I'm an actor, I'm going to start learning some accents just so I have them in my bag of tricks. I was going to start with a single British one, then move on to other countries/accents, then just keep learning more.

What would be a good general British one to start with? Is there a dialect that's used by the largest number of British people today? I'd like to learn one that's in use, so I hear that Standard British English (Received Pronunciation) would be a poor choice. I've heard strong Cockney, that seems pretty affected and uncommon, but what do I know. I've found dialect coach tapes on all kinds of British accents...Cockney, Liverpool, Yorkshire, Hampshire, Scottish, Welsh. Hmmm, what would/should James Bond speak, maybe I'll get cast as a spy one day? Emotion: wink

Interesting article on accents:
http://www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedia/How-to-tell-the-origin-of-an-accent

Some dialect tapes:
http://www.paulmeier.com /
http://www.dialectaccentspecialists.com/learning.shtml
http://www.dialectresource.com /
http://www.theatrebooks.com/accents_dialects/
http://www.stageplays.com/browse-no-frames.cgi?group=voice
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Good luck trying to learn British accents - if you succeed you'll be one of a very few American actors who've managed it. The best recent example was Gwyneth Paltrow in Sliding Doors; not only was her accent flawless it was also very well-observed because although her character was quite a middle-class Home Counties-type woman, she flattened her accent into more of an Estuary type voice, which is exactly how that sort of woman would speak. Contrast this with Renee Zelwegger's portrayl of Bridget Jones, a character who is almost certainly supposed to be a girl much like the one Gwyneth played, but Renee hadn't done her research so well or (more likely) was badly advised (by director, accent coach or whatever) and played the character with a rather posh, braying RP type voice.

I think there are three accents you should have in your "bag of tricks".

1. RP. It's going to come in useful for period drama, James Bond, Hollywood baddies... Come on, you know you need that one.

2. Estuary. It's probably the most widespread accent nowadays. A cross between RP and cockney. The standard "Southern English".

3. A northern accent, probably a Manchester accent or Glasgow accent.

Being a Southerner I would say number 3 is optional (!) and the most important is to be able to speak RP but be able to "slide" it down into something more colloquial, ie. Estuary.
Bunkadelick Iam intrigued by your standard "Southern English". Are you sure that is correct?.

Perhaps I'm moving in the wrong circles but I know of very few with a cross between RP and cockney.
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Well yes David, I would say that Estuary English is the dominant accent in Southern England these days and that's what I mean by "standard".

To quote the nationmaster website that Jason mentions:

"Estuary English is the form of the English language common in the South-East of England, especially along the river Thames and its estuary. It is a hybrid of Received Pronunciation (RP) and a number of South Eastern accents, particularly from the London and Essex area. Some people think it will eventually replace RP as the Standard English pronunciation."

I would say that it has already replaced RP as the standard pronunciation - though I agree it depends what circles you move in. I probably spend too much time in pubs.
Thank you for your detailed explanations bunkadelic. I always think of a standard English as one that everyone who speaks the language can understand. A norm of sorts. Dominant accents may not be the ones that are ideal for communication on the international scene. Are the British risking the possibility of not being generally understood by non native speakers and the rest of the world. Cockney is about the most difficult for anyone but a Londoner to understand. Even then it's a small number who do. What are your thoughts?
"Dominant accents may not be the ones that are ideal for communication on the international scene"

I don't understand this sentence. What important are our accents for communication.?

"Are the British risking the possibility of not being generally understood by non native speakers and the rest of the world"

The British have their own way of speaking and each non-native speaker speaks English at a different level. I have had good converstion with British and instead the communication with some non-native speaker has been difficult and viceversa.

In my opinion, accent is secundary. The most important thing is the way to express yourself by using the language, and this one does not depent of the variety.
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Robertson thank you for your comments. I'm afraid you have missed the gist of what I am trying to say. What I did say is that a way of speaking English which is understood by all is what we should all be aiming at. Too heavy an accent or drawl may make it difficult to be understood. Where are you from? Bunkadelic I agree with all you say but what worries me is how will we relate to the rest of the English speaking world when the British are in a minority. It is the language we grew up with and surely it is a great honour that most of the world speaks it. We do want to be understood by all.
Just to stick my 'twopennworth' in, surely RP has never really been spoken in England to any great degree?

The accent of the seriously upper classes, i.e. royalty, isn't true RP either and is quite incomprehensible at times.

The only person I can think of as a really good example of RP is the newsreader Trevor McDonald.
to David

Thanks for your answer as well. I am from Spain

"a way of speaking English which is understood by all is what we should all be aiming at"

Unfortunately, it may be quite difficult. Other than each English speaking country has their own English - American English, British English, Australian English-, other types of English like Chinglish or Indian English have been cropping up in last years.

On the other hand, too heavy an accent might cause problems in communication, but everyone has an accent and the RP accent is heavy for my ears.

I think you want to communicate with a non native speaker successfully, I advise you:

-to speak slowly

-not to use slang and too many phasal verbs

- not to use sentences which are too long.

- hearing how English is used by non-native speakers. Many times non-native speakers appear on BBC speaking in English. Try to imitate them.

Well, I hope this one helps you.

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