The Challenges of Understanding Different Regional Accents

It’s often easy for regional accents and dialects to make understanding a new language difficult.

From travelling abroad to communicating with people in different countries via e-mail or telephone, understanding new people can be hard for those who aren’t familiar with common phrases in English-speaking countries.

It’s not just lexicon, syntax, sentence structure or even the speed that someone talks at that can be confusing: local or regional accents play a huge part in understanding someone, especially in the United Kingdom.

How do accents vary?

Accents vary greatly. Most non-native speakers will be familiar with Received Pronunciation, BBC English or Standard English, which is traditionally associated with more affluent people and newsreaders on television.

There are numerous accents in the South East of the UK ranging from Received Pronunciation to the more stronger Cockney accent.

Other notable examples include:

  • Liverpool, also known as ‘Scouse’ – higher-pitched than other accents, with exaggerated vowels: work (werk rather than work).

  • Newcastle, also known as ‘Geordie’ – notable for use of extra vowels in words, such as ‘toon’ (town), ‘broon’ (brown).

  • Birmingham, also known as  ‘Brummie’ – Words like ‘tried’ sound more like ‘troyed’, and the accent has ‘ng coalescence’, which means words like ‘singer’ may be pronounced with a hard G.

  • Yorkshire – The word ‘the’ is often abbreviated to ‘t’, for example ‘t’internet’, the letter ‘h’ is often dropped from the beginning of words i.e. ‘home’ is more ‘ome’.
  • Scottish  – The letter ‘g’ is often dropped from the end of words i.e ‘carrying’ become ‘carryin’.

It’s easier to distinguish between accents by listening, however. Why not test your knowledge of accents in this quiz from UK-based business phone supplier Pioneer Business Systems?

What can I do to understand UK accents?

Places with stronger accents, such as parts of Scotland, can be particularly difficult to understand. Often people will use language or words they commonly use in their local community, which may be confusing to non-native speakers of English in general.

To prepare yourself ahead of a conversation or call, it may be worth finding out where the person you are calling are based so you can understand their dialect. Try listening to a few Youtube videos of the accent, such as those included above, so you get a general feel for it, and read around some of the most common slang.

Ask for clear information beforehand so you can understand what the call will be about and so there is a general structure in place.

What can you do when you don’t understand someone’s accent?

Explain in advance that your English is not as strong as you would like it to be, as this will encourage everyone to speak clearly, concisely and more slowly to ensure that you can understand.

If you’re on a call for business or educational purposes, it can be helpful to take notes throughout the call of key phrases or words to ensure you understand the context of the conversation. If there is something you don’t understand, ask the other participants to repeat the sentence or if they can phrase it in a different way.

This will ensure that you do not miss anything or that you can clarify what was said whilst on the call.

More information on accents

Regional accents can be a challenge to understand if you are not familiar with them but there are a lot of resources out there that can help you learn more about them.

Give me more!

See our tips on carrying out successful meetings or interviews online.

Conference Calling in English

For help with face-to-face interviews, see our:

5-Step Guide to a Successful Job Interview in English