Hello listeners, here is an episode about English Tests like TOEFL and the Duolingo English Test which I hope will still be an interesting episode even for those who have no plans to take one of these tests. I’m joined by online English teacher Josh MacPherson. I guess you have heard of TOEFL, and the Duolingo English Test is a test made by Duolingo, that company which helps you learn languages on your phone, and which seems to be managed by a green cartoon owl, who is some kind of master of learning English. They make a test now, and it’s getting really big.
Some time is spent describing the tests but we don’t just spend an hour describing TOEFL. Most of the time we are doing samples from the test, commenting on my performance in a TOEFL speaking task, discussing testing methods in general and giving comments on ways to perform well, particularly in the speaking parts of a test like TOEFL and IELTS.
Also, tests should be reliable and having genuinely good English skills should (of course) cause you to get decent results, so a lot of the tips relating to getting a better score are also generally good tips for improving your level of English, so even if you’re not planning to take one of these tests, the tips and advice here should be applicable to your English anyway.
There is a video version of this episode on YouTube and you can see Josh’s screen and can observe our conversation as if you are taking part in a Zoom call with us. You can find the video on the page for this episode or on my YouTube channel.
Again, the audio is not tip top this time round and that was caused by things like microphone echo, which I have managed to fix, but in any case I think you can still hear everything clearly.
That’s it, I hope you enjoy it and you will find all the links you need on the page for this episode on my website.
Let’s get started
I am joined today by Josh MacPherson from TSTPrep.com and the TST Prep YouTube channel.
Josh is an English teacher who specialises in helping learners of English prepare for English tests, particularly TOEFL and also the fairly new DuoLingo English Test.
I thought I’d interview Josh to find out more about these tests and to get some tips from him about how to get the best result that you can.
Also, we’re going to do some test questions during this interview, so we can see how well I perform in these tests too.
Thanks again to Josh for his contribution to this episode.
Don’t forget, links are available on the page for this episode for all the things Josh mentioned there including test practice, sample answers, tips and videos.
Thank you as ever for listening all the way up to this point.
There’s not much more for me to add here. I haven’t played the guitar on the podcast lately, but I will be coming back to that soon, but for now I will just wish you a fond farewell and until next time, good bye bye bye bye bye
In this episode I am talking to Vickie Kelty from vickiekelty.com about playing games for learning and teaching English.
Vickie is an English teacher from the USA, currently living in Spain, and she absolutely loves games. She loves playing word games, speaking games, card games, board games. She is nuts about games and she really enjoys using various games in her English lessons.
So in this episode Vickie and I are going to talk about games that you can play that can be a fun way to practise your speaking, or practise different bits of grammar or vocabulary.
You could consider using these games both for learning and teaching English, and Vickie and I are going to be playing the games during this episode, so you’ll hear how they work and you’ll be able to play along too.
The theme for this episode is celebrities, or famous people, so as well as us playing these guessing and describing games, you will hear plenty of celebrity and movie star rambling and gossip too.
Here’s a list of the games we play and mention.
Games to mention
Games we played
The Lying Game (which is why this episode is so long)
If you want to find out more about Vickie, including some of the online courses she has to offer, just go to vickiekelty.com
OK, so this episode is long so I don’t want to add anything else here, except that I really hope you enjoy this episode and find it fun. I will talk to you again briefly at the end, but now let’s meet Vickie and play some fun games for learning English.
Consider using some of these games in your speaking practice or in your lessons if you are a teacher. They can be a great way to add some fun and some communicative incentives to your learning or teaching.
There’s nothing more for me to add here, except to say that I will speak to you again on the podcast soon, but for now it’s time to say, goodbye bye bye bye bye.
Hello listeners, welcome back to my podcast. I hope you’re doing well and that you’re ready to learn some more English with me in this new episode.
This one is called The Mountain and I’m going to read you a short story and then use it to teach you some English.
There is a video version of this available on YouTube with the text on the screen, so you can read and listen at the same time and you can see my face while I’m recording this, if that’s what you’d like to see. You can find that video on the page for this episode on my website or on my YouTube channel – Luke’s English Podcast on YouTube, don’t forget to like and subscribe of course.
Stories are great for learning English, and I’m always searching for various stories that I could read out on the podcast. I’ve found a few stories and texts, both online and in books that I have on my bookshelves, so you can expect more story episodes like this coming in the future as I read things in different styles, from different texts, including some well-known published work and some independently published stuff and fan fiction that is available online.
Stories make ideal material for language learning. They are compelling and often the text of the story is also available which makes it extra useful for language learning because it works as a transcript for what you are listening to.
Today I googled “Free short stories online” and I ended up on a website called commaful.com
This website is described as the largest library of multimedia stories online. Commaful.com
On Commaful you can read and share stories written by users of the site, fan fiction, poetry and comics, and they have a picturebook format, which means that their stories are presented in a slightly different way, which makes them a bit more pleasant to read online or on mobile devices – more pleasant than just reading text on a screen, which is never a pleasant way to read literature. So rather than just presenting their texts on screen, they put each line of the story on top of an image of some kind (like a picture of a lake or a landscape or something) and you can swipe from one image to the next, reading each line of the story as you go, which is quite nice.
When reading these stories out loud the format encourages you to pause as you read each line, which is quite a good habit. Pausing is a good presentation skill.
It can be a good discipline to practise because pausing can add some space for the audience to think and can change the atmosphere slightly, adding extra weight to each line that you say. So pausing and taking your time can be good presentation skills to practise.
First I’m just going to read the story to you. You can just follow along and try to understand what’s going on.
Then I’ll read it again and I will stop to explain some bits of English that come up, and there are various nice bits of English in here – phrasal verbs, expressions and other nice bits of vocabulary mainly.
The story is written in American English, which is mostly the same as British English really, but I will point out any differences and will give you the UK English equivalents, so this can be a chance to learn some British and American English equivalents.
I’ll do a vocabulary and language summary at the end too.
As I said, there will be some pauses between the lines of the story, because of the way the story is presented to me on the website. I don’t normally pause like this when doing this podcast, but it could be useful because it might help you absorb what I’m saying and you can use those pauses to repeat after me if you like. This will be easier if you can read the lines with me, and again you can do that by watching the youtube video, or visiting the story on commaful.com.
Or you can try repeating without seeing the lines if you want an extra challenge.
And of course you can simply enjoy listening to the story without worrying about repeating or anything like that.
The story is about 10 minutes long, just to let you know what to expect.
The rest of this episode is me explaining and describing the language in the story.
By the way, this story was posted on commaful.com by a user called Aknier and I am assuming that Aknier is the author of this, so credit goes to him or her for writing it.
Follow the link in the description to access the story and you can leave comments there if you like.
I hope you enjoy it!
But now let’s begin the story…
OK so that is where the video ends, but I’m adding a bit more here to the audio version in order to do a quick language summary of the bits of vocabulary that came up in that.
How was that for you? Did you enjoy the story? As I said, there weren’t many narrative elements. It was more an emotional story, but quite an interesting one.
Again, I do recommend that you try reading the story out loud, either by repeating after me or not.
