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English Accents - An Overview

Accents are interesting, aren’t they? They’re also rather beautiful. Each has their own delightfully unique sound that’s intrinsically linked to the history, the people and the place in which it originates.

At the very base level, when thinking about the difference between British accents, you could say there’s the Welsh, Scottish, Northern Irish and English accents. But that’s a really broad view of it and actually it runs a lot deeper than that.

But before we get too far into this… I want to quickly mention something that confuses a lot of people. Before I started working as a voiceover artist, I wasn’t really clear on it myself. Oops. With each project that comes in, I need to understand if any accent or dialect is required? I have some interesting Case Studies on my website to help you understand the process and what is required. 

Accent vs Dialect

Consider how someone from Kent, for example, sounds when they speak - their pronunciation. That’s the Kentish accent.

Now add to the mix the words someone from Kent uses when they speak. That’s the Kentish dialect.

This is one of the reasons why mastering a British accent can be so tough. Communities all over the UK make up words and phrases that end up catching on locally – and confusing those from outside the area! I remember me and my group of friends did it when we were younger, and sayings would work their way around the school leaving the teachers baffled by their meaning.

Viking Ship showing the diversity of our english accent heritage

Why are there different British accents?

How did it come about that everyone on our small island sounds different? To answer that question, we need to go back in time.

(Speak this bit out loud) Woooo00o0oo0000ooo0o0oooo0oo. (Good effort)

Britian used to get invaded. A lot. What began really as a Celtic country, over the centuries became much more diverse.

The first real change came because of the Romans from Rome. Of course. Then when the Roman empire eventually went down the hill, it was the Anglo-Saxons. The Anglo-Saxons were a bunch of different tribes from Germany. Up next, THE VIKINGS!! They came over from Scandinavia and had loads of fights.

After that, it was The Normans from France. As a side note, I was in a sports team called “The Normans” at school and everyone just used to shout “Norman” at us. NOOORRRMAN!

Following that was The Danes, Scots and French.

That’s a lot of people who were all completely different, making their stamp on this land. Bringing not only their families and their culture but their accents and dialects too.

You can easily form a picture of lots of different settlements all over the country. It’s important to remember that Britain back then was not as busy as it is now. Currently we stand at just under 70,000,000 people here. Back then a couple of mil.

So you can understand how local accents were formed. Settlements were much further apart than they are now and the chances of mixing with or even meeting people from the other end of the country was extremely low. Let alone spending enough time with them to take on different regional accents.

If TV shows about invasions on the British Isles are to be believed, then you’ll know the invaders would also start families with the invadees. (I’m not sure if that’s a real word but it makes sense in context here.) That starts a new group of people, with blended languages. Blimey, this is almost getting too much for my tiny brain to comprehend.

To summarise, we have different English accents because people came from abroad and settled in different parts of the country. Obviously as time went on and the population increased, all of the varied languages started to blend to form one where everybody could talk with each other. But the accents remained.

Why might someone’s accent change?

Let’s take an easy example.

I’m from Kent and I very much sound like I’m from Kent.

If I moved to America now and stayed there forever, it’s likely I would have to change the way I pronounce things. For example, the word “water”. A relative of mine lives in America and said he had to quickly change the way he said that because nobody understood him. So now he says “warder”.

Over time, his accent has become a bit of a hybrid.

If there are any Americans reading this, what is it about people with English accents that gets people’s attention in the US? I’m often told by English people that visit the states that they get swarmed by people wanting to listen to them speak. I’d be interested to know if it’s a historical thing – like “ooh you sound like the Queen!/King!”

Speaking of the Queen/King - a special and topical mention here to what many people describe as the “Queen’s English”, which is considered to be the most correct form of English. (See also RP or Received Pronunciation; see also BBC English; see also Oxford English!)

Of course, with the sad passing of her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth the second, we now have to change this idiom to the “King’s English”, as we have a male (King Charles) on the throne.

For generations, people have used the “Queen’s English” to describe the “proper” way to speak the language and, I suspect, it will take a few generations to adjust to the change.

Eventually the saying "King’s English" will just be the norm, as the succession will be King William and then we turn full circle to another King George (George VI reigned before Queen Elizabeth the second).


Try singing the national anthem, you’ll have to force yourself to say “King” instead of “Queen”. It’s ingrained in us!

Anyway, back on track.


I’ve spoken to lots of Europeans over the years and a lot of them have learnt English by watching English speaking TV shows and videos. Huge favourites are things like Friends and The Big Bang Theory. I mean, come on, who doesn’t like those shows?

