Not all English is the same. If you are just beginning to learn English, you are probably not thinking about which style of spoken English you are going to use. Later, you will realise there are significant differences between British English, Australian English and American English (to name a few).

These differences lie not only in English pronunciation but, more importantly, in words and phrases, and some grammar rules. Potential consequences of your choice will depend on where you end up living for study or work. Do you really want to spend years mastering a unique Australian vocabulary, only to be misunderstood (constantly) in America?

You'll have to go right back to the drawing board.

Like all idioms, you can't translate this one literally. What it means is, after spending all that time and effort on your English study, you may 'have to start all over again, from the beginning'.

The most effective key to learning English is to study in English speaking countries. To do this, you will have to take either the IELTS or TOEFL test. Which one you choose depends on where and what you want to study, which ultimately determines the style of English you should be focusing on.

For non-native English speakers, this choice can be overwhelming.

Perhaps you trying to decide between continuing your language learning in Australia or Britain because they both tend to follow the same rules — but you will still need to work out which accent, dialect or style of English to practise speaking. After all, your goal is to speak English fluently and be understood in your new country.

Do you want to sound refined, posh or like an everyday Aussie?

Are you going to choose the Queen's English, BBC English (similar to cultivated Australian) or a broad Australian English — and which of the many styles are actually used in conversational situations?

Do Native Speakers Use 'The Queen's English'? (And, What is it, Anyway?)

Is the Queen's English the same as standard English?
The Queen's spoken English is just standard English. (Source: Pixabay Credit: Monica Volpin)

According to Lexico.com, the Queen's English is a noun which refers to the form of the English language:

...written and spoken correctly by educated people in Britain.

This has everything to do with social class and the reverence bestowed on royalty as being the most educated and knowledgeable and, therefore, sophisticated. It stands to reason, then, that more common people would aspire to speak English like The Queen (or King) and try to copy her patterns of speech and mannerisms.

Throughout history, around the world, the higher the social class of a person, the more education they would receive. The more education, the better their grasp of their official language.

"He speaks so beautifully," people must have said. "He must be sophisticated and clever."

These days, the English you speak, whether it be Scottish, Irish or another form, does not always lead people to make assumptions about your level of education.

But, what are the key elements that differentiate The Queen's English from other spoken dialects?

  • slower rate for speaking — slow down, articulate each word clearly.
  • Avoid colloquial expressions — slang phrases are fun but tend not to be used by The Queen.
  • Emphasise vowel sounds — avoid incorporating regional nuances and pronunciation when speaking English.

Interestingly, scholars have carried out analysis of The Queen's speeches over the years, and have detected slight changes in accent.

Received Pronunciation is a cultivated accent
BBC English is a cultivated accent (Source: Pixabay Credit: DesignFile)

Who Uses BBC English?

The whole point of BBC English (also known as Received Pronunciation, or RP English) was to ensure radio and news broadcasts in English could be understood in each English speaking country. Before the development of Received Pronunciation, listeners and viewers experienced difficulty distinguishing between the regional English of announcers — potentially, they would have to listen to fifty-six dialects.

ESL (English as a Second Language) students still find the RP English on TV or Radio very helpful for practising their listening skills and tuning their ears to English pronunciation.

You should definitely strive to improve your English by imitating native speakers — but an awareness of the style you are copying is essential.

Is BBC English the best model for people who are learning English?

BBC Radio broadcasts began in 1922. Announcers quickly developed an exaggerated style of speech to allow for easier comprehension.

When it was realised that this form was considered, worldwide, to be 'correctly spoken English', schools in the UK began to make changes. They not only adapted their pronunciation, but they also radically modified grammar and vocabulary in the syllabus. This ensured Received Pronunciation became the norm, even over larger official languages, including Irish.

The Standardisation of the English Language

What was happening in UK schools at this time marked the beginning of the development of standard English language.

To standardise native language, including English, the following processes are involved:

  • Officially represent and validate the accepted language, known as codification, via its inclusion in documents such as dictionaries, textbooks and style manuals
  • Reducing or eliminating dialect differences, known as levelling
  • Study of the relationships of known languages, known as language ecology
  • Language usage

The recent global popularity of movies and music, particularly those produced in North America, is leading to English undergoing another wave of standardisation — this time towards American-style English.

It is also interesting to note that, according to David William:

Received Pronunciation, in its most pure form, is spoken by less than two percent of British people.

What About Australian English?

If you are studying or working in Australia, you are going to hear people speaking English in a wide range of accents. However, according to linguists Arthur Delbridge and A.G. Mitchell:

Australian accents tend not to vary by region, but they can be categorised into three groups — broad, general and cultivated.

While there are unique and distinct language patterns and slang terminology in Australian English, the standard grammar and vocabulary tend to be closely aligned with Standard British English.

The differences in Australian English itself are minor, and widely open to different interpretations. The variations in pronunciation centre around the vowel sounds, e.g. in broad Australian English, the 'a' in face can be heard as more like the 'i' in kite. Cultivated Australian English, on the other hand, most closely resembles BBC English, and is not commonly heard.

