If you’re ever worried that you can’t learn an American English accent, just think of the actor Hugh Laurie.
Laurie naturally speaks in a British accent, but if you’ve ever watched the show “House,” you’d think he was really American because of his excellent American accent!
And there are many other actors who do the same. If they can do it, then you know it’s possible.
Okay, maybe they all had a language coach (trainer, teacher) helping them.
But you don’t need a coach to learn the American accent. What you need is knowledge of the different American sounds, an understanding of how to make them and some excellent resources to help you practice.
It’s also important to decide which kind of American accent you want to learn. That’s right, there are many different ways of talking in the United States!
So, if you want to talk like an American, we’ll show you nine effective ways to learn the American English accent and sound like a native speaker.
The Difference Between Accent and Pronunciation
Before we talk about the features of American accents, it’s important to understand that accent and pronunciation aren’t the same.
Pronunciation is the way we make the sounds of a word.
An accent is the specific rules and pronunciations you use based on your class or location.
For example, Americans pronounce the word “British” with a strong t sound. But if you’re actually British, you’d skip the t sound completely and say something more like bri-ish.
When you speak with an accent that’s not American, that doesn’t mean you’re speaking incorrectly. You can have perfect grammar and vocabulary without perfecting the accent.
But pronouncing a word in the wrong way can mean that you’re speaking incorrectly.
Incorrect pronunciation can also make you difficult to understand. In my personal experience working with people from all over the world speaking English, the one I struggled most to understand as an American English user was a tourist from Ireland. And we were speaking the same language!
What Makes the American English Accent Unique?
While over 1.3 billion people speak English, most English speakers aren’t native speakers. The American accent is what English learners commonly want to learn.
The American accent is actually older than the UK accent. The American accent as we know it today was the accent spoken by the settlers (colonists, immigrants) who first landed in what’s now the US.
Around the 19th century in the UK, the upper classes wanted a way to distinguish themselves (be different) from the poor.
With time, the accent they developed spread all over the region. (People have always wanted to be like the rich!) The result was today’s UK accent, and that’s why it sounds different from the American accent.
The main feature that separates the American accent from the UK accent is called rhotic speech.
The American accent (with some exceptions, as we’ll see later) is rhotic. That means Americans pronounce the r in words such as “hard” (har-d).
Non-rhotic speakers don’t pronounce the r, and would pronounce the word “hard” like hah-d.
There are some exceptions, of course. Some Americans in the New England area of the US such as Boston, Massachusetts, use non-rhotic speech.
Other features (properties) of the American accent include:
- The short a sound is used in words such as “man” and “cat.”
- The use of an unrounded (relaxed) vowel in words such as “lot” (pronounced laht).
- Dropping (not saying) words. American English speakers often use shortened sentences, suggesting words without actually saying them. In the UK, this is much less common. For example:
Jim: “Are you going to the store on your way home?”
Jan: “I could. What you need?” (I could go to the store. What do you need?)
The following video from the FluentU English YouTube channel is perfect to listen to the unique sound of the American accent while you learn some American slang words:
If you want to keep on listening to this and other English accents, subscribe to FluentU’s English YouTube channel.
I really recommend you try the “Learn English with Actors” playlist, where you’ll hear your favorite actors speak with different English accents.
Regional Differences in Accents Across North America
American English sounds different in different regions of the country. If you visit Southern US, New York City or California, they’ll all be speaking American English, but they’ll all sound pretty different!
That’s because different areas of Northern America have their own accents—there isn’t just one simple accent that everyone across North America shares.
Here are some features of regional differences you can find there.
The Southern Accent
Also known as a “Southern drawl” or “country accent,” the Southern American English accent is usually slower, with elongated words and vowels.
Southern pronunciations of words include git (get) and lemme (let me).
For a good example of American accent differences, consider this:
Some school children hear a rhyme from their teachers when they don’t get what they want.