Now let me recap some of the vocabulary items and British and American English differences that you heard there, just to sum up and help you remember what you’ve just heard. I’ll be as brief as I can while jogging your memory here.
You can find this vocabulary list on the page for this episode on my website of course.
I hardly cried (I didn’t cry a lot)
To work hard / to hardly work
To fuss / to make a fuss (Fuss = anxious or excited behaviour which serves no useful purpose. “What’s all the fuss about?” “Everyone’s talking about this Meghan & Harry interview. What’s all the fuss about?” “Why don’t you complain?” “Well, I don’t want to make a fuss”)
To make a scene = do something which attracts a lot of attention, like angrily shouting at staff in an airport terminal or hotel lobby
Siblings (brothers and sisters)
To bet that something will/would happen (to be sure it will/would happen) “I bet that England get knocked out of the World Cup on penalties” or “I bet it rains this afternoon”.
To shrug your shoulders
To grit your teeth = (literally) clench your jaw so your teeth are held tightly together (idiom) to decide to do something even though you don’t want to “I had to tell my dad that I’d crashed his car, so I just gritted my teeth and told him”)
A cast / a plaster cast
To be able to afford something “We couldn’t afford it” “We can’t afford it” (use ‘be able to’ after modal verbs when you can’t use ‘can’ – “We won’t be able to afford it”)
A cripple (offensive word)
To get picked on
To get teased
To make fun of someone
To get bullied
To get catcalled
To flash a smile
A blinding smile
To take that as a yes
To get upset
To get fired
To skip lunch
To be stunned
To soften your voice
To talk back
To sneak into the kitchen
To sneak money back into your wallet
Fight – fought – fought
Buy – bought – bought
To cheat on someone
To freak someone out
To make it up to someone
To raise your voice
To cave (in)
To punch someone in the jaw
To stare blankly
Stand up for yourself
Deadly / the deadliest
American English / British English
Fifth grade – Fifth year
Pants – trousers
Mad – angry
To figure something out – to work something out
To yell – to shout
A jerk – an idiot
To take out the trash – to take the rubbish out
Chores – housework
To punch someone in the jaw – to punch someone in the face
More random questions, talking points, accent challenges and “guess the idiom” with pod-pal Paul Taylor. Includes discussion of accents in English, cancel culture in comedy, some rude Spanish phrases and more. Video version available.
Here is a brand new episode, hot on the heels of the last one and my friend Paul Taylor is back on the podcast again this time and I just wanted to add a few things here before we start properly. This is not going to be a 15 minute introduction though, I promise. It’ll be 14 minutes.
Firstly, there is a video version of this episode and you can watch it on my YouTube channel or on the page for this episode on my website and if you’re watching on YouTube, don’t forget to like and subscribe.
By the way, I reached 100,000 subscribers on YouTube the other day, which is nice. Thank you very much if you wrote me a message saying congratulations. It’s a nice milestone and if YouTube decides I’m eligible, I should receive one of those shiny things from them – a kind of plaque which I can proudly display in my pod-room at home. If and when that shiny plaque arrives I’ll do some kind of YouTube livestream in which I unbox the plaque and do some of the usual live streaming shenanigans. So listen out for announcements about the time and date for that on the podcast soon.
*By the way – this text is all written on the page for this episode*
Talking of YouTube live, after recording this episode, Paul invited me onto his Happy Hour Live – his weekly YouTube live stream, and we had a lot of fun celebrating my 100,000 subscriber milestone with a bottle of nice champagne, some funny accent challenges – reading famous lines and quotes from films in different accents, and also we looked at some common French idioms and tried to translate them into English.
You’ll be able to find that on Paul’s YouTube channel for Happy Hour Live and also that will be embedded on page for this episode on my website, along with the video for the episode you are listening to now. So, plenty of video content for you to check out if you like.
This episode is very similar to the last one featuring Paul, which was episode 698, published just before Christmas last year.
I decided to use the same format as last time, with a few random questions and little challenges and things, the idea being that we’d get a selection of different topics and bits of language during the conversation. So, it doesn’t really focus on one thing in particular, but a variety of things, some of them quite silly and others more serious.
You’ll see that this time I chose to call the episode “Lucky Dip with Paul Taylor”. I also could have called it “Pot Luck with Paul Taylor”.
I thought that would be a slightly snappier title than what I went with before, which was “Random Questions with Paul Taylor” although that is more descriptive. It’s possible to overthink the titles of episodes – it probably doesn’t matter that much as I expect or hope that most of you will listen to my episodes regardless of the title. Anyway, I should probably explain what those things mean now.
Lucky Dip and Pot Luck – they both refer to situations where you don’t really know what you are going to get, but you hope they will be good things.
A Lucky Dip is a game that you might play at a funfair or at a children’s party.
This is when some items, or gifts, are put into a bag and you have to dip your hand into the bag, rummage around and pick something out. You don’t know what you’re going to get, although you know it will be some kind of gift, prize or treat – like a bag of sweets, a little toy or something like that.
I thought that was a good title for this one because this episode is a bit like a lucky dip – Paul is essentially blindly dipping into my list of questions and picking things out, not knowing what he’ll get, and it’s just supposed to be a bit of fun.
Pot luck is another phrase which could be used to describe a game like the lucky dip, but it’s also a general phrase for any situation in which you don’t know exactly what you’re going to get, but you hope that it’ll be good.
Here are some examples of pot luck (A couple are from the Oxford Dictionary for Learners of English – other dictionaries are available)
It’s pot luck whether you get good advice or not.
When you sign up to English lessons at a school it’s pot luck what kind of teacher or fellow classmates you’ll get.
So I think you can see how those phrases relate to the concept for this episode.
Just a heads-up – there is some swearing in this episode, and not just in English. There’s a bit of Spanish swearing in here too, which I hope you don’t mind too much if Spanish is your first language – it’s probably ok isn’t it? I expect so, but I should say that I hope my mum doesn’t listen to this episode. I’ll let you find out more as you listen.
There was certainly no intention for us to be offensive to anyone in particular during this conversation and we only talk about rude expressions in order to understand them and perhaps laugh about them a bit (because some rude expressions in Spanish seem pretty funny when you translate them into English).
Also, there’s the usual fast talking that you get from episodes with my friends, so I hope you’re ready for that.
Alright, that’s it for my introduction then. I just couldn’t help doing some kind of introduction here at the start of the episode, but you can now listen to our conversation in full and completely unedited. So, let’s begin.
Song Lyrics for “I’m Only Sleeping” by The Beatles
Continuing the text adventure game about the zombie apocalypse from episode 706, with text on the screen so you can read with me while you listen. Video version available. Play the game with me – follow the links below. [Part 2 of 2] Listen to part 1 first!
How do professional actors change the way they speak for different acting roles? What can learners of English take from the way actors do this, in order to apply it to their language learning? In this conversation I speak to Jerome Butler who is a very experienced dialect coach working in the TV and film industry in the USA, and we discuss these questions.
Hi folks, I just wanted to let you know that I’ve been working on the WISBOLEP competition and it is coming soon. I’ll let you know exactly what I’ve decided, I will play you recordings from listeners and you’ll be able to vote and we’re going to find a LEPster to be interviewed on the podcast. So the next installment of Why I Should Be On LEP is coming soon.
