Which English do you Speak? British, American, or Indian?

So you’d like to speak beautiful English? The very first step, you will need to decide which English you want to speak. There are three major genres of English in the world: British, American, and Indian. Each one has its own characteristic pronunciation and expressions. In this article I will show you the secrets to pronouncing each one. As you study English it is important to become familiar with the basic differences between British, American, and Indian accents. Your awareness of these general patterns can sharpen your ears, and help you improve your own communication skills.  

As an English Teacher living in Bhutan, I find that Bhutanese English has been influenced by all three genres. British English is the original, and it has been somewhat modified by Canadians that teach American English here. Bhutanese English is also influenced by Indian pronunciation.

What are the Major Concentrations of English speakers?
I’m told there are about 1.2 billion English speakers in the world. Primary concentrations of English are in the Americas, with the US and Canada having 313 million. India has 125 million English speakers, and the United Kingdom 60 million. Other concentrations of English speakers are Africa with 177 million, Pakistan 108 million, and Australia with 17 million. Well, which English do YOU with to speak? 

Neither British, American, or Indian English is better than the other. Our goal is simply clear communication. In this article I have mixed up some sample sentences, just to illustrate word sounds particular to that accent.

For example, listen to the following sentences in British, American, and Indian English:  

Take your time. Call the doctor after tea. Park the new car very carefully. Wait for me at the waterfall. No worries at all.

  1. How do British Pronounce English?
    There are countless accents and dialects in Great Britain. Generally speaking, British English is pronounced rather forward in the mouth, not swallowed back. The “t’s” are better pronounced. The “r’s” after a vowel are dropped. Were, Sword, Turn. “OO” sound is often pronounced “yu” as in new, attitude. The ae sound so common in American is pronounced ah as in bahth, ahsk, laugh, half. Many other vowels are short like bit, lot, wit. Some are long like bought, taught, and awful. Others vowels are dipthongs. Oh dear, I’ve been caught reciting poetry, as Dame Judi Dench, head of M16, in the James Bond film Skyfohl.

British English:
Chairman, ministers, today I’ve repeatedly heard how irrelevant my department has become. Why do we need agents, the 00 section? Isn’t it all rather quaint? Well, I suppose I see quite a different world than you do, and the truth is that what I see frightens me.

I’m frightened because our enemies are no longer known to us. They do not exist on a map, they’re not nations. They are individuals. And look around you – who do you fear?

Can you see a face, a uniform, a flag? No. Our world is not more transparent now, it’s more opaque! It’s in the shadows – that’s where we must do battle. So before you declare us irrelevant, ask yourselves – how safe do you feel?

Just one more thing to say. My late husband was a great lover of poetry, and um – I suppose some of it sunk in, despite my best intentions. And here today, I remember this, I think, from Tennyson:

“We are not now that strength, which in old days moved Earth and Heaven,
That which we are, we are.
One equal temper of heroic hearts, made weak by time and fate, but strong in will.
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

2. How Do Americans Pronounce English? 
In general Americans speak further back in the mouth. The “r’s” are pronounced with a raised tongue in the back, not rolled with a flip the the tongue. The “t’s” are sometimes dropped or softened to a “d”. Like whata pretty letter. American word pace is often slower. Dipthongs are not fast. Like I, round, fluent. The “ae” sound is often nasal as in baeth, aesk, aenswer, aefter. Words are sometimes run together with fewer glottal separations on beginning vowels like I adore apples, onions, and oranges. The “u” is a hard sound in new and attitude. Warning: Even the most well-spoken Americans take shortcuts using contractions and lazy inventions like wanna, gotcha, , didja, hafta, can’t. In addition, we use idioms peculiar to America, so you may get the words, but the meaning remains a mystery. For example:

American English:
Hey John, Whadaya doin’? We’re all so pumped about your winning that big scholarship. I wanna take you out for barbecue ribs to celebrate. Didja see that letter from the university today? Maybe it’s an answer about your class schedule. Are ya ready to go? But didja nodice that dirty spot on yur shirt? Cantcha do somethin’? If ya can clean up yur act I’ll foot the bill for Harry’s Bar in Silver City. Good goin’, that’s a lot better. Let’s take my new car. Wanna drive? You said you’re a whiz at navigating, or maybe you’re just pulling my leg. C’mon, hurry up, let’s go.

Didja hear the “r’s” in the back? Dipthongs that take their time? Do ya hear the lazy “t’s” that sound pretty much like “d’s”? Lots of contractions and idiomatic expressions. Welcome to America.

3. What about India?
In the 17th Century British Rule in India Created a New Language
The very idea of British rule over India seems inexplicable today. Consider the fact that Indian written history stretches back over 4,000 years. British English, on the other hand, wasn’t even a written language until the 9th century, almost 3,000 years later. In 1850, India had a population of over 200 million, but Britain’s population was only 16.6 million. How then, did Britain manage to control India for two hundred years until 1947? The keys seem to have been superior weaponry, economic strategy, and perhaps Euro-centric confidence.

How do Indians Pronounce English?
Indians speak English like their mother tongue, be it Hindi, Bengali, or Tamil. Generally speaking the “r’s” are rolled. Very terrible rain. The “L’s” are forward. dipthongs are quick, and many vowels are short. (life, time, call). Th” doesn’t exist. Thinking, Mouth. The “t’s”, “k’s” and “p’s” are not aspirated from the diaphragm like in American and British – they sort of explode breathlessly in the mouth. Take your tea, carry your coat, play cricket. “W” is sometimes“v”. Wait at the waterfall. Glottals on beginning vowels can be observed often. Indian English sometimes has a musical quality. Indian accents vary widely, as there are hundreds of native languages, and millions of Indians have studied abroad.

