Elwood 5566

Accents Misunderstood

Posted in esl by 노강호 on June 24, 2012

As an Englishmen, I get pissed off at the fact so many Koreans think there are only two English accents; namely British and American. And I get even more pissed off by the fact so many place a higher value on American English. But this is hardly surprising as I’ve probably spoken to five Americans in my life who told me they didn’t have accents and perhaps because America has had such a profound impact on the peninsula, Koreans mistakenly believe there is only one American accent – if an accent at all!  How ignorant do you have to be not just of the nature of your own country, but the world beyond, especially with TV and movies, to be unaware that you have an accent! I don’t place too much faith in British education but British people are very aware of their accents not least because for centuries it has been a mark of social class.

Rab C Nesbitt and his hard Glaswegian accent…

I know of at least one English hagkwon franchise in Korea that insists its teachers teach with an American accent and I wonder which accent they prefer you to use. One internet source, the validity of which I have no idea, claims American accents can basically be categorised as follows:

The West
California English
Utah English
Pacific Northwest English

Southern American English
Deep South
Upper South
New Orleans
Acadiana: Cajun French
Central and South Florida

St. Louis and vicinity
The Inland North
Northern Cities Vowel shift
North Central

Eastern Dialects:
Eastern New England
New Yorker

Mid-Atlantic Region Dialects:
Northeastern Pennsylvania
Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley
Pittsburgh English
Buffalo New York English

And then there is General American, which is what most Media Broadcasters use.

As for English accents (not including Scotland, Ireland and Wales), there are probably just as many under the main divisions, initially by region, eg. South, North, West and East and then by town or counties, including: Oxford English, Queen’s English, Cockney, Bristol and west country, Lancaster, Yorkshire, Tyne, Scouse, Mancunian, Brummie, Geordie, Essex and Cornwall, etc. The interesting point about English-English accents is that they often have their own names, ‘Brummie’ for example, is the accent associated with Birmingham. Perhaps this highlights a greater awareness of accents among English (British) people and certainly English people often rank accents according to an unwritten social hierarchy. And let’s not forget the wonderful BBC English accent that was pertinent only to TV and which reigned during my childhood.

Notice how the American boy doesn’t know he has an accent…

If you watch British television, and it is probably the same in every other English speaking country, exposure to other major accents has developed a familiarity with foreign accents and viewers are as comfortable watching a show with an American accent as they are New Zealand, South African or Australian. Indeed, in Britain, some people would actually be more at ease watching something in Australian than from the other end of their own country.


With increasing globalization it becomes even more necessary to interact with major and even regional accents and insisting teachers speak only with ‘an American’ accent is doing students a disservice. Every time I ask a Korean what their hobby is, they pull a dumbfounded face at which point I rescue them by saying, ‘habby.’ Rather than running from accents, students should be exposed to them and would very quickly learn the differences are actually fairly small.

As for the amusing video…

This post was actually prompted by the above video which I first saw on Wet Casements

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©Bathhouse Ballads –  努江虎 – 노강호 2012 Creative Commons Licence.
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3 Responses

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  1. The Stumbler said, on June 24, 2012 at 11:40 pm

    Interesting post. You may well be correct about schools/teachers wanting to teach “the American” accent, but nearly every Korean with whom I’ve ever discussed this topic prefers to study/learn “the British” accent. They tell me it’s easier to learn. I used to be proud of myself for not having a strong southern accent, but here in Seoul I’ve been too easily identified by other “westerners” as being from the South. I guess my accent isn’t as neutral as I imagine. Based on my observations in my family, I want to suggest that the accent grows more pronounced with age. At least that’s my hypothesis.

    I’ve never thought about your remark that in the UK accents can be a mark of social class. To me (an American), it was simply a “badge” from where you were raised. From this there might be some indirect prejudice about social class, but more based on (perceived) geography than accent.

    I would say, I can’t get too flustered at Koreans for thinking there are just two English accents, given how little I know about the various Korean accents! I’m aware of “saturi”, and also that the North Korean’s speak with a different accent I’m told. Other than that, I’d be hard pressed to distinguish a Busan accent from a Mokpo accent from a Seoul one.

    You do raise an interesting point, and that is, what is the desired or best accent to use when teaching English? Or does it even matter? There is also a slight vocabulary difference, but I can’t imagine that would be a huge stumbling block.

    The Stumbling Engineer Out…

    • 努江虎-노강호 said, on June 28, 2012 at 11:52 pm

      Once, again, thanks for your lengthy and entertaining comments. Yes, perhaps I am biased as I too have met a number of Koreans who want to have British accents. I’ll admit to getting particularly annoyed at American English partly as I feel compelled to defer to its spelling in class, and secondly, because on Microsoft Word, I cannot seem to change my spell checker to English-English. I have tried to solve this problem several times but whatever I do, American-English spellings seems to have permanently established themselves in my system. There is probably an easy solution but I haven’t yet found it.

      When I joined the army in the 70’s, my accent was middle-class and probably closest to Oxford English. For this I was called – ‘poofda’ which in today’s terms would be ‘gay’ and I remember deliberately adding swear words into my speech as you were deemed more manly if you swore regardless of what accent you spoke with. Incidentally, I was in a cavalry regiment and a ‘trooper’ during my basic training, I later became a cavalry bandsmen, all of whom were labelled ‘gay;’ cavalry troopers are traditionally associated with bad language – hence the British saying, ‘to swear like a trooper.’

  2. Juls said, on September 10, 2012 at 3:34 am

    I enjoyed reading this particular post. I learned a lot and I had fun watching the provided videos.

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