If you are going to learn English in Australia, familiarising yourself with Australian movies and TV shows, and tuning in to the accent, is highly recommended if you want to attain fluency.

How to Improve Your Expression and Become Fluent in English

If you set out to learn English, it is likely your goal is to attain the best language skills you can. This applies equally whether you are a native English speaker or a second language learner.

Whether you are planning to learn English online, privately with an English teacher or by taking English courses, your objective is going to be to use your skills confidently. To help you improve your confidence, you should:

  • Strive for a considerable English vocabulary
    • Focus on phrases if you're beyond a beginning level
    • Consider business or professional English to increase your knowledge
  • Practise speaking every day — even if it's to yourself in the mirror
  • Write regularly in a journal or diary for grammar and spelling practice
  • Memorise and practise rules for inflecting verbs, particularly tenses
  • Actively participate in your English classes or native language exchange
  • Practise, practise, practise — and remember, making mistakes is how you learn.

Becoming fluent in English has nothing to do with accent or which style of English is the best.

The ability to speak fluently has everything to do with practice and maximising your opportunities.

How do pronunciation and meaning vary between different forms of English?
The same English words can often have different meanings or vary in pronunciation. (Source: Pixabay Credit: Alexa Photos)

Finding Suitable Tutors for your English Speaking Lessons

The ability to speak English does not necessarily make a person a suitable tutor. Nor does being a native English speaker automatically qualify you.

Where you live might not have as great an influence as you think. You may be surrounded by native speakers, but what if none of them uses the style of English you want to learn?

Despite concerted efforts to adapt English to be 'region neutral', the fact remains there will always be great variations in accent, dialect and, in particular, words.

Take, for example, a simple word you are sure to find on your vocabulary list no matter what English speaking country you're in — jumper. How could this possibly present a problem?

  • In Britain, jumpers are long-sleeved knit garments, for your upper body.
  • In North America, jumpers are called sweaters, and a sleeveless dress worn over a shirt is a jumper.
  • In Australia, jumpers are knitted, woollen upper-body garments; sweaters are knit garments; and a sleeveless dress is a ... sleeveless dress.
  • Oh — and the North American jumper is actually a pinafore in British English.

Are you confused yet?

There is no real consistency throughout the world, and different countries will offer different experiences.

English lessons in many countries utilise a mix of British and American English.

This is certainly the case in many Asian countries, including South Korea, China and Japan, where the English curriculum places an emphasis on American English, but video lessons may be British.

In some countries, such as Poland or India, you are more likely to come across teachers who are speakers of British English.

If you are learning English in school or university, it may be that English speaking lessons are limited with less priority given to practising pronunciation and an almost sole focus on vocabulary acquisition and the memorisation of grammar rules.

With the recent and growing popularity of working overseas, the number of people working as English tutors has increased, meaning you'll encounter all sorts of accents.

Determine your purpose and your goals when it comes to learning English, and stick with these in your search for an English teacher.

There is so much to consider — and you'll also want to ensure you find a personal connection with a tutor, otherwise, you simply will not be able to learn from them. So, how will you ever find the perfect English teacher for you?

First of all, it never hurts to ask!

Do you know any native English speakers who are working as teachers? Ask if they tutor privately. If not, do they have local friends or co-workers who do?

It is better to ask people you know rather than random English-speaking strangers. They don't usually appreciate being repeatedly approached to ask if they'll help people practise English.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I know this person? (Or know someone who knows him/her?)
  • Will s/he have time to work with me? Are they interested in teaching pronunciation?
  • Are they likely to care about my learning — or are they just after an easy way to make cash? (Unfortunately, there are people like that out there.)

And, be sensitive to the fact that foreign language teachers get many similar requests from students wanting to practise their spoken English. Some have even said they experienced burnout from helping so many students practise.

There are many other avenues to pursue to find the right teacher for your needs.

Everything is online these days, from English vocabulary to English speaking lessons.
There's something to suit every level of English learning online. (Source: Pixabay Credit: Rawpixel)

Have you thought about looking online?

As the desire and need to learn English spreads globally, more and more online resources are added, each day, to help with all aspects of English, including pronunciation.

Obviously, the most effective of all the options available is the ability to practise your speaking skills with an English tutor, through regular conversation sessions.

Thanks to the magic of the internet, finding an English tutor is easier than ever before. Do a search and you'll find platforms like italki, LiveLingua and Tutoroo where you can chat from anywhere via Skype or other online services.

These platforms vary slightly in terms of process and cost, but many of them allow you to select a tutor to suit your language goals, once you've signed up.

Once you've selected your tutor, the next step is to choose times that suit you and book in. When the time arrives, your teacher will be ready online, ready for a chat.

In the case of italki, there are no hidden fees or membership costs; payment is only required for chat sessions. But, look around — there are literally hundreds of options. Many of them, like LiveLingua, have native speakers for the four biggest destinations: Australia, Canada, the UK and the US.

Another option, which is great if you need to be careful of costs but still want opportunities to improve your English fluency, is a language exchange programme.

Participating in language exchange allows you to promote your native language, and help someone else out with their language study. In exchange, you get to polish your spoken English.