In the Northern part of the US, teachers might say, “You get what you get and you don’t be upset.” In the South, children may hear “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.” (“Fit” being another word for tantrum or anger). Both rhyme!
You’ve probably heard the Southern accent in movies and shows where a character is meant to clearly be from the South. Just know that there are variations even in the Southern accent! Southern American people will sound different depending on what part of the South they’re from.
Where to hear a Southern accent:
- TV shows set in the south like “True Blood”
- American country-western music artists such as Carrie Underwood, LeAnn Rimes and Tim McGraw
The Midwestern Accent
The Midwestern accent, sometimes known as the neutral, or General American accent, is the accent often heard in American entertainment. It’s spoken across many of the central states of the country.
The Midwestern accent makes use of the rhotic speech I mentioned earlier. It also uses something called the caught-cot merger, which is just a fancy way of saying that words such as caught, with the au sound, and cot, with the short o sound, are pronounced the same.
If you’re trying to learn an American accent, this is probably the best option. You’ll hear it in many shows and movies (so it’s easy to find content to study with) and you’ll be understood everywhere in the US.
Where to hear a Midwestern or General American accent:
- For an exaggerated, strong version of the accent, watch the movie “Fargo”
- For a more neutral version, watch national news programs such as CNN
The New England Accent
The New England accent is also known as the “Boston accent.”
This regional accent uses non-rhotic pronunciations (the r isn’t pronounced after vowels). A famous phrase that demonstrates this accent is Pahk yuh cah in hah-vud yahd (Park your car in Harvard Yard).
Where to hear the New England Accent:
- TV shows or movies set in this region such as “Family Guy”
- Movies set in Boston like “Spotlight” and “Good Will Hunting”
The New York City Accent
The stereotypical “New York” accent may be disappearing, but you can still hear some natives use it from time to time.
The New York accent also has non-rhotic elements. They may also use round, short vowels like a. For instance, “father” becomes faw-thuh and “dog” becomes daw-ug.
Where to hear the New York City accent:
- Gang movies set in New York City like “Gangs of New York” and “Goodfellas”
- The character Joey in the TV show “Friends” (more on this show below)
The Canadian Accent
The Canadian accent is very similar to the General American or the Midwestern accent. While Canadians usually use rhotic speech and the cot-caught merger, they have some unique characteristics.
Most notably, Canadians raise diphthongs in some words, which means that in some words they pronounce the second vowel in a vowel pair at a higher pitch. An example is the word “about,” which sounds a little like ah-boot when it’s said by a Canadian person.
Where to hear the Canadian accent:
- Canadian actors speaking naturally (most “lose” their accents for TV shows and movies), like Jay Baruchel
- Canadian news channels like CTV
Yes, You Can Learn an American English Accent! 9 Amazing Tips and 12+ Resources That Work
There are a few tips and a lot of resources you can use to learn a perfect American English accent.
Since writing word pronunciations (like woh-d for “word”) doesn’t really help you learn how native speakers pronounce words, the examples in the rest of the post are linked to their Forvo pronunciation, where a native British or American English speaker will read them for you.
1. Learn to Pronounce the Letter R
As we saw before, the General American accent is rhotic.
On the other hand, the Received Pronunciation accent, which is the “standard” UK accent, is non-rhotic.
This means that in the Received Pronunciation accent, the letter r is only pronounced before vowels, while in the General American accent, it’s always pronounced.
So, for example, British and American speakers pronounce words with the letter r differently from American speakers. For example:
cardboard (UK) / cardboard (US)
car (UK) / car (US)
enforce (UK) / enforce (US)
Can you hear the difference?
Another important difference is that with a British accent, speakers almost never pronounce the r sound at the end of a word, while American speakers do. For example:
better (UK) / better (US)
paper (UK) / paper (US)
Finally, the r sound in American English doesn’t use a “trill” like some other languages such as Spanish. Here’s an example:
rural (Spanish) / rural (US)
Does that seem like a lot to remember? Don’t worry! All you have to do is learn where to put your tongue.
