United Kingdom is a Molotov cocktail of regional and local accents which can be a nightmare for a student of English trying his or her best to simply communicate in a foreign language they have studied hard for many years.
Those of us who are not native speakers and who have learnt the English language in our home countries (and that is largely true no matter on which continent and in which country you were studying) usually experience a massive language shock when upon arrival in the UK we encounter a speaker of one of the many regional accents.
Most of us, and that often includes language professors (yes, you too!) when faced with the various dialects, slang and unfamiliar vocabulary experience something close to language vertigo.
The reason for it is very simple. Whilst it is undoubtedly true that for a country of its size the UK has a hell lot of accents and dialects, it is also true that many of our language teachers have never been abroad or they haven’t spent enough time there to truly immerse themselves in the local accent.
On top of that, our textbooks for the most part still teach the “queen’s English” which used to be the model for the only “correct”, “proper” and “acceptable” form of English. In the public domain, the so-called “received pronunciation”, or RP, dominated the radio and TV waves until relatively recently and regional accents could be heard very rarely.
That was in spite of the fact that the communities across the British Isles spoke a multitude of accents that were no more or less “English” than the “standard” promoted in the public domain. All of them are colourful and full of vibrancy as the communities which created them and are reflective of their particular
circumstances, history, class ad socio-economic context.
But if you look for a reflection of this rich and dynamic linguistic heritage in our English language books, you look in vain. The methods and messages might have changed, but the language and accent have stayed the same. Our textbooks continue to preserve the myth that everybody in Britain speaks like the queen.
By the way, the same goes for the absence of foreign accents in any listening exercises, in spite of the fact that in today’s global world you are much more likely to speak English with a non-native speaker than a born and bred Briton, American or Australian. The figures speak for themselves, although around 1.1 billion people, that is, 15% of the world’s population speak English only 360 million are native speakers.
(List of languages by total number of speakers)
I believe that teachers and language enthusiasts who live in English speaking
countries should make a conscious effort to change this unfortunate situation for the benefit of all language learners and make the regional accents familiar to English language learners across the globe. One of the aims of this blog will be to do just that.
Adopted daughter of Belfast for the past 14 years, I have acquired a deep love for the language of these beautiful shores mixed with an occasional sense of frustration as my kids pretend not to understand me and I often genuinely do not understand their “broad” Belfast accents. A recent example, for my 12-year old otherwise very talented and articulate tri-lingual daughter, “Kate” does not rhyme with “plate”. In her speech, “Kate” sounds like “Kia” (the car) and as for “plate”, it sounds somehow like “pli:’eit”.
So, this is a blog with a mission! I am going to from time to time introduce some local expressions from the wee place I know a wee bit. Added bonus is that according to a recent poll conducted by the Independent the Irish accent has been voted the sexiest by British singles.
(Irish accent voted sexiest among British singles, new poll reveals)
Intrigued already? To get a taster of what Northern Ireland (Norn Iron) accent sounds like, watch this video.
How to speak Norn Iron
If you are passionate about the English language, as a teacher or a student, and love discovering and sharing language quirks and twists, please share them here.
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