Also some premium content is coming. Just a reminder that I recently uploaded a 28-minute video of one of my comedy shows. It’s me doing stand-up comedy in London a couple of years ago. I’d been holding on to that video for a while, but I finally decided it was time to publish it considering I’m not doing any gigs at the moment and I’m not sure when I will be able to. So, premium subscribers – check it out, as well as all the pronunciation videos I’ve uploaded and at least 100 premium episodes. teacherluke.co.uk/premiuminfo if you want to sign up or know more.
Also you can expect more free episodes, including the next WISBOLEP episode and more conversations with guests.
I’ve been doing a lot of interviews recently as you’ve probably noticed. It’s been a really good run of guests that we have never heard before on the podcast, but I will go back to the old favourites soon enough, with hopefully Amber & Paul making a return and an episode of Gill’s Book Club – the book in question will be 1, 2, 3, 4: The Beatles in Time by Craig Brown – an interesting, recent book which explores the story of the Beatles in various interesting ways. We’ll be doing that in the new year because I’m getting it for Christmas and I’ll need a chance to read it. I think it will basically be a chance for me to talk about The Beatles with my mum and she was a huge fan back in the Beatlemania days and saw them live twice. So, you might want to get that – 1, 2, 3, 4 by Craig Brown. Anyway, onto this episode and this one is all about pronunciation, so get ready to think about accents and changing the way you speak. It goes quite nicely with other episodes like the recent one I did about Key Features of English Accents (682). So the question is, how can you change your accent? Let’s ask a dialect coach.
— Jingle —–
Jerome Butler – Dialect Coach
Hello everyone – here is an episode all about accents and dialects and specifically how to convincingly sound like you come from a different place, with a different accent.
You’re going to hear me in conversation with Jerome Butler who is a dialect coach. Jerome works with actors who need to change the way they speak.
To give you an example of what this means, let’s say I’m an actor from England, and I’ve got a part in a TV show that takes place in the USA in a southern state. Perhaps the film is set in Atlanta or something like that (like in The Walking Dead perhaps) and the character I’m playing was born and grew up in that area, and so I need to change my RP English accent to a general Southern accent from the USA for the filming of the show.
How can I do it? How can I change my voice? How can I consistently speak like I am from a southern state in the USA? Well, I would need a dialect coach, and that is what Jerome does.
Actually, having to change your accent is quite common for actors in the English language TV and film industry. There are loads of famous actors who have successfully changed the way they speak for different roles. I mentioned The Walking Dead before and it is quite a good example – so many of the actors in that show are from the UK but they sound like they could come from Georgia or a neighbouring state. No doubt those actors worked closely with dialect coaches like Jerome.
And it’s not just British actors working in the USA, it’s anyone who normally speaks in one way and needs to learn to speak in another way, and remember the English language is so diverse in terms of accents and dialects across different parts of the world that it’s very common for actors to have to make this kind of change in their work.
Now, talking to Jerome about this is actually a great opportunity for us to listen to someone who has a lot of experience and expertise in helping people change their accents. He’s been doing it for years now and has worked on loads of different film and TV projects and with loads of different actors from different parts of the world. Jerome is amazing actually, and we’re really lucky to have him on the podcast. I really enjoyed talking to him and it was very interesting to find out the specifics of what he does in his job.
For you as learners of English this should be particularly interesting, because the whole point of this conversation is to answer two questions really:
How can actors change their accents and dialects for different roles?
What can learners of English take from the way actors do this, in order to apply it to their language learning?
How can you change your accent?
It’s quite a complicated question as you can expect – it involves many linguistic factors and a lot of work. In just a one-hour conversation we can’t give you all the answers of course. It’s a complex and very personal process, but at least we can get a sort of window into that process by listening to what Jerome has to say.
Let me tell you a bit about Jerome’s CV before we listen to him talking, just so you get an idea of who you are listening to.
Jerome Butler has had a really diverse career working for over 25 years in acting, teaching and dialect coaching. He graduated from The Juilliard School which is one of the most prestigious acting and performance art schools in the USA. Loads of great actors went there, including well-known people like Adam Driver, Jessica Chastain, Oscar Isaacs, Anthony Mackie, Robin Williams and plenty of others.
He’s done various acting roles in theatre, TV and film productions even including episodes of Star Trek Voyager and ER but the majority of the work he has done in the industry is that of a dialect coach and if you look at his IMDB page the list just goes on and on, working on various productions with various performers including names you might recognise, like Emily Mortimer, Tom Hardy, Gerard Butler, Robert Downey Jr., Jonathan Pryce, and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Impressive, most impressive.
OK so I just dropped a bunch of names on you there, but this episode is not a celebrity gossip type thing. It’s not about that. I’m not asking him to tell us what Robert Downey Jnr is really like. I just wanted to let you know that Jerome is a proper, professional dialect coach who has lots of real industry experience, so he knows what he is talking about.
He’s also taught classes at universities like MIT and has been involved in an artistic rehabilitation program in the California prison system. That’s quite a glittering and diverse CV, and of course now he has reached the high point of his professional career – appearing in an episode of Luke’s English Podcast. Haha.
In this conversation we start by talking about the work he does and what it involves, and the conversation gets more and more specific as it goes, as we try to understand what he does and relate it to your learning of English.
Now, I would also like to say that I think as a learner of English, the decision to change your accent or perhaps I should say the decision to try to sound exactly like a native speaker of English is completely up to you but in the EFL/ESL community this is actually quite a contentious issue. Should learners of English aim to or expect to ultimately sound exactly like native English speakers? People seem to disagree about it.
Even now I can sense, using my jedi force abilities that some of you are saying “yes we should try to sound like native speakers!” whereas others are saying “no, we shouldn’t” and probably most of you are saying “I don’t really know Luke, I haven’t made up my mind!” and a couple of you are saying “Sorry, what was the question?”
Let me repeat it.
Should learners of English spend time and effort on trying to sound exactly like native speakers? Should we all aim for “native level speech” as our ultimate goal? Or is it better to keep your accent when you speak English because this is all part of who you are and it’s perhaps even damaging to set such high standards?
These are questions that are often discussed and people continue to disagree on the answers.
To an extent it is a question of personal choice – people can do whatever they like and if sounding like a native speaker is your personal goal, then fine. Some people manage to do it really well.
One thing’s for sure – nobody can argue against the importance of intelligibility – being understandable and clear, but exactly who you should sound like seems to be up to you.
But anyway, I felt I should mention this whole argument in the introduction here, and Jerome mentions it too before going on to describe the specifics of how someone could shift their accent.
Also keep listening to hear Jerome start training me to speak in that southern American accent that I mentioned earlier. Can he help me learn to speak like I’m in The Walking Dead and I’m from a southern state like Georgia or Tennessee or South Carolina or maybe even Alabama?
OK, I will talk to you again at the end in order to recap and sum up some of the main points that are made in this conversation. But now, let’s start this conversation with me in Paris and Jerome Butler across the Atlantic in New York City.
So, that was dialect coach Jerome Butler. Thank you again to Jerome for all that information he gave us.
