Strategies to Understand English accents

strategies to understand english culture cuppa

Many of my clients tell me that understanding different accents in the UK can be really hard for them, even if they are an advanced speaker of English or have lived in the UK for many years.  Accents can be different from what you expect & it’s not surprising that the UK can be tricky when we have such a rich diversity of international English spoken here, let alone the British native accents you might come across.

In fact of the 160 English dialects globally, 29 of those are in England alone (and that’s not taking into account Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland!), which makes it the most diverse country in the world for English dialects.

So how do you improve, to feel more comfortable about what is going on & keep up with the conversation. How do you follow small talk with colleagues, the important topics in online meetings or social chat with the people you meet? Here are my Perfect Cuppa English top tips:


How do I improve my understanding of English accents?

Watch & listening as much as possible in English is your ultimate way to improve. So, whether that’s podcasts, audio books, TV shows or films, whatever you are into make sure you are doing it frequently & consistently, ideally daily. Do not feel like you have time? Do it at the same as walking outside or while you cook a meal or clear up at the end of the day.


What TV should I watch to understand better English accents?

My clients tell me that the trickiest accents to understand include Scottish, Welsh, Birmingham (informally called ‘Brummie’) & Liverpool, so here are some TV show suggestions for you:

  • Birmingham/ Brummie Accent: Peaky Blinders drama
  • Scottish Accent: Shetland crime drama
  • Welsh & Essex Accent: Gavin & Stacey comedy
  • Cockney/ East London Accent: EastEnders soap opera
  • Chester/ Liverpool Accent: Hollyoaks soap opera
  • Manchester Accent: Coronation Street soap opera
  • Yorkshire rural Accent: Emmerdale soap opera

How should I watch TV shows to improve my English?

I have 2 specific strategies which I want to share with you, which you can choose to improve your listening skills, depending on your energy, mood or the time of day.

  1. Listening Strategy 1: Active Learning
  • Choose carefully: shorter episodes are best for this activity or pick a part of an episode/ film.
  • Watch for the first time without subtitles: How much do you understand? What can you work out from the context?
  • Make notes: new words/ pronunciation/ spelling to check later. Do not pause the show.
  • Watch an episode a 2nd/3rd time with English subtitles on: you will understand more each time & pick up on words you missed before.
  • Be consistent: set a frequency- Daily? Every 3 days? At the weekend?
  1. Listening Strategy 2: Relaxing & absorption
  • Choose something you know already: you have watched it already in English or your own native language, or you have read the book, so you are familiar.
  • Watch with English subtitles on: Connecting spelling & pronunciation, plus visually learning new vocabulary is the best way & it is also more relaxing for you!
  • Sit back, relax & absorb away! Accept you will not understand every part & that is OK.
  • Make a quick note afterwards: approximately what percentage did you understand? What were you pleased about understanding/ what was still tricky for you?

Ultimately, be patient & kind to yourself. There is no magic bullet, but consistency & frequency really work.

I would love you to try these tips out & tell me how you get on. What works for you & do you feel yourself improving? What other ideas work for you? Let me know! And please share my tips on, forward to a friend or colleague, who could really use these tips & learn more.

You might also like reading:

Decoding British English: British communication styles

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