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Learning how to speak British English

British English is the official language of the United Kingdom and is sometimes referred to as “classical English”.

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While American English is gaining influence through popular culture in the form of Hollywood films, music and the internet, British English often remains the language of choice in academia and former British colonies throughout the world. In this article, we will explain how to speak British English correctly and how to access useful online resources to help you progress quickly.

Firstly, it is important to understand what we mean by the term “British English”. In actual fact, the variety of the language spoken in the UK also has its own regional divisions, accents and dialects. However, as a non-native speaker you should concentrate on “Standard English” – that similar to the language heard on the BBC. Learning this variety will guarantee you are understood in the vast majority of situations. Some additional knowledge of regional forms and slang may provide a deeper understanding of English and make you sound more “local” in certain speech situations, but it is generally best to use standard forms.

Here are 5 tips on how to speak British English:

  1. British or American English?
    Look at the type of English that you already use and examine your study history. Have you been using British or American textbooks? Where have your English teachers been from? If they were local tutors, was their English closer to the UK or US variety? Questions of this type will help you assess which type of English you currently use. You then need to decide whether you really want to learn British English or would prefer the American variety (each has its pluses). If you are unsure, you may like to read about the differences between British and American English.
  2. Establish a language model
    If you have decided to learn British English, then you need to choose material produced by Brits. These include: textbooks published by Cambridge University Press, Macmillan or Penguin that focus on British English, resources from the BBC, UK music, literature, newspapers and websites. Choose interesting study material that contains modern British English and topics that you enjoy. While studying classical literature may have its advantages, many words and expressions are outdated and no longer in use. This is not the model that you should be copying if you want to use English like a native speaker. Once you have gathered your study materials, you will have a clear language model to work with and copy.
  3. Learn British English online
    You don’t have to live in the UK to learn British English because the internet provides everything you need to study the language. There are numerous websites that offer free study materials produced by organisations such as The British Council, Cambridge Examinations and BBC Learning English. Just try a Google search and see what you can find! Textbooks can be purchased or found online along with video lessons, audiobooks and other interesting resources for download.
  4. Study British pronunciation
    One key to speaking British English is to perfect your accent and remove any strong features transferred from your mother tongue. A typical example with Russian speakers is learning how to pronounce the soft English “r” instead of the rolling Russian equivalent. This can be done by working with minimal pairs (two words that differ only in one sound), repeating tongue twisters, copying a native speaker with good pronunciation (video/audio) or taking accent training from a trained teacher. The BBC Learning English website is a great place to get started!
    Learning how to speak British English also means actually speaking the language and this cannot be done alone! Therefore, consider taking Skype English lessons with a British teacher to work on your pronunciation and spoken fluency in the language. Input and error correction from a native speaker is essential if you want to speak British English well.
  5. Read more in English!
    Today, we are reading less than ever before and this often has a negative effect on how well we speak languages (including our own!). There are several good reasons why you need to read regularly in order to improve your English. Reading builds your subconscious understanding of the language; its grammar, spelling, vocabulary, idioms, registers, etc. It gives you access to the whole package. If you read more, you will make faster progress with your English. You may also like to try working with texts and audiobooks together. Read a chapter, underline any new words and translate them, then listen to the audiobook to make the connection between how English words are written and pronounced. Reading aloud also provides good speech practice as long as you have a correct model to copy (audio, video or native teacher).

For more information on Skype English classes with British teachers, visit our homepage to request a 15-minute trial consultation!

Click here to download this post via our mobile website!
Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)

Written by Alex Jude —
ESL Specialist & CEO at Online Teachers UK

Alex Jude is the Founder & CEO of Online Teachers UK. He holds a BA hons degree in Linguistics from The University of Manchester and is a life-long English teacher. Following graduation, he spent 2002-2012 living and teaching in Russia, where he lectured in General Linguistics and Translation Studies. Alex is a fluent Russian speaker and worked with the BBC at the World Cup in 2018. In his spare time, he enjoys camping/bushcraft, playing guitar and watching rugby league.

Written by Alex Jude —
ESL Specialist & CEO at Online Teachers UK