So, for me that was fascinating and also reassuring to know that Jermoe uses more or less the same methods and approaches in the TV and film industries as I use in my English teaching. I think Jerome gave us some really valuable insights into how people can change their accents. As I said before, this is a huge and complex subject so we only scratched the surface here.
If you’d like to know more from Jerome and use the tools he mentioned then visit his website, which is dialectcoachescorner.com/ You can create a free profile there and then start exploring and practising. It is for a general American English accent though, as Jerome pointed out.
Let me now just recap and sum up the main bits of advice in that conversation. If you found it a bit difficult to follow or to pick out all the specifics, this summary should help.
Summarising Advice from this conversation
Learn the phonemic script because it will help you become more aware of the different sounds that are used in English. There are apps you can use to do this. Check “Sounds” by Macmillan. This will really help you to identify and then produce specific sounds that are used in English → British English in the case of that. “Sounds” contains various tasks that will help you learn the sounds, practise recognising them, transcribing words phonetically and more. The full name is “Sounds: The Pronunciation App” and the best way to download it is from the Macmillan website www.macmillaneducationapps.com/soundspron/
Categorise words by the different sounds – for example, what is the vowel sound in the stressed syllable of the word?
You can take all the vowel sounds – monophthongs and diphthongs and consider them to be categories. Try putting different words into those categories.
Vowel sounds would be good.
Also certain consonant sounds like voiced and unvoiced pairs, TH sounds and so on. Also, -ED endings for regular verbs.
A textbook like Ship or Sheep by Ann Baker can help because in that book all the different vowel sounds are listed chapter by chapter and you can practise recognising, categorising and repeating words with those sounds.
Mechanical practise is important. Repetition is the mother of skill – I think that’s the phrase that Jerome used. It’s reassuring to know this – and he’s a man with a proven track record of results. He knows that to help someone change the way they speak it is a combination of heightening your awareness of the different sounds and how they are made, then mechanical practise with those sounds until they “enter your body” and you acquire the ability to quickly switch between the categories and quickly work out how to say words in the accent you have chosen.
So, again, practise identifying which sound is used – practise categorising words over and over again.
Then practise saying these words by repeating after someone. Again – Ship or Sheep can help because there is an audio CD. Other books or websites may be available.
But there are many things to take into account. It’s not just vowel sounds. If I’d had more time with Jerome we might have got onto other things like intonation, connected speech, elision of sounds, sentence stress, weak forms and all that stuff.
It can be hard to do it on your own so you might also need a personal coach of some kind, like a one to one teacher who can work closely with you.
Let me point you towards Jerome’s website again dialectcoachescorner.com/ where you can contact Jerome, create a free account to access all the resources and more. Remember, that is if you are looking for a general American accent, or perhaps more specific regional accents in the USA. For British English, well of course I’d recommend my premium subscription!
So, work with someone, work with resources designed to help you with this.
Alternatively, you can practise simply repeating after someone whose accent you want to copy.
If you want to copy my accent, you can repeat words and sentences after me.
Do this either by shadowing – just try to repeat as you listen, or perhaps pause and repeat.
Or you can use the pronunciation drills in my premium episodes, because they are designed to help you repeat after me and I focus my attention on things like sentence stress and other specific features.
Practise practise practise.
Have fun with it too.
But also remember that it is a question of personal choice. Please don’t feel that you have to sound exactly like a native speaker. In my opinion, it is totally fine and reasonable to retain traces of your native language when you speak English. That’s part of who you are. Like Jerome said, perhaps the only reason to completely lose all trace of your first language in your English accent is if you are an actor or a spy.
Also, I think it requires a lot of time, dedication and effort to work on your accent to the same level as a professional actor. This isn’t always a realistic proposition for learners of English who are also busy in their lives. So, working on being clear is the main thing and if you have a regional accent in English, that’s fine – it’s part of who you are, just like someone from Liverpool has a Liverpool accent, someone from Glasgow has a Glasgow accent, someone from Essex has an Essex accent – you can have an accent from your country, as long as people understand you.
It’s all a question of personal choice at the end of the day – but there it is, I think speaking to Jerome shows us that there are ways of working on the way that you sound, if you are prepared to put in the time and the effort.
I also wonder sometimes if some people are more naturally talented at changing their pronunciation than others, but that is a question I’m not completely able to answer at this moment. What do you think? Do you think some people are naturally better than others at matters of pronunciation?
A Few Expressions in the Episode
My tongue is firmly in my cheek – This just means he’s not being serious. He said calling himself a dialect coach would mean he’d get paid more.
We’re splitting hairs – To split hairs means to make very specific and unnecessary distinctions between things. Jerome could be called an accent coach or a dialect coach and it doesn’t matter – although to be specific, dialect refers to the words and the grammar, and accent refers to the pronunciation.
I’m not going to go into the weeds – This means getting deeply involved in very specific details. He’s not going into all the complex details, he’s just giving us a simple overview.
This episode features a chinwag (that’s a conversation by the way) with Sebastian Marx – a friend of mine who is originally from New York (he’s an American) but who has been living in France for the last 15 years. Long term listeners might remember him from his past appearances on this podcast. You’ll see links to those episodes on the page for this episode.
Sebastian is a stand up comedian who performs both in English and French, and he was the one who first started doing stand up in English in Paris. So all of us comedians who perform on stage here in English, including Amber, Paul, Sarah Donnelly and others – we all have Sebastian to thank for originally giving us that opportunity as he is the one who got the whole scene started in the first place with the New York Comedy Night which he set up years ago.
I invited Seb onto the podcast just for a bit of a chat, but also to test his knowledge of British English slang. I’m always interested to see how much my American friends know about my version of English.
In terms of the general chinwag – we talk for the first 25 minutes or so about a few topics, including:
What he thinks of the Trump presidency
His learning of French
Speaking French or English to French people, like waiters in cafes
Then, after about 25 minutes of jibber-jabber, we decide to focus on language and you’ll hear me testing Seb’s knowledge of British English slang – informal spoken English phrases that most Brits know but which Americans are probably unfamiliar with.
This is slang so you should know that things get a bit rude later in the episode with some references to sexual acts – you know, sexual stuff, and also a few other fairly lewd and crude things like bodily functions and so on.
Some of you are probably delighted to hear that and have no problem with it at all but I feel I should give you a heads up about rude content, just in case you’re a teacher listening to this in class or something (I can imagine getting a message from a teacher who’s heard it, or perhaps even having a conversation, like this: Luke, I used an episode of your podcast in my young learners’ class the other day and oh, you started talking about… arseholes and chests, it was quite awkward — Oh dear I’m terribly sorry Mrs Crawly, I should have provided a warning of some kind. I trust that this will not affect my daughter’s entry into the Royal Academy in September. Perhaps you should come for tea and we can discuss it at length. I have one or two things to say to you about your conduct and how this is affecting your reputation among the staff at Downton. Oh, I’m terribly sorry to put you out Lady Crawley… etc… Sorry, I accidentally slipped into an episode of Downton Abbey there. Papa and Mama would be awfully disappointed, and we’ve just received a telegram that the first world war has started and we’re all terribly worried about how this might affect life at Downton and blah blah blah).
