The Accent Challenge

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Emergency! I’ve been sleeping. I’ve allowed something terrible to happen in plain sight: my eldest child has a London accent. He is 2, and there is plenty of time to rectify this, but he was only talking for a few months before he moved from London to Nottingham. He should be over it. There is no need for this. (Yes, Hollie is thoroughly a Londoner but she needs to accept the inevitable).

Now I’m very conscious that he says ‘umbrella’, ‘bus’ and even ‘one’ wrong, it’s got me thinking. I’m just realising that he doesn’t even understand what someone’s saying if they chat to him in a north Nottingham dialect. Cameo needs to assimilate in the East Midlands much sooner than he does Peckham, so I’ve got work to do. I’m lucky I haven’t completely lost him – he says ‘bath’ just fine.

While I’m fixing this, I’ve got the opportunity to mould his (and his little brother’s) accent in whatever way I fancy. I’m a versatile individual and have nailed a lot of accents. I can lead the way for a myriad of options, should they require them.

Allow me to first throw out there all of the desirable accents I’m annoyed that I can’t get anywhere with, no matter how hard I try. If they want to have one of these ones, they’re going to have to get there of their own accord:

West Country, Manchester, New York, California, Essex, Newcastle.

I’m now going to go through each accent that I can do with significant proficiency, noting my level of mastery, and how useful these accents are to two fame-destined children currently growing up in Nottingham. One day we may even do a video as good as this one together.

North Nottingham

Rating: 9.6

Usefulness: 9.8

To clarify, I spent the first 19 years of my life south of the Trent. Naturally, my accent strays more towards this more neutral East Midlands accent than the north Nottingham one does. However, I can slip right in with the rest unnoticed.

Outside of the Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire/Leicestershire boundaries, anyone speaking like this will be asked to repeat things constantly, so there was no use for this in London. I needed some re-jigging to get myself back in the swing of it.

My kids are going to encounter hundreds of people that speak with this accent and will so have to adapt – and fast. Their immediate surroundings (even further from the city than where I grew up) has even less people that speak in that way, but it’s not an issue. We’ll tick this off first.

Birmingham

Rating: 8.8

Usefulness: 9.2

Let’s jump across to the West Midlands now and cover the Second City. Birmingham doesn’t have an accent that many people outside it want to associate with, but I don’t see what the beef is. I’ve got family in Birmingham, spend time there, and listen to lots of UK Rap and Grime from those parts of the world. That combination means I’m never going to escape it.

I truly believe having a Birmingham accent in your arsenal is an asset, particularly for someone living in the Midlands. My two have no choice but to get with it and know how to adapt if they get a call from an 0121number.

Black Country

Rating: 7.3

Usefulness: 7.6

It’s just slightly down the way from how the cities in the West Midlands speak, the Black Country accent takes things to real extremes. I can’t claim to be as good at this as the former, but a little more practice will get me there in no time.

Black Country isn’t saying as much as, but these two do have family in Walsall, so it’s probably worth learning what they’re going to have to put up with if they ever stray in that direction.

Cockney

Rating: 7.9

Usefulness: 9.3

London has so many different accents, not even including the migrant population. I’m telling you that if you ask people from Wembley, Deptford and Canning Town to read out the same paragraph, it would all come out completely differently. For that reason, I never managed to nail down the general London accent over my time there. However, my cockney one has greatly enhanced.

In the parts of London I stayed in, it’s not as prominent, but people from the surrounding areas (parts of Kent, Essex towns like Southend and outer boroughs like Bexleyheath) can’t get enough of it. I can get by with it, and it’s one of those that they’re going to find very helpful in the future. 

Glasgow

Rating: 8.3

Usefulness: 6.9

From the bottom of the country to the top, let’s move things on. The Scottish accents vary greatly and I’ve decided to concentrate my efforts on the Glasgow strain. I’m not sure how helpful it is to be able to dip into this dialect, but I can teach them regardless.

Dublin

Rating: 7.5

Usefulness: 8.4

Much like with Scotland, I’ve decided that I’m best condensing my Irish accent around a single city’s way of speaking. A Northern Irish accent is slightly out of my depth, but a Dublin one fits just fine.

