English speakers aren’t robots.
Too bad, right?
Wouldn’t it be great if they all sounded exactly like Siri when they spoke?
Unfortunately for English learners, native speakers all have their own unique ways of talking. There are thousands of English accents, slang words and pronunciation habits you might hear—which can make it difficult to understand them all.
But it’s not all bad.
Learning different types of English can actually be exciting! Not only will you give your ear a fun workout, you’ll also discover new cultures as you explore types of English across the world.
In this post, we’ll show you seven types of English you should get familiar with.
We’ll start off with two super common ones that you probably already recognize. Then we’ll explore some others that you might never have heard before.
How to Understand 7 Different Types of English Spoken Across the Globe
North American English vs. British English
North American English is what people in the U.S. and Canada speak. Standard British English is spoken in the U.K. These are the two most common types of English used in the ESL classroom.
Of course, both types of English have their own sub-divisions (for example, the English spoken in the southern states of the U.S.). But there are some underlying qualities for each that English learners should recognize.
The biggest differences between North American English and British English involve pronunciation and spelling.
When it comes to spelling, it’s mostly the U.S. that spells words differently. Although Canada uses North American English, it generally follows British English spelling.
- Most words that end in -or in American English have an -our ending in British English.
color (American) — colour (British)
honor (American) — honour (British)
- Most words that end in -ize in American English have an -ise ending in British English
organize (American) — organise (British)
recognize (American) — recognise (British)
- There are also some words that sound the same in American and British English, but have different spellings.
In the U.S., your money goes into a checking account. In the U.K., it goes into a chequing account.
The streets in the U.S. have a curb, but in the UK, they have a kerb.
A car in the U.S. has four tires, but in the U.K. it has four tyres.
When people talk about British English, they’re really talking about Received Pronunciation (RP).
Received Pronunciation is the most common English accent that you’ll encounter when learning British English. It’s the type of English that’s usually spoken on BBC News, for example. Understanding RP can help you distinguish between British and American accents.
Here are some of the major differences between RP and North American pronunciation:
- In RP, the letter “r” is pronounced very softly when at the end of a word.
For example, in a British accent, you would barely pronounce the letter “r” in the word pork. It can even be considered a “silent r” in this context.
- In RP, the letter “t” is clearly pronounced when it appears in the middle of certain words. In American English, that letter is pronounced more like a “d.”
For example, a British person would clearly pronounce the word water, whereas an American would say something closer to “wah-der.”
- RP puts word stress in different places than American pronunciation. In the examples below, we’ve bolded the stressed syllable.
garage (American) — garage (British)
address (American) — address (British)
Resources to learn American and British English:
- FluentU is a great place to get started when learning American or British English, among many other types of English.
- There’s a great video posted by Anglo-Link that looks at the pronunciation and intonation differences between British and North American English.
- If you’d like to see how Received Pronunciation compares to some other English accents, look at this video comparing Standard British English (RP) with a Northern English Accent.
- The U.S. Department of State: Students who want more exposure to American English can visit this website for ESL resources and information about study abroad programs.
Other Types of English You’ll Encounter When Learning and Traveling
Since North American and Standard British English are the most common types of English used in TV, movies and ESL programs, most students tend to be somewhat comfortable with these types of English.
Which is why we’re going to look at some other types of English that can take some getting used to.
Listen to “300” star Gerard Butler speaking in his neutral Scottish accent below and compare that to this thick Scottish Glaswegian accent. As you can see, there’s a big difference between the two!
The good news is that you’re far more likely to encounter Scottish speakers like Gerard Butler than the other speaker.
Many Scottish speakers like to throw in Scots words, which are unique only to Scotland. That’s why even some native speakers can have trouble with a thick Scottish accent.
Let’s look at some words you’re likely to come across in Scotland and nowhere else:
- Braw (Great/awesome/fantastic)
- Tidy (A positive description similar to beautiful/stunning/lovely)
- Balloon (Someone annoying or dim-witted)
- Bucket (Trash can)
Resources to learn Scottish English:
- “Say It Like a True Scotsman”: A phrasebook of uniquely Scottish English terminology.
- Scots Tongue: A comprehensive guide to Scottish pronunciation, slang, expressions and more.
As its name indicates, Irish English is spoken by the people of the Republic of Ireland and the British region of Northern Ireland.