I dunno, maybe you’re a teacher or you’re listening to this with children, or maybe you just don’t like rude things of that nature. Basically – there’s some rude stuff in the second half of this episode. Alright? No big deal.
*it’s ok Luke – we fucking love rude stuff, don’t worry*
Alright, steady on…
OK, I promised myself I wouldn’t ramble too much at the start of this one so let’s crack on now, and here is the jingle….
The Slang you can hear in the episode
(listen to hear the full descriptions, examples and American English equivalents)
✔️= Sebastian knew it or guessed it correctly ❌= Sebastian didn’t know it or guessed it wrong
❌“Pants” (adjective) “That film was pants” = not great, rubbish ✔️“Knackered” (adjective”) “I’m absolutely knackered today” = exhausted, really tired / American English equivalent: “beat” ❌”Gobsmacked” (adjective) “I was absolutely gobsmacked” = shocked, surprised Also: “shut your gob” = shut up, stop talking (gob = mouth) ✔️“a slash” (noun) “Hold on, I’m going for a slash” = I’m going to go and urinate ❌“On the lash” (prepositional phrase) “I’m going out on the lash tonight” = to go out drinking alcohol ✔️“To pull” (verb) “Hopefully I’m going to pull” = to score, get lucky, to get laid, to have sex with someone “On the pull” = trying to ‘get lucky’ with someone “To go out on the pull” “To chat someone up” = to talk to someone to make them like you (sexually) to try to pull someone by talking ❌“To get off with someone” (phrasal verb) “I got off with her” = to kiss passionately on the lips (USA: to make out with someone) “To get on with someone” = to have a good relationship with someone, to “hit it off with someone” ✔️“A plonker” (noun) “You are such a plonker” (not a swear word) = an idiot ❌”A tosser” (noun) “Stop being such a tosser” (synonym of “wanker” but less rude) an idiot, a person you don’t like “a wanker” is a mean nasty unpleasant man that you’re angry with “To wank” = to masturbate “Asshole” (US English) “Arsehole” (UK English) ✔️“A fag” (noun) “I’m just having a fag” = a cigarette (in US English it’s a very rude term of abuse meaning a homosexual) ❌“A wind up” (noun) “He’s a wind up merchant” “Is this a wind up?” = a joke, a piss-take, teasing, making fun of someone, playing a trick on someone, a con, a prank, lying to someone as a joke “To wind someone up” = to annoy someone ❌“whingeing / to whinge” (verb) “Stop whingeing! You’re always whingeing.” = to complain, to moan, to whine, in an annoying way ✔️“Smart” (adjective) “You’re looking smart today. What’s the big occasion?” = to be well dressed, to be wearing formal clothing, to look clean and tidy (opposite = casual) (USA: smart = intelligent) ❌“Lush” (adjective) “Oh that’s lush” “Those trainers are lush” “Oh she is lush isn’t she?” = good, attractive (for a person), cool, great, awesome ❌“Grotty” (adjective) “I smoked a cigarette earlier and I’m feeling dead grotty now.” = unpleasant, dirty, feeling a bit unwell or under the weather ❌“Ta” (exclamation) “Could you pass me the sugar? Ta.” = thanks ✔️”A chinwag” (noun) “We’ve had a good chinwag” = conversation ❌“It’s all gone pear shaped” (idiom) “We did a Zoom call but everything went pear shaped because of technical problems” = to go wrong
Schlep (verb – US slang, from Yiddish) to carry something with difficulty, to carry something heavy – “I’ve been schlepping this bag around all day” Schlep (noun – US slang, from Yiddish) a long and arduous journey – “I work on the other side of town and getting there is a real schlep!”
Righty-ho, that was Sebastian Marx (thanks Sebastian) and 18 bits of British English slang.
How many did he get right? He predicted 50% I think. Well, out of 18 he identified 7. And my criteria for getting it right was whether he knew the word or phrase already or if he worked it out correctly, first guess, from my example. 7 out of 18. What’s that as a percentage? Some of the mathematicians are already on that, but I need a calculator to work that one out, unless you want to listen to me working that out in my head. Trust me, you don’t want to listen to that. I don’t think I can do it. Anyway, the result is… 38.88888888889 Let’s round that up to 39% which is a clear fail I think everyone can agree.
What does this mean? I’m not sure, except that it proves something about American and British culture and language. Sebastian made the point during the episode and I think I’ve said it before previously, like in that slang game I did with Jennifer from English Across the Pond last year.
Brits are way more familiar with American English than Americans (and of course I mean people from the USA) are with British English because we are exposed to a lot more American culture through TV and film than Americans are exposed to British culture.
America produces tons of TV and film of course and exports a massive amount too, but it doesn’t import as much TV and film as it exports. Basically, most Americans don’t get exposed to that much British English, certainly not the kind of local informal slang stuff that we touched on in this episode. Big surprise eh! Not really! We know this about the USA – big place, quite loud on the world’s stage, exports a lot of stuff, but to a large extent doesn’t look beyond its own borders all that much, relatively speaking. We all knew that though didn’t we!
Anyway, never mind all that geo-political stuff. I just enjoyed chatting with Sebastian in this episode and sharing some of my version of English with him. That is more interesting and fun for me.
What about you? How much of the slang in this episode did you know? I’ve definitely talked about some of those things before, but I bet there were one or two new things in there too. But how much of it did you know and how much did you learn from me in previous episodes? And if you didn’t get it from me, where have you learned British slang? Let us know in the comment section!
Also, feel free to add other bits of British slang that you think is especially, quintessentially British in the comment section.
All the slang I tested Seb on is listed on the page for this episode on the website, so check it out. That’s where you can see specific spellings of words and phrases, and you can check some example sentences and definitions that I’ve given for you.
Talking of British English expressions – I must finish that series I started last autumn – 88 English expressions that will confuse everyone. Remember that? I still have about 25 expressions left to cover I think! I must get round to doing that.
My podcast is a bit like a big, slow moving ship. Sometimes I miss something or forget something and kind of sail past it, but for some reason it’s very hard to stop the ship or turn it round and go back. So, if I don’t do a specific episode I was planning to do at one point, general momentum keeps pushing me forwards and it’s difficult to turn the ship around and go back. I’m not sure why this is.
Stuff to mention at the end
Lovely comments from listeners on the last episode (in different locations like YouTube, website, twitter, email) My wife said that the comments were cute and lovely.
Something evil this way comes… Episode 666 is next.
666 → often described as the number of the beast. The mark of the devil.
Lots of people have been asking if I’m planning anything special for that.
This is part 2 of a double episode exploring the question of why British people often change their accent when they sing. This episode contains more examples, including some (dodgy) singing from me in order to hear how it sounds when different songs are sung in different accents. Notes, lyrics and transcriptions available on the page below.
Hello, welcome back to the podcast. I hope you’re doing ok out there in podcastland during this difficult period.