English Speaking Lessons in Australia

Perhaps you are already in Australia and are looking for help to build your English fluency. Options abound in this country.

Again, your choice of teacher, tutor or conversation partner might be determined by the accent you want to cultivate. Some Australians have very broad accents, while others speak in a slightly more 'cultivated' way, similar to British English.

In Australia, the differences are relatively minimal. Even if you end up with an accent, patterns of speech and phrases particular to a broader 'outback' style, you'll still be perfectly understood in the cities and vice versa.

Your own listening comprehension, however, might lead you to initially limit your search to people in your local area — to aid your daily communication.

Here are a few places to try first:

  • Community centre: often English classes, or informal meetings, will be run out of your local centre; they are also often a source of information about locally-based teachers and tutors.
  • Public library: like the community centre, libraries often host classes or community programs; and may also keep a list of volunteers who are keen to assist with language study.
  • Noticeboards: these can be anywhere — at schools, the shops, galleries and other public spaces. Tutors will often put up their own advertising and notices with their contact details and services they offer.

Of course, you can also find a tutor online who is close to you and can do face-to-face tutoring if needed.

Searching social media is not something Superprof recommends, mainly because it is difficult to check the qualifications and experience of potential tutors on these platforms.

Other sales sites, like Gumtree, may also not be the best options because anybody can advertise here and, for your money, you want to be sure you can find someone with the necessary experience to help you progress.

If you are serious about your English learning and skill development, an education-based website, or registered tutoring site, is the sensible choice. On these sites, tutors are required to verify their qualifications and experience, so potential students know who they are getting.

Among the many tutoring sites, Superprof stands out as the most preferable option.

With Superprof, you have the option of looking for a locally available tutor, or you can link with an online tutor. Online tuition works in a similar way to the italki platform mentioned above.

On the Superprof site, you can browse through the profile pages of registered tutors. Each tutor's page lists his/her qualifications, experience, availability, location and method of tuition (face-to-face or online via webcam).

Of even greater importance are the student testimonials for each tutor.

Hourly rates are set by individual tutors, based on experience and what they offer, and many tutors with Superprof offer a trial of the first hour for free.

As a worldwide organisation, Superprof tutors can be found online nearly everywhere.

For Superprof tutors, your goals and your English fluency and pronunciation are of the highest importance — whether you are a new arrival in Australia who intends to live, work or study here; or you are preparing to take the IELTS or TOEFL test prior to undertaking international study.

Will you be able to communicate in English when you first arrive in Australia?
Even when you've been learning English for years, the speed at which people talk can still shock you when you initially arrive in Australia. (Source: VisualHunt)

Are you still debating with yourself about what style of English to learn — Australian general accent, cultivated English, American English, or even the Queen's English?

Let your focus be not on HOW you say something, but whether or not you can be understood!

Below are the basic English pronunciation rules. Impress your Superprof tutor when they start talking about them.

Learning English: New Words and Phrases

Using the correct tone and stress in your spoken English is considerably more important than using the 'right' accent.

Intonation refers to pitch or stress changes in speech, particularly affecting meaning in words and sentences.

Many foreign languages rely heavily on tone or pitch to assign meaning to words. While English is not as strict, there are some intonation rules you should follow if you want your speaking to sound fluent.

  • Two-syllable nouns (where both syllables are spoken): stress the first syllable, e.g. BUT-ter, PA-rent, WIN-dow
  • Three-syllable words (where last syllable is silent) are pronounced like a two-syllable word, e.g. SYL-lable, PIC-ture
  • Two-syllable verbs (where both syllables are spoken): stress the last syllable, e.g. em-BRACE, pre-FER, re-LAX
  • Most two-syllable prepositions follow the same rule as two-syllable verbs, e.g. a-BOVE, be-TWEEN ... but UN-der

As you practise your vocabulary lists, focus on these rules until they become natural. This way, you can ensure you will always be understood by any native speaker of English, regardless of accent.

Your best bet is to find private tuition to assist you with your ESL coursework.

Is Accent Essential for Fluent Spoken English?

There is currently a gradual movement toward a more neutral English accent online — an accent that is not recognisably Australian, British or North American. And, locating good quality online sites for learning English is easy.

Standard English is used by the British Council (and its affiliated Australian arm), particularly when podcasts and lessons are designed for English learners. A range of accents are used in English speaking lessons, encouraging avoidance of an affected speaking style.

It is likely we will continue to hear the Received Pronunciation accent, or approximations of it, on news reports and documentaries, particularly those produced by the BBC and ABC.

The Queen and senior royals will probably continue the tradition of 'The Queen's English', with its slow and clear enunciation and drawn-out vowels.

For you, as a student of the English language, your influences as you develop your English language skills will be the people around you, where you live, your personal preferences and any English tutors you work with.

An increasing number of people around the world are speaking English well, and the important thing is that you are striving to join them.

Learn more about the English accent with our pronunciation tips.

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Kellie

Kellie is an editor, a children's writer, blogger and a teacher. Any remaining time she has is spent on a dragon boat.