Rethink your Decision to Speak with an R.P. British Accent

R.P. is an old fashioned and upper class (posh), type of pronunciation. While the rest of the world often imagines that most English people speak this way, it has actually become very rare in everyday use.  The reason people from outside of England think that we speak in this way is because it has been the most common type of English accent in British cinema, television and, especially, journalism in the past. In fact, even American stage-actors see the ability to speak in R.P. convincingly as a vital skill. This tradition, however, is not the correct way for a learner of English to imitate because very few people speak in this way anymore and it will sound strange and forced. The only people able to sound credible and genuine when speaking R.P. are people from an older generation.

Despite the fact that few native speakers of the younger generation speak with an R.P., this accent remains popular in the world of English language training. This can lead to people acquiring accents that sound much to old for their age. Or worse, it can give the impression that you are trying really hard to be posh. In extreme cases, it can lead to British native speakers reacting negatively to a foreigner with an R.P. accent, for example, by laughing at them.

Since the 1990’s a move has been made away from R.P. into what is known as BBC English or Standard English in the media. This allows for more regional pronunciation but in a way that is clear to understand for everyone and follows the general rules of grammar. Up until recently, almost everyone on British television spoke in R.P. (except for drama). The move to BBC English (named after the British Broadcasting Company) more accurately reflects the audience’s diversity in location and accent.

The most common regional pronunciation heard by news reporter and TV presenters is BBC English because the power, money and media outlets are concentrated in this part of England (notably London). This accent may also be referred to as Oxford English. While there are a wide range of South Eastern accents, it is recognisable by its long vowel sounds. This may be the simplest accent for English learners to imitate as it is relevant and there is lots of content available on the internet for them to listen to and practice.

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