It’s necessary to say that isn’t it these days. You have to acknowledge the fact that everyone’s struggling, or you have to explain that things are perhaps not happening normally because of the coronavirus and there are various ways of saying it – both informal and formal, perhaps in a work email or something. I saw something on Twitter which made me laugh and I retweeted it. If you follow me on Twitter you might have seen that. My Twitter handle is @EnglishPodcast by the way. So the thing I saw on Twitter was just a little meme about how in normal English we say “because of the coronavirus” but in formal writing (like in a work email) we have to dress that up in more fancy language, like “due to the ongoing situation regarding covid-19”.
So I hope that you are not having too much of a bad time because of the coronavirus, or perhaps I should say “I trust that you are managing to maintain your working routines effectively in the context of the current situation regarding covid-19.”
This is episode 658 and it’s part 2 of a double episode. This is part 2. Don’t listen to this, until you’ve heard part 1. Seems obvious, doesn’t it, but I just want to make it clear. Part 1 contains loads of context and details which I think you should hear before listening to this.
In part 1 I started answering a question from a listener, and the question is “Why do British people sound American when they sing?” It’s actually a bit complicated. It’s all about the conventions of modern pop music which has its roots in the USA. But there are also plenty of examples of British singers singing in British accents. It’s a mix of language, identity, music and phonology. In part 1 I answer the question in some detail and also point out some features of what I’m calling the American Singing Accent, including things like the way certain words which I pronounce with diphthongs (that’s double vowel sounds) become ‘flattened’ to single long vowel sounds, like in the words I, find, time, mine in the line “I need to find my time to get what’s mine”.
So let’s continue and in this part, which is part 2 I’m going to continue to explore this whole area by singing some songs in different accents and by listening to some samples of music. I hope you enjoy it and find it interesting. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comment section or perhaps links to YouTube videos with other examples that you can think of – examples of British artists singing with American accents, or perhaps British artists singing with British accents, or artists from anywhere else for that matter, singing in any other accent. It’s not just British and American of course, there are so many other accents that you might hear in English language songs. Reggae music from Jamaica for example is usually sung with a Jamaican accent of course.
Anyway, let’s carry on with part 2 and here we go…
Singing songs in different accents
I want to experiment with this by singing some well-known songs in either an American accent (The American Singing Accent as defined above) or a British accent (again, which one? Probably my own standard British RP but also I might try some cockney or maybe Liverpool or something).
Brits singing with American accents
What happens when you sing certain American songs in a British accent (let’s be more specific, let’s say my British RP)
If you sing some songs in a British accent they usually sound weird and wrong. You might disagree, because you might have a soft spot for British accents (and in fact more recently there have been some very successful artists who seem to sing in British RP as a stylistic choice) but I think overall, most people would think it sounded wrong, like my previous example with “Shallow”.
My Girl by The Temptations
Tell the story (briefly) of someone who sang “My girl” at a party once. It was ridiculous.
I’m now going to sing the songs in their normal American voice, then in a British accent.
Songs by British artists sung in an American accent
I could pick almost any song by a British pop artist and the chances are that it’ll be sung in an American singing accent.
Whole Lotta Love by Led Zeppelin
We Are the Champions by Queen
Weirdly, Freddie seems to drift from an English sounding voice in the verse to an American one in the chorus. Listen to how he sings “time” (Time after time) in the verse and then “time” in the chorus (No time for losers).
This is so tricky! The accents seem to drift around while people sing.
Ultimately, I think this shows that when people sing they change their voice to suit the music. Freddie Mercury wasn’t just a rock singer, he was also quite operatic and theatrical and I think he probably chose to sing in different ways depending on the feeling he was choosing, including some bits where he sings with a more English sounding voice and some bits where he’s in full-on rock mode and sounds American.
British bands/singers singing with British accents
Let’s consider some songs which are clearly sung in British accents, or moments where British accents are more obvious.
There will be billions of examples of great British bands who sing in British accents. Here are some ones which I can think of right now.
They’re a difficult case because it’s quite hard to tell when they’re singing with American accents, when they’re singing with Liverpool accents but there are definitely times when their Liverpool accents came through.
It seems to me that their accents became a bit more English as they went on because in the early days they were (to an extent) imitating American artists they loved like Elvis, Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Chuck Berry & so on (especially when doing cover versions like “Long Tall Sally” (“Oh baby, some fun tonight”) and “Twist & Shout” (“And let me know that you’re mine”).
But later as they wrote more of their own music and became more original, their own accents came in. They also used to make a point of singing in a Liverpool accent sometimes.
Penny Lane by The Beatles
“In Penny Lane the barber shaves another customer” 2:00
Lennon singing Polythene Pam (intentionally putting on a strong Scouse accent)
John Lennon – Norwegian Wood “I once had a girl” – the “I” is rounded like Lennon would say it.
Paul McCartney – I’m Looking Through You
Paul McCartney’s English accent is quite recognisable in “I’m Looking Through You” “I thought I knew you… what did I know?” “Why tell me why did you not treat me right?”
Although some bits still sound a bit American – “You’re naaat the same”
Steve Earle – I’m Looking Through You
But when US country singer Steve Earle did a cover version of it, he did it in a Southern sounding American accent.
“Aaah thought aaah knew yewwww whut did aaaaah know?” “Yurrr voice eis soootheuyin , but the wrrrrrds arrrrnt clearrrr” “Whaaaaa tell me whaaa did you naaat treat me right?”
The Smiths – Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now
“Why do I give valuable time” –all with rounded diphthongs
The Undertones – My Perfect Cousin
The Undertones were from Northern Ireland and you could hear it in some of their songs, like this one.
“He’s sure to go to heaven” “He thinks that I’m a cabbage because I hate university challenge”
A lot of Britpop bands sang with British accents, because it was Britpop. BRITpop, you see.
Blur – Parklife (they were making a point of singing in a British accent)
There are billions of other examples, I’m sure.
But it’s weird and not black and white.
It’s not like all punk bands or all Britpop bands sang with their local accents. Sometimes they did, sometimes it was definitely American.
There’s no escaping that rock & roll is basically American.
Singing in an American accent when it should be British, and people get annoyed
Alesha Dixon sings the national anthem in a “soul” voice. Basically, she sang the word “god” in an American accent, which pissed off the Daily Mail readers.
She got quite harshly criticised for this. She said she did it on purpose because it was a “soul” version of the anthem. Naturally a lot of Brits were triggered by this.
What’s the conclusion?
Singing is different to speaking.
Accents change to suit the music and the social rules are a bit different when people sing.
Singing is a more open and free form of expression than speaking. Our accent when we speak is completely tied to our identity. But when we sing it’s more tied to the feeling we are trying to create or express.
Some types of music or some songs just have to be sung in an American accent and it’s usually not a big deal.
Some artists sing with British accents because they are expressing something uniquely British, like a folk singer such as Billy Bragg or a rapper like Stormzy.
It’s also interesting to note that a lot of non-native speakers of English can sing in a native-like accent, but when they speak English it’s not the same story.
For example: Paul Taylor’s bit about his wife saying “Hello how are you?” –> His wife can sing “Hello” when she’s singing along with Adele’s song but when she has to say it, she says “‘ello ‘ow ‘are you?”
Leave your comments, thoughts and video suggestions below
Have you ever wondered why British people sometimes change their accent when they sing? This episode explores the question of why this happens, with various examples and some (dodgy) singing by me. Notes, videos and transcripts available on the page below.