Some of the context of comedy can easily be lost in translation though and I explored the importance of context in another blog post. 

But what you have is a whole army of people speaking in an American/European hybrid accent and I just find that so cool.

How did you learn English? By watching TV! Brilliant!

(NB. I’m using “European accent” as a catch all here, to save me typing Italian, French, Albanian, Icelandic, etc etc.)

Old Television set showing how europeans learn english

Being born into a community where your parents aren’t natives can play an interesting role too. If you have parents from London and they move to Scotland before you’re born, you’ll grow up with London accents around you at home, but Scottish accents around you everywhere else. How cool is that? I grew up with Kentish parents and I have lived in Kent forever. Still cool, but not as intriguing!


List of British accents – an accent guide

It’s important to note that this isn’t an exhaustive list of all the different English accents because there are, as expected, new accents developing all the time. I’ll include some of these below so you can see what I mean. Also, my research into Scottish and Northern Irish accents is proving trickier than the regional accents of English.

You’ll see some of them have variations within the main accent. If you look at London, you’ll likely know that Cockney sounds quite different to Received Pronunciation (RP), for example.


  • Southern England

    • Cornish

    • West Country

    • London

      • Cockney

      • Estuary English

      • Multicultural London English

      • Received Pronunciation

    • East Midlands

      • Derby

      • Leicester and Rutland

      • Lincoln

      • Northampton

      • Nottingham

    • East Anglia

      • Norfolk

      • Suffolk

      • Cambridgeshire

    • Home counties

      • Buckinghamshire

      • Essex

      • Hertfordshire

      • Berkshire

      • Surrey

      • Kent

      • Hampshire

    • West Midlands

      • Black Country

      • Birmingham (Brummie)

      • Coventry

      • Stoke-On-Trent

      • Wolverhampton

  • Northern England

    • General Northern English

    • Cumbria

      • Western Cumbria

      • Southern Cumbria

      • Carlisle

    • Modern Northumbrian

      • Northern Northumbrian

      • Eastern Northumbrian

      • Newcastle (Geordie)

      • Sunderland

      • Mid-County Durham

      • Southern County Durham

    • Yorkshire

      • Leeds

      • Bradford

      • Hull

      • Middlesborough

      • Sheffield

      • York

      • Urban West Yorkshire

    • Historic Lancashire

      • Bolton

      • Burnley

      • Blackburn

      • Manchester

      • Preston

      • Blackpool

      • Liverpool (Scouse)

      • Wigan

  • Wales

    • North Wales

    • South Wales

    • North-East Wales

    • South-East Wales

    • Wenglish

  • Scotland

    • Scottish Standard English

    • Highland English

Again, not an exhaustive list, and I’ll be adding to it over time, but you can already so how diverse our little island is in the way we speak. That’s what makes it such an incredible place to live. You can walk down a street in any town and hear different languages, accents and dialects. What a brilliant thing to experience - it’s normal to sound to different. I’m gonna trademark that.


Westminster abbey where the King's english is spoken

Differences in accents – the key to learning

When studying different British English accents, listen out for the vowel sounds.

A really easy way to describe this is using what’s called the trap-bath split.

No, it’s not anything to do with being trapped in a bath that splits when you try to escape.

It’s how the words “trap” and “bath” are pronounced.

In the Southern part of England, more or less, they are pronounced “trap” and “barth”. That is, with two different A sounds. One short, one long.

In the Northern part, more or less, they are pronounced “trap” and “bath”. Both with short As.

Obviously, there’s a lot more to it than that overall, but listening to the vowels is a very good place to start and is key.



There are so many different kinds of English accents in the UK. Just take a look at the INCOMPLETE list above. There’s already loads on it and it’s continually growing. As people move in and out of the UK, there’s simply no way our language, accents and dialect are going to stop evolving. And we shouldn’t want them to. Visit my Podcast Case Study or my Energy Case Study to see the different approaches I've taken when it comes to projects my clients ask me to deliver on. 

Some people like different accents, some don’t. Some can understand them, some can’t. Some regard those with certain accents in a different light to those with others – I guess that’s something where media and content has had a large influence. Years ago, the BBC was RP all the way. Maybe not intentionally but the announcers came across as dominant intellectuals “better than” the viewer. And I’m sure you’ve all heard a friend or acquaintance speaking negatively of someone, just because they have a “posh” voice, or a different accent to them. You simply can’t judge someone by their voice alone!

To hear MY English accent, pop over to the voiceover demos page and click play! To see what equipment that I use in voiceover head over to my voiceover equipment list page. 

Martin Whiskin voiceover artist talking into a Rode NT1-a microphone
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