poshee" students who'd picked up his snobbish slur.
  41. blue-eyes

    blue-eyes Senior Member

    English - Spain
  42. maxiogee Banned

    Surely, pasting from other web-sites is not the greatest way of making a personal contribution to a discussion ;) Have you nothing of your own to say?
  43. It is still useful, nonetheless, which is the essence of it all.
    Thank you, blue-eyes.
  44. elpoderoso

    elpoderoso Senior Member

    Haven't you noticed that over half the people here pass off information from wikipedia as their own?

    I personally have trouble with any midlands accent, Wolverhampton,Birmingham and Dudley etc, and i only live 25 minutes from Wolves.
    I think Geordie is pretty straight forward to follow as an accent, but if someone is speaking the dialect it can be quite problematic.
    I would say the accents that i have the most trouble with are the ones from the southern Welsh valleys i.e Merthyr, pontypridd and Ebbw vale. When in conversation with people from these areas i tend to wait until they have finished what they are saying, copy what they do (laugh, smile or look concerned) and then look for the nearest exit.
  45. sound shift

    sound shift Senior Member

    Derby (central England)
    English - England
    Here in Derby I had a Japanese neighbour who on his return from a break in Southern Scotland asked me, "What language do they speak in Scotland?" :D
  46. Alxmrphi Senior Member

    Reykjavík, Ísland
    UK English
    Wow! What was their response when you told them it was English?
  47. sound shift

    sound shift Senior Member

    Derby (central England)
    English - England
    Well, actually the chap asked my father and I heard about it from him. I don't remember if he told me how our Japanese neighbour responded on learning that English is spoken in Southern Scotland. I was probably too busy laughing to notice.
  48. Alxmrphi Senior Member

    Reykjavík, Ísland
    UK English
    On the subject of UK accents, does anyone else think that in one country there is such a diverse range of accents anywhere else, from Glasgow, London, Birmingham, Liverpool, London, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, Cornwall.

    Well, in the UK there are those, totally different from each other.
    I don't hear *that* much of a diversity in America, I mean the southern accents are nothing like the northern ones but there isn't as big a range than here, I do not think, but I don't know, so am asking other opinions.
  49. maxiogee Banned

    Could it be that the differences are ones for which our ears are not attuned?
    An outsider wouldn't notice much difference in the accents of a group of people from Kerry, but someone in the know could place them to the nearest parish.

    I imagine that we don't always hear accents - we hear words and phrases and sometimes these take more of our attention that they ought.
    No Irish person would dream of pronouncing the surname "Reagan" as anything other than ree-gahn - so, while we were busy marvelling at the ignorance of those who referred to President Ray-gun we were missing out on any subtle regional nuances within both the 'ay' and the 'un'.
    I imagine that this is true for many non-American native-English-speakers. The use of the language is so different in how it handles words we already know (either the meaning or the pronciation) that we miss how 'what is being said' is being said.
  50. As far as English English goes....I understand RP perfectly. I had no trouble when a visiting professor today, spoke in RP. I can tell the difference between a Scottish, Irish, and English accent, but probably not any sub-dialects. This ability only comes from Harry Potter movies and BBCAmerica as I haven't traveled 'across the pond' though I would love to some day.

    For American accents... Hmm....
    Well the northern States are much different than the southern states, obviously. Actually, I tested my ability to tell accent differences in the US. I think I got maybe 6 out of 10 right so, I failed miserably, in other words. Midwest is definitely different than NErn. Bostonian is slightly different than the general NE State accent. I think NY has their own version, too. Texan Southern is different than the normal Southern. The Western states, I think, have a similar accent to the Midwest. Apparently they don't. I can't tell the difference between Northern and Southern Ohio. Apparently there is a difference. Every other Ohioan I know says there is a difference. The only difference I notice is that in Southern Ohio, there's a "worsh" and "deesh" influence of some sort. The South, I bunch all in one group except for Texas. Same with the West and Midwestern States. I can't really tell the New Jersey accent either. It's different, but I can't distinguish all the time, sometimes I can. I'm pretty pathetic for an American with American dialects. You'd think I'd be able to tell the difference better in the Midwestern States since I am from Ohio, not the North Eastern Seaboard. Maybe it's because I don't have a natural Midwestern accent that I fail miserably with accent placement. I might hear accents slightly differently than others do.

    This is the website I tested myself on and failed miserably on. And yep, I re-tested myself and got a 6. 60%=F

    Onto there's not *that* much diversity.... I would say that there is, but it's a lot subtler, especially within Midwestern and Western dialects.

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