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English in Britain

If you have visited the UK, perhaps you have experienced the fact that many people speak with a different accent from the one you learned at school and they use words that do not belong in Standard English.

Would you understand someone from Yorkshire if he said; “I’ll meet ye down’t pub. I’ve summat to tell ye.”? Or what does a Scotsman mean if he says; “I’m fair scunnert wi’ this awfu’ wither.”?

What they say

In the introduction, the person from Yorkshire said: I'll meet you at the pub. I've something to tell you. The Scotsman said: I'm really disgusted with this awful weather.

English in Britain

English in Britain

RP Accent

Typical Yorkshire Man

Most British people have a regional accent depending on where they grew up. The accent of English called RP (Received Pronunciation) or sometimes "BBC English" or the "Queen's English" is considered to be the most easily understood, and is the British accent most often used as a model for foreign learners of English. It is not a regional accent and is actually spoken by a very small number of people, but they tend to be at the top of the social scale.

Regional Accents and Dialects

There are many local accents and dialects. In the south-east, around London, many people speak with an accent close to RP, while Cockney is a dialect found in the East End of London. The “h” is often dropped in Cockney speech and they
use rhyming slang. Instead of stairs they would
say apples and pears, or dog and bone instead of telephone. Another accent from this area is Estuary English which has developed in recent years around the Thames estuary. It has features of Cockney and is considered by some people to be working class, but many think that it sounds friendlier than RP. Here is Bill Bryson form 'Journeys in English' with more English dialects.

English Dialects

English Dialects

You will find changes in accent and dialect as you move away from the south-east, with many local variations. Still regardless of geography, the higher up the social scale a person is, the less obvious is often their regional accent.

New Varieties of English

Ethnic minorities in Britain also have their characteristic accents and the music scene has some striking varieties of these, for example, West Indian reggae. Due to the influence of the ethnic minorities, new varieties of English have developed in the UK, such as, London Jamaican and Bradford Asian English. Many new terms have also come into Standard English, for example, bhangra, a mixture of traditional Punjabi music, reggae and hip-hop.

Smiley Culture is a British reggae singer who had a hit in the 1980s called “Cockney Translation”. This song is a Jamaican’s guide to the Cockney accent of London’s East End. It has been argued that this song led the way for a hybrid accent where white East Londoner’s adopted many terms of black origin. (Wikipedia)



  1. What is RP?
  2. What is Estuary English?
  3. Does an accent indicate anything about a person's social standing?
  4. How has immigration to the UK influenced the variety of accents there?
  5. Where is Bill Bryson speaking from in the audio?
  6. According to him, how do people feel about dialects in Britain?
  7. What are the advantages of dialects according to the two men Bryson interviews?

Working with Cockney

Print out the song text for "Cockney Translation", Smiley Culture - Cockney Translation and then listen to the song: Smiley Culture – Cockney (Audio)

After listening, make a table with 3 columns, one column for the Jamaican English word, one for the Cockney word and one for the English translation. Find as many of the words as you can from the text and use one of the following Cockney/London dialect dictionaries to translate into Standard English. (The word “brum” in verse 3, you will find under “drum”)

Cockney Rhyming Slang

FREELANG Cockney-English dictionary

This video from YouTube might help you to guess the meaning of some of the words. Smiley Culture Cockney (YouTube)

In pairs

Write a short reggae or rap using either the Cockney or the Jamaican English words and if you like, perform it for the class.


Use the site below to do some research into English dialects. Make your own overview where you add a few characteristics for the different areas. British Dialects


  1. How important is your local Norwegian dialect to you?
  2. Are older people fonder of their dialects than young people? If so why do you think this is the case?
  3. Which English accent/dialect is your favourite?

Learning content

English as a world language

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