This is episode 657 and it’s called “Why do Brits sing with American accents?”
Essentially this episode is about accents in English, and how our accents sometimes change when we sing.
This is all based on an email I got from a listener recently. Here is that email. I’m curious to see if you have ever wondered the same thing.
An email from a listener, with a question about accents
Name: János Bernhardt /jænɒʃ bɜːnhɑːt//
Janos gave me the OK to read this out, and I’ll make some corrections as we go.
I have just watched this video (attached) and one question came to my mind about the british english accent.
A couple of corrections from Luke
“British English” should have a capital B and a capital E (British English) because we capitalise the first letters of nationality adjectives and the names of languages in English. Also, I’d avoid saying “The British accent” or “The British English accent” because there are lots of British accents, and this often annoys British people, who often get a bit offended by other people writing “the British accent” and they say “There’s no such thing as The British Accent!”. So, I suggest that instead you should say “British accents”, just “British English” or maybe “a British accent”.
Let’s rephrase Janos’s sentence like this:
I’ve just watched this video and one question came to my mind about British accents…
The video in question is of a British singer called Charlotte Awbery who became a sensation (in February) due to a viral Instagram and YouTube video in which she was randomly asked to sing in a Tube station in London.
In the video sent by Janos, we see that she sings Lady Gaga’s song “Shallow” from the film A Star Is Born really well, just like Lady Gaga, but when she speaks she does so in a completely different accent to the one she was singing in.
We’ll listen to the video in a moment, but let’s continue Janos’ email.
In the video Charlotte clearly loses her accent when she sings, but when she speaks I can hear her beautiful british accent. Is this a normal thing or she has to pay close attention to this during singing? Does she have to…
Sorry for disturbing you if it is a stupid question and also sorry for my bad english.
By the way I love your podcast. I just discovered it recently but I really try to relisten as much episodes as I can.
I am really trying to relisten to as many episodes as I can.
Thanks a lot Luke! Kind Regards, János Bernhardt
This is an example of an email from a listener which immediately sent me down a huge rabbit hole (a complicated journey in which you get lost looking for an answer).
That doesn’t always happen when listeners send me questions, but it did with this one. To be honest, I should have been working on other things but when I received this email it caught my attention and then I got sucked in! I thought it would make a perfect episode of the podcast because it’s about accents in English, it’s about American and British English, it’s about music, it’s about culture, it’s about identity and I am certain this is a question that a lot of you have thought of → Why is it that British singers often sing with American accents?
Brits don’t always sing with American accents (there are plenty of cases when this doesn’t happen, as we will see later in the episode), but they often do.
This is the stuff I’m interested in. Also it gives me a chance to play a bit of guitar and do some singing on the podcast too, which I will probably do a bit later when we get stuck into this properly.
God knows how long this episode will be, because there’s a lot to unpack here. It might be a double episode. We’ll see.
Before we go any further, we should check out that clip that Janos sent to me, so we know what he was talking about.
Let’s listen to the video that he mentioned.
Charlotte Awbrey on The Ellen Show
This is a clip from the Ellen show (an American chat show), and you’ll hear various people speaking including chat show host Ellen Degeneres, and also some other people. I won’t explain any more. Let’s just listen to the clip and your job is to work out what is going on, who is speaking and where they are from.
Who is talking?
Where are they from?
What accent does Charlotte have? Don’t just say “British”. Can you be more specific?
“Charlotte Awbery is an internet sensation after a video of her showcasing her incredible singing voice went viral on February 20. Just four days prior, a content creator named Kevin Freshwater shared a video of a segment he hosted called, “Finish the Lyrics.” In the video, Freshwater can be seen traveling through the streets and subways, asking random people to finish the lyrics of popular songs. And, that’s where he came across Charlotte, who was making her way to a train in the subway. [The Underground!]
Freshwater approached Charlotte who was visibly caught off guard, and began singing the lyrics to “Shallow” — Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper‘s Oscar-winning hit from the film, A Star Is Born. Charlotte began singing the lyrics quietly, but just enough for Freshwater to recognize how talented she is. When he kept asking her to sing more, Charlotte went all out and it took the internet by storm.“
Then she was invited onto the Ellen show with Ellen Degeneres, to sing the song and then be interviewed.
The thing is, she sang with an American accent but then spoke with a really broad Estuary English accent (some call it cockney, some call it Essex – basically it’s a strong local accent from the area to the east of London.)
So, going back to Janos’ original question then:
Why did Charlotte Awbery switch from an American accent when singing, to a British accent when talking?
Is this normal? Do British people normally do that when they sing? Do they/we have to make special effort to do it? What’s going on?
Is this normal? Do Brits normally do this when they sing? Yes, lots of Brits suddenly change their accent and sound American when they sing. (Why? We’ll see). I’m talking about singing pop music, which sort of covers various forms of modern music that largely originate in the USA, like jazz, blues, soul, country, rock & roll, rock, gospel –> all the main ingredients of modern pop music.
It’s not just Brits. Irish people, Australian people, people from New Zealand, people from South Africa, any English speaker, including non-native speakers of English in France, Germany, Japan, wherever! Everyone does this.
I’m sticking with Brits though because that’s what I am and that’s what I know.
Yes it is very normal and very common. There are various degrees of it – sometimes it’s just a slight American accent, sometimes it’s really strong. We’ll be looking at some examples later.
But it doesn’t happen every time. There are plenty of examples of British singers singing in their own accent too (again, more on this later).
Do British people have to make a special effort to sing in an American accent? I would say “no”, it normally happens completely effortlessly but it does depend on the song, or the style of the song. In fact, in many cases it would take a lot of effort to sing some songs in a British accent even if that is your native accent. I’ll hopefully demonstrate this later when I try to sing some songs myself.
What’s going on? Various things! This is a complex question to answer and that’s what the rest of this episode is about. I’m going to explore the answer to the question, although I’m not a linguist or a sociologist or anything so I’m kind of working it out myself. One thing that can help is to listen to some samples of music and also it might help if I try and sing in different accents myself and we can see what happens.
Basically, singing and speaking are different. Let’s talk about why.
Social, linguistic and musical conventions
American accents are conventional in music which has its roots in the USA.
Certain genres of music were born in the USA, including most pop music, soul, rock, R&B, jazz, funk, hip hop → this goes back to the roots of modern pop music, American blues, gospel and country music.
Therefore, when singing pop songs an American accent is the standard and is therefore easier, more normal and more natural.
Singing those songs with an obvious RP accent (or other) just ends up being weird, unnatural and wrong sounding, mainly because it would be unconventional. It just doesn’t sound right to sing certain songs with a British accent like mine.
But there are plenty of exceptions to this too, and that’s songs, genres or bands that have something authentically British about them.
In the case of this song (Shallow) Charlotte is singing a Lady Gaga song, and Lady Gaga sings it with an American accent because she is American. It’s a cover version and it would be a bit weird if she made it sound different to the original. Also the song is in a country-rock style, and in country music it’s normal to sing with a really pronounced accent – probably a southern or mid-western drawl. “Shallow” is a song from the film “A Star is Born” which is about a country singer.