One of the most recognizable features of Irish English is that the “th” sound (like in thousand) is pronounced with a “t” or a “d.” If you’d like to hear various accents you’d encounter in Ireland, take a look at this YouTube video (warning: language may be inappropriate for children):
Let’s look at some words you’re likely to come across in Ireland and nowhere else:
- Shebeen (Bar/pub)
- Craic (Literally means crack, but when people ask you, “what’s the craic?” they’re asking “how are you?”)
- Gob (Mouth — Can be used as a light insult, like “shut your gob.”)
- Eejit (Idiot, but in Irish pronunciation)
Resources to learn Irish English:
- “Irish Language and Culture” by Lonely Planet: You may’ve heard of Lonely Planet, one of the biggest and most reliable sources for traveler information. They make guidebooks for almost anywhere you’d want to visit, written by experts with firsthand knowledge of the locations.
This book will teach you key vocabulary and expressions you’ll hear in Ireland. There are chapters on sports, food and even misunderstandings.
When you're done, grab a Lonely Planet guide for any other destination that interests you!
Australian English is becoming one of the more popular versions of English as people from nearby countries like China and South Korea move to Australia to study English.
One of the fastest ways to sound Australian is to use long vowel sounds. Here’s a guide to basic vowel sounds you’ll hear in Australia.
The slang in Australia is especially unique. Australians like to abbreviate everything!
Let’s look at some words you’re likely to come across in Australia and nowhere else:
- Bogan (Someone unsophisticated)
- Mozzie (A mosquito)
- Whinge (To whine)
- Servo (A gas station)
Resources to learn Australian English:
- “Lonely Planet Australian Phrasebook”: Another helpful phrasebook from the pros at Lonely Planet.
- How to speak Australian: Learn tons of Australian slang abbreviations with these funny YouTubers.
- ABC Radio Australia: Students interested in learning Australian English can visit this site for stories, videos and activities designed to boost English proficiency.
New Zealand English
Also known as the Kiwi accent, New Zealand English is one of the more neutral versions of English out there. While distinctly different from British English, many ESL students who’re used to Received Pronunciation don’t have a problem with the Kiwi accent.
Just like its neighbor, Australia, Kiwi English is filled with a lot of phrases that you probably won’t find in many English speaking countries outside of Oceania.
Let’s look at some words you’re likely to come across in New Zealand and nowhere else:
- Jandals (Flip flops)
- Chilly bin (A cooler used to keep your drinks cold)
- Sweet as (An expression meaning no problem/alright)
- Hardout (Used to amplify an adjective — “It’s hardout hot today!” means “It’s very hot today!”)
Resources to learn New Zealand English:
- “Personal Kiwi-Yankee Dictionary for the New Zealand Traveler:” A dictionary-style book that explains New Zealand vocabulary in terms of Standard English.
- “KJ Apa Teaches You New Zealand Slang:” The “Riverdale” actor KJ Apa explains New Zealand slang to American viewers.
- English Language Partners New Zealand: An immigration website that’s filled with information and resources to help with learning English.
English is one of four official languages in Singapore and is commonly used in local and international business in the country. What makes Singaporean English, also known as Singlish, different from other versions of English is that it’s been influenced by other languages in the country.
For outsiders, Singlish can be difficult to understand. Many of the words and expressions used in Singlish actually come from other languages, like Mandarin Chinese, Malay and Tamil. And for this reason, many English-speaking Singaporeans speak standard English and Singlish.
Let’s look at some words that you’ll only find in Singlish:
- Lah/la (A filler word used for emphasis that can have a lot of different meanings, depending on the context)
- Lepak (To walk around aimlessly)
- Heck it (Used when you don’t care about something)
- Sia la (An exclamation similar to “wow” or “oh my God!”)
Resources to learn Singlish:
- “The Singapore English”: A pocket dictionary for common Singlish terms you’ll hear in Singapore.
- “International Accent” vs. Singlish Accent: A YouTuber teaches the difference between standard English and Singlish.
As you can see, there are a lot of different types of English spoken around the world–each with its own traits that make it unique.
While getting used to a different type of English can be difficult in the beginning, with a little bit of practice, you’ll be able to visit the U.S., Ireland, Australia and more to chat with the locals like a native!