You’re learning English and one of your goals is to speak with an American accent. But which one? If you travel in the US, you'll realize not every American speaks the same way.
They may ask you if you hear an accent in their speech; this is because they may think that they don’t speak with a different American accent at all.
When we think of the American accent, the first thing that comes to our mind is usually called “General/Standard American English”, the one we hear from American TV announcers and actors.
Yet in fact, there are lots of American accents and dialects depending on region, so you may be surprised when you hear the same words with different pronunciations in these accents.
So, what exactly is a dialect? It’s simply a different usage of the same language in terms of grammar, vocabulary, and syntax.
There are many different cultures in the USA, and this is reflected in the way people speak as well. Let’s start!
Different American Accents by Region
Some Americans can tell what part of the country a person is from in the way they pronounce some words. The same vowel in a word can have two or even three pronunciations.
Let’s think about the word “cat”, for example. The a sound is usually pronounced with only one sound in Standard American English, but as we move down into the southern states, the word might be pronounced as “kei-yat”.
1. New England Accent
- People on the east coast of America, -such as New England- generally drop the r sound in some words. So, when you make a New Englander say “Park your car in Harvard Yard.”, you’ll most probably hear something like “Pahk yuh cah in Hahvahd Yahd.”. However, they may also add an ‘r’ to the words that end with a vowel, like saying “Linder” for Linda.
- Sometimes, they tend to emphasize the a sound in words like ‘cAt’, or ‘mAn’.
- Another characteristic of the New England dialect is that people there prefer to use ‘wicked’, instead of ‘very’ in their sentences. For instance, they would say, "This car is wicked cool!".
2. Midwestern Accent
- In fact, movies like ‘Fargo’ made the Midwestern Accent famous. This accent is the result of the immigration of northerners and southerners who migrated north.
- The musicality of this accent is usually influenced by some Northern Germanic languages like Danish, Swedish, Icelandic, or Norwegian due to the Scandinavian immigrants in the region.
- Midwesterners often think they don’t speak with an accent, but there are some distinctions in their speech when compared with the other parts of the country.
- Midwesterns usually turn one-syllable words into two-syllsble words, so when they want to say the word ‘room’, they sound like ‘ro-uum’.
- Also, the pronunciation of the word ‘about’ will turn into ‘aboot’ in midwestern pronunciation.
3. Southern Accent
- No matter how much people say that they don’t have an accent, nobody can disagree on the fact that Northerners and Southerners don’t speak in the same way.
- This accent is the one we usually hear in movies about the Civil War.
- People speaking in Southern accent have a drawl; they tend to pronounce vowels longer than in Northern accents.
- You can hear words like “y’all”, or “howdy” from them frequently. Of course, not every Southerner must speak like that, but many of them actually do.
- As we mentioned above, Southern drawl is a strong characteristic of this accent. For example, words like ‘eye’ or ‘I’ will most probably be pronounced as ‘aah’.
4. Californian Accent
- California is one of the biggest and most crowded states in the USA, so a lot of people may find it hard to believe when they’re told they have an accent.
- There are fewer vowel distinct vowels in Californian accent; for example, the sounds "ah" and "aw" are usually pronounced the same, and this causes some word pairs like “caught-cot” or “collar-caller” sound identical. • In places like Los Angeles metropolitan area, the habit of drawling fast can be noticed easily. The words are longer than in other accents, but they’re pronounced with almost no space in between.
There are many other accents in American English, and none of them is better than the other. However, it’s very important for non-native English speakers to know how different regions speak English because communication starts with understanding.
Once you have a general knowledge about how Americans actually speak English, you’ll be able to minimize misunderstandings and confusions while having a conversation with the local people. You will also enhance your own understanding of English while you’re studying pronunciation.
One thing you should know is that you don’t need to speak with one of these accents to sound like a native speaker, so don’t let them scare you and lose your motivation. All you need to do is believe in yourself and practice your pronunciation.