Singing “Shallow” in a British accent
Let’s play “Shallow” on the guitar and first sing it in an American accent and then in a British accent.
How does it sound in my accent?
What’s your accent Luke? Just a reminder (and because people often ask me questions about this) My accent is basically standard RP, which is said to be not specific to any region of the UK, but to be honest it’s usually associated with educated, middle-class people, probably from the South East of England. I’m not trying to say I’m educated (and of course you can be highly-educated and everything and have a regional accent), but I’m definitely middle class and from the south east of England, but I also spent time growing up in the midlands as well as west London, so you might hear a bit of west-midlands Brummie in my voice or a bit of a London accent – if you’re listening very carefully. But basically, I speak with standard British RP from the south east of England but I’m not posh.
I don’t know what you think. There’s bound to be some people who prefer my British version. It’s a question of taste, but I think overall my British RP version wouldn’t really be accepted by most audiences. It would be weird, different, unconventional. Most people in the USA would think it was weird and wrong, I reckon.
But some songs and genres are definitely British and British voices are more obvious → things like folk music, UK hip hop (does Rapping count? It’s basically talking), Britpop, merseybeat, punk – in fact any music which is uniquely or authentically British in some way, or in which the local identity is being emphasised.
Brits sing in a British accent when they’re really being themselves, when it’s traditional British folk music, or when they’re pushing the British identity in the music.
Some British musicians make an effort not to sound American. You can hear that in some of the Beatles’ output (although sometimes they’re a bit American sounding too) and definitely in punk bands, new wave bands, britpop bands and so on → any musical movements in which a British identity gets pushed to the forefront.
Some examples of British music sung in a British accent
Madness – My Girl
Me singing it with an American accent (sounds wrong!)
So, in summary, I’d say that although this seems a bit weird, it’s common for Brits to sing with American accents because of the conventions of pop music which has its roots in the USA, but there are also examples of Brits singing in their own accents.
There’s a lot more to talk about and to investigate here, so let’s go into a bit more detail.
This article from thrillist.com has some more comments (read some extracts)
I might be re-emphasising what I just said, but I think it’s worth reading these extracts from an article I found on a website called Thrillist.com
One of the most prominent academics on this case is Peter Trudgill. In 1983, the man published an oft-cited study that examined the disconnect between how so many British pop singers talk in real life and how they perform. He concluded that acts like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones incorporated American phonetics because they were so influenced by Yankee musicians — particularly blues acts. (Remember, the Stones got their name from a Muddy Waters track.) It was an attempt to ape their idols and break into the U.S. market.
Rolling Stones singing “Not Fade Away”
Trudgill noted the American-ness got less aggressive as time wore on, and the British Invasion acts became more comfortable with their native speaking voices. By the time the ’70s arrived, punk bands like The Clash were turning away from American affectations.
So, basically –> In the beginning, UK singers were copying their American idols, but later this influence lessened.
Here are a couple of examples of UK punk bands singing in obvious British accents, to illustrate what Peter Tudgill said.
Sham 69 – Hurry Up Harry
Peter & The Test Tube Babies – Banned from the Pubs
That’s one explanation, but seeing as we still have modern fakers like Adele, it’s incomplete.
Adele speaks with a cockney accent like Charlotte Awbrey but sings in an American accent.
Some people argue that the phenomenon is more a matter of technique. Billy Bragg, who’s normally pretty cool with singing like a Brit, once said, “You can’t sing something like ‘Tracks of My Tears’ in a London accent… the cadences are all wrong.”
Billy Bragg singing normally
Billy Bragg singing Tracks of My Tears by Smokey and the Miracles.
So the point here is that it is just easier to sing in an American accent and sometimes an American accent is just appropriate for the song.
A recent study by Andy Gibson, a sociologist in New Zealand, would appear to back Bragg up. Gibson found that Kiwis defaulted to an American singing voice across the board, and it wasn’t a conscious choice. He surmised it was just easier to sing in that accent. That’s partially because of the way we round off certain words when we sing, and partially because the world is so used to hearing American accents in pop songs, it requires more effort and concentration to sing in a different accent. Even if that “different accent” is your default speaking voice.
Clearly, researchers are still working on a definitive answer. But people do “lose” their accents through song, and it’s not some weird conspiracy. It’s just linguistics! Or Mick Jagger’s fault. You decide.
What are the phonetic features of this “American Singing Accent”?
Let’s break down “the American singing accent” vs my British accent
I’ve decided called it “the American singing accent” because it might not match perfectly with General American or with all American accents.
America is a diverse place and there are many diverse accents there. But it seems that there is a certain kind of American accent that we can hear in a lot of music.
I get the feeling that this accent comes from the people who sang the blues and gospel (basically that means black communities in southern states) and from people who sang country (mostly white singers from southern or midwestern states) but I’m not a musicologist.
Features of The American Singing Accent (my own made-up term)
Diphthongs are flattened to long single vowel sounds. This can help in singing, because it allows you to hold one note for a long time.
Common examples: I (often) sounds like aaaa My (often) sounds like maaa Try sounds like traaaaa Life sounds like Laaaaaaaf Time “Out” sounds like “aaaat” “Sight” sounds like “saaaaat”
/r/ sounds are often more rounded “Now you’re out of sight here” “Now yurrrraaaaatu saaaaat heRe”
It’s generally a bit more nasal “Tell me something girl. Are you happy in this modern world? Or do you need more?” “Tell me something boy. Aren’t you tired tryin’ to fill that void?”
“Baby” sounds like “Baybeeee”
I’m sure there are other features. Let me know in the comment section if you can think of others.
To be honest, the best way I can demonstrate this is to try and sing some more songs in different accents and see what happens.
That’s where we’re going to pause. This is the end of part 1, and we will continue in part 2, which will be available soon, possibly already.
In part 2 the plan is to explore this question further by doing some more singing. I’m going to take some songs which are normally sung in that American singing voice, sing them normally and then sing them in my accent and we’ll see how it sounds.
We’ll also hear some more examples of British singers singing in American accents, and also British singers singing in British accents.
So, a lot more examples in part 2 to illustrate what I’ve been talking about in this episode.
As ever, I’m interested in your comments. Perhaps you have examples of British singers singing in American accents, or British singers singing in British accents.
Or maybe there’s a song which you like, but you don’t really know what the accent is?
In any case, you can share your thoughts and YouTube videos in the comment section.
I hope you’re keeping well, that you’re not climbing the walls or going stir crazy if you are currently in self-isolation at home. If you’re cooped up with members of your family I hope you’re managing to make it work and that you’re not at each other’s throats. Maybe you’re a lovely lovely time, in which case I am happy for you. If you’re struggling then hang in there, this won’t last forever. And if you or anyone else you know is currently unwell, then I wish you a speedy recovery and what else can I say –> may the force be with you? Actually, that’s when the lockdown is supposed to be lifted here. May the 4th (although I suspect it will be extended) but anyway, “May the 4th be with you”.
Alright, that’s enough. I hope you have found this interesting and part 2 should be available now or very soon, so you can get stuck into that.
So, speak to you again in part 2 but for now –> bye bye bye!