Indian English:
Namaste. Today it vas raining, and ve vere getting very colt. We had to tie our shoos, and boil the vater for tea. Dere vas so much rain we were worried about little Govinda, and we were calling the pohlice 3 times. We were ‘afraid he was getting late for skool and it was terible. My daughter said “take your time and park the car very carefully. 
I am telling you the trut. The pat to vult peace is to forget our problems, and to make a niew friend every day.

Did you hear the unaspirated “t’s”, “p’s”, amd “k’s”? Did you notice the quick vowels and dipthongs? The rolled “r’s”? Welcome to Mother India.

I hope this brief explanation of British, American, and Indian English pronunciation has been helpful. You can find more details below. Best wishes for YOUR beautiful communication.

 

More Details on British, American, and Indian Pronunciation

What are the Characteristics of British English?

  • British English is more narrow and in the front of the mouth. Sit forward and project.
  • “R”  is dropped after a vowel.  Are, word, bird, world, girl, for, fir, hard, were, ear, pure, more, chair, bar, pork, turnips, car, start, shore, aware
  • Some vowels “er” are pronounced as a dipthong “ea”. hair, bear, where, fair, chair, stairs, spare, 
  • “r” at the beginning of a word is more forward in British, whereas American is in the back of the mouth. Red roses for Rachel
  • “t” is always pronounced. little, pretty, intentions, quite, water, better, letter, city, writing, bottom, native, artificial, notice, daughter, fighter, got it,
  • Glottal vowels at beginning of a word are more common. attitude, at, on, aunt, or
  • “U” is often pronounced “yu”. New, attitude, resume, tune, duty, exude, suit, stupid
  • “ae” in American is a long vowel “ah” in British. bath, past, can’t, stand, laugh, class, chance, ask, after, example
  • “O” is quite closed in British.  Lot, on, got, what, caught, court, bought, law, awful, force, sword, thought,
  • “Been” is pronounced with a long “e” as in “bean”.
  • “O” is often a dipthong “eu”. No, hold, old, heroic, suppose, poetry, stones, road, go, most
  • Some vowels are extremely short. Hot, pity, shop, lost, bit, wit, lot.
  • Some British vowels are quite long: Caught, need, shoe, bought, taught, sword
  •  “ization” is pronounced with a hard “i” in British. civilization, authorization, globalization, organization
  • “eh” is pronounced as a soft “i” as in stress, effort, exist, enemies
  • “ile” is pronounced with a hard “i”. agile, fertile, hostile, mobile, versatile
  • British intonation melody tends to start with high intonation and drop down at the end of the sentence.
  • Many words are stressed differently in British. advertisement, hospitable, gourmet, ballet, moustache, garage, vaccine, adult, brochure, address, inquiry, hurricun, controversy, apricot, neither, schedule, envelope, tomato, clique, either, leisure, missile, neither, often, privacy, wrath, vitamin, dynasty, evoliution, expatriate, herb, medcine, patent, prodiuce, prohgress, route, zebbra,
  • These words in British are not used in American English at all.  Rubbish, mobile, full stop, candy floss, bill (restaurant), biscuit, booking, boot, car park, caravan (trailer), chemist, chips, clothes peg, torch (flashlight), trousers, cooker, dressing gown, bath gown, fringe (hair), handbag, hand brake, hoover, hire (a car), jab (injection), jumper (sweater), maize, mackintosh (raincoat), row (argument), rubber (eraser), rucksack, serviette, sweets, queue, starter, (appetizer), single ticket (one-way), surgery (Dr. or DDS), tap, vest (undershirt), waistcoat (vest), windscreen (windshield).

What are the General Characteristics of American Pronunciation?

  • Americans speak further back in the mouth.
  • The “r’s” are pronounced softly with a raised tongue in the back, not rolled with a flip the the tongue.
  • The “t’s” are sometimes dropped or softened to a “d”. Whata pretty letter.
  • American word pace is often slower.
  • Dipthongs are rather slow.  I, round, fluent.
  • The “ae” sound is often pronounced nasally as in baeth, aesk, and aefter.
  • The “u” is a hard sound without any “y” in new and attitude.
  • Words are sometimes run together with fewer separations of glottal on beginning vowels. I adore apples, onions, and oranges.
  • Even the most well-spoken Americans take shortcuts using contractions and lazy inventions. Wanna, gotcha, didja, lotsa, hafta, can’t.
  • America idioms are used widely. So you may get the words, but the meaning might still be a mystery. For more info on idiomatic expressions, see my detailed lesson here: Easy as Pie.

What are the General Characteristics of Indian English?

  • The “r’s” are rolled with the tip of the tongue. Very terrible rain.
  • “L’s” are forward in the mouth. Life, call.
  • Dipthongs are quick. Time, Life
  • Many vowels are short. Eat, late.
  • “Th” doesn’t exist. Dis, Thinking, Mouth
  • “T’s”, “k’s” and “p’s” are not aspirated – they sort of explode breathlessly in the mouth. Take your tea. Carry your coat, Play cricket.
  • “W” is sometimes“v”. Wait at the waterfall
  • Glottals on beginning vowels can be observed often. At, after, and.
  • Indian English sometimes has a musical sing-song quality. 

Thanks for your attention and study. I hope this article has been helpful!