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Filed UnderAccent, Pronunciation

Is “pronunciation” the same thing as “accent”?

March 30, 2021 , by Dr Julian Northbrook

I love this question because It’s something I’m talking about constantly with my coaching clients.

The simple answer is: no.

They’re completely separate things, and they should be learned separately too.

If at all, in terms of accent.

Nine times out of 10, you don’t actually need to worry about your accent. Retaining your own native accent is not only absolutely fine, but is preferable for most people. It sounds weird as hell when people learn, for example, posh British ‘Received Pronunciation’ accent and layer it on top of shitty pronunciation and bad English.

Buuuuut I’m getting ahead of myself.

Pronunciation is very consistent. The way something is pronounced will normally be the same across the whole of a country (the UK, for example). And it’s also going to be the same across different countries as well. It’ll be pronounced the same in the UK, America, Australia, New Zealand, Canada or whatever.

There are exceptions.

Yes.

But not many.

Basically, pronunciation is extremely stable and consistent.

Accent, however, isn’t.

The “American” accent is obviously different to an Australian accent, for example. But even within the UK, there are 46 accent categories and countless sub accents. Speaking with a “different” accent is totally normal and variation is the rule, not the exception.

Really, accent can be thought of as the overall sound of how you speak. Like there are different types of guitar music (accent), but they all sound like guitar, and not, say, like a piano (pronunciation).

Pronunciation, on the other hand, is more to do with how a word or chunk of English should be said in order for people to understand you. Again, nine times out of 10, learning a native speaker accent is not really going to help you much. It’s not going to make you sound better. It often even causes more problems than it solves, too. Especially if you’re the kind of person who thinks sounding good in English requires you to learn, say, an American or a British accent, but then you don’t put any work into the pronunciation. Honestly, it’s the weirdest thing in the world hearing somebody speak with a perfect British or American accent, but then they’re butchering the pronunciation or speaking with messy, chaotic English. Perfect native speaker accents layered on top of shitty pronunciation is still shitty pronunciation, after all.

The best thing to do is focus all of your time and attention on pronunciation and more importantly on the “articulation” of English — that is, learning to chunk your speech naturally.

A great exercise for this is the “shadowing” exercise.

But honestly, a lot of people get this exercise wrong. Which is why I wrote a PDF guide that shows you step-by-simple-step exactly how to do it correctly.

If you haven’t already read it, you can get it here:

https://doingenglish.com/shadowing

Best,
Dr Julian Northbrook


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