I used to be around one of my friends’ houses a lot when I was younger. His dad was from the area, and I must have used heavy inspiration from him to figure my way around the accent. I saw Beyoncé in Dublin a few years back and was sure to make sure I perfected it among locals.

South Wales

Rating: 9.0

Usefulness: 9.3

How can you not love a southern welsh accent? I feel like this one was developed out of necessity. I took a trip to the Cardigan Bay in 2007 and needed to adapt. Over time, I’ve settled on the South Wales variety. It’s an accent that so many people love to here, so it really does come in handy to switch to whenever you need it.

South Yorkshire

Rating: 8.6

Usefulness: 7.1

I feel like this is one of the easier ones to imitate, as a Nottingham resident. Places like Chesterfield merge the two. Once you drive a little further north and into Sheffield and Doncaster, it’s full on. Once you head a bit further north in Yorkshire and we’re talking Leeds and Bradford, I struggle.

I know where I perform best and it’s in this South Yorkshire pocket. It’s good to fit in with people around this way, because Londoners will forever assume our accent is from that part of the country.

Liverpool

Rating: 9.4

Usefulness: 8.2

Two things contributed to my scouse accent: Thomas the Tank Engine and Brookside. Everyone will know about the latter, but the original series of Thomas was based around that part of the UK, and it must have laid the foundation to my accent.

I’m so confident with this one that I have dipped into it when I’ve spent time in the Merseyside area. If these kids are due to spend as much time in the North West as I do, they’re going to need to be able to fit right in like this. I feel like you really need to practice this one a lot when you’re young to master it, because it’s near-impossible to learn when you’re past your most impressionable years.

I single weakness here is that I can’t pronounce ‘The Wirral’ in a scouse manner yet.

Received Pronunciation

Rating: 8.1

Usefulness: 9.6

I suppose we have to throw in the English standard. I remember my grandma teaching me this when I was younger, and it’s stuck. This one’s reserved for special occasions, but is very helpful when you use it in the right company.

Atlanta

Rating: 8.8

Usefulness: 3.2

The Atlanta metropolitan area is home to the majority of my favourite rappers, so it’s only right that I would pick up all the quirks of their dialect. Me and my sister have spoken to one another in this accent ever since “ATL” came out, giving me plenty of practice in the past decade. I can’t see how any of my boys would use this in the real world, but it’s a shocker when you put it to use.

NB: I can perform “Rapper’s Delight” perfectly as T.I. and will have to show the world at some point.

General American

Rating: 9.5

Usefulness: 9.3

We’re exposed to too much of this as children. It’s impossible to escape. It’s simple and gets the job done every time.

Australia (General)

Rating: 7.8

Usefulness: 6.4

There are quite a few variants of the Australian accent – as I’ve learned when researching for this – and the one I’ve got a knack for is the most universal of them all. I probably picked this up from Steve Irwin (whose accent is more of the broad version) and developed it from there. I used to work alongside someone from Australia and their accent was on the posher end of the scale, and helped me to refine things further. 

South Africa

Rating: 8.8

Usefulness: 7.4

I don’t practice a New Zealand accent frequently enough to make it distinguishable from other similar ones. Besides my broad Australian accent, my other southern hemisphere English go-to is South African.

I crossed paths with an awful lot of white South Africans over the course of my time in London, and passive exposure has definitely refined it. It’s one of those accents which are extremely difficult to put down once I’ve started doing it. While I’m strong at it, I really don’t know enough of their words to convince anyone that I’m actually from there.

Jamaica

Rating: 7.2

Usefulness: 9.6

This is a family thing. They may not look like it, but they’re both a quarter Jamaican, and need to be able to know what their older relatives are on about when they talk to them. Patois confused me for the longest time and it’s going to be even more difficult for them, but it’s just one of them ones that they have to learn.

I’m not nearly as good at it as I should for the simple reason that the UK variation of patois is so prominent here, diluting the authentic one out.

I’m going to have to play them more Reggae and Dancehall than I originally intended, so they can practice at home before they get out there in the big wide world and get side-swiped with Island phrases they’ve never come across before.

*Listen to Zed Bias*