Does Accent Matter?

Published British pronunciation training materials almost exclusively use an SSB* (Southern Standard British) accent model.

Someone studying pronunciation in the UK will probably find this variety to be the default offering.

The UK has a huge range of accents, so at first glance, this southern focus can seem restrictive and unrepresentative.

We can speak clearly in any accent, so why focus on this ONE accent only? Does it really matter?

Wooden cubes spelling out the word ACCENT

A clear pronunciation model

We need a clear framework to learn and teach from. That could be any accent: Scottish, Yorkshire or Bristol would do. But we do need just one.

It’s interesting to know about pronunciation variations, but we need a model to aim for in the classroom.

I know it would be frustrating for me as a learner of French to be given six more more possible pronunciations of a given word. I just need one clear model to aim for, at least at the beginning. This enables me to build a coherent, reliable French pronunciation system in my own speech.

As an English pronunciation coach, I want to offer the same clarity and structure to my clients.

Southern standard

OK, we need a model. But why is a southern accent chosen over all others?

Well, the south-east has traditionally been the UK’s economic and political centre. The way people spoke there was seen as the standard, which seems to have stuck.

A southern accent is not intrinsically better, worse or clearer than any other. We could argue that SSB is widely recognised and ‘exported’ – national newsreaders tend to adapt towards it. Maybe it’s the British accent an international audience is most likely to understand? Maybe.

My own pronunciation materials are based in SSB. I always establish with my clients from the very beginning which pronunciation system suits them and their circumstances. I am based in London, so for my clients who live here, it often makes sense to use an accent model they are likely to hear around them. We make a choice  after discussion and knowledge that there are other options. If necessary, I adapt my training materials in a way that is useful for the client.

Accent choice

In any case, many of my clients are not aiming for perfect representation of an accent, so SSB might be irrelevant. It can be there as a reference point or comparison. I work with many people who just want to  speak more clearly, which is possible in any accent.

If I returned to my native Scotland and taught pronunciation there, I would definitely create a whole new set of pronunciation materials. That sounds quite fun and refreshing, actually! 

There is no one ‘correct’ way to pronounce English. However, the practical need for a clear target model is very real. The nature of that target model depends on the needs of the individual.

It’s all about choice, and that’s what Vocal Choice is here to help with!

To kick-start your journey towards super clear English pronunciation, book your free, 20-minute Clarity Call today.

*SSB is the natural development of what we may previously have called modern RP (Received Pronunciation). Remember that the south of England has MANY accents that are not SSB.

Sonya Ross

I'm a voice, speech and English pronunciation coach based between London and Hastings, UK, and worldwide online. I help busy international professionals speak clearly, confidently and with impact so that they get their valuable ideas across in the way they intended at work and in life.