When making the American English r sound, open your lips slightly and place your tongue right in the middle of your mouth, with the sides of your tongue touching your back teeth. Then, curl the tip of your tongue up toward the top of your mouth.
The trick is to make sure the tip of your tongue doesn’t touch anything, especially not the back of your teeth!
To practice this, try saying the word “ear.” Start with the e sound, then curl up the tip of your tongue. The sound should change from an e to an r like magic!
2. Pronounce Your Ts and Ds Right
The Letter T
The letter t is another example of a letter that’ll tell you if a person is from the UK or the States right away.
We don’t want to go very deep into the linguistic (having to do with languages) part of the English language, so the following rules have been simplified so that they’re easy to understand.
The first thing you have to remember about the letter t is that, in the American accent, it sounds like something between a d and an r when it’s between vowel sounds or between a vowel and the letter l. (This is called t-flapping, and the IPA symbol is [ɾ]).
This is what happens in the following words:
water (UK) / water (US)
computer (UK) / computer (US)
matter (UK) / matter (US)
cut it out (UK) / cut it out (UK)
In the last example, notice how this still happens between words if the t is between vowel sounds!
Another rule you need to remember about the American t is that if the t is the last letter of a word and it’s not followed by a vowel as we just saw, then the sound gets “cut” or “stopped.”
In other words, you get ready to pronounce it but stop the sound. Listen to some examples:
hot dog (UK) / hot dog (US)
cat (UK) / cat (US)
abstract (UK) / abstract (US)
Finally, when you get a t sound before an n sound, you stop or cut the sound as before and change it into a hard n:
soda fountain (UK) / soda fountain (US)
button (UK) / button (US)
cotton (UK) / cotton (US)
This rule can be more difficult to see because t and n won’t normally be together (for example, in the word fountain, you have ai between them).
But don’t worry too much about this. With a little bit of practice, you’ll easily know which words behave this way. However, if you want to know more about this, listen to this podcast episode from the Seattle Learning Academy (the lesson starts at 1:30).
There isn’t an easy trick for remembering these t pronunciation rules, like the “ear” trick for the letter r. I suggest practicing with the words above until you sound exactly like the Forvo pronunciation. Then, you can search for more words with the letter t and practice those, too.
Practice enough and you won’t need to think about which sound to use in which word!
The Letter D
The letter d can also be flapped, like t.
The rules for flapping the letter d are the same as for the letter t, but we call this d-flapping instead.
Although d-flapping is less common than t-flapping, we can still find a lot of examples of this happening in American English:
medal (UK) / medal (US)
ladder (UK) / ladder (US) (pronounced like letter)
pudding (UK) / pudding (US) (pronounced like putting)
wedding (UK) / wedding (US) (pronounced like wetting)
3. Be Careful of the Sound /j/
The sound /j/ can also give you information about a person’s accent. This is the j, ge or dge sound that you can hear in American English words like “jump,” “gentle” and “judge.” (You can hear it twice in “judge”!)
Many American speakers don’t pronounce this sound after the letters d, n and t but a British speaker would.
This is formally called yod-dropping, and it can easily be seen in everyday words such as:
tune (UK) / tune (US)
duty (UK) / duty (US)
student (UK) / student (US)
You can watch the following short video to learn about the pronunciation of the word “new:”
4. Be Aware of Pronunciation Differences Between American and British English
You’ve already seen some examples of how words can sound different between British and American English.
Many times, the differences between accents can be seen in specific letters being pronounced differently but we can also have words that don’t follow a specific rule and are just pronounced differently.
The difference in pronunciation can be a change in a sound (like sh becoming sk) or a change in the syllable that gets stressed, among others.
I won’t go into detail about these differences, but they’re important to note. The best piece of advice I can give you is to learn the pronunciation of a word in the accent you’re learning. This can be done by using a lot of native media from that accent.
Of all the words that are pronounced differently in British and American English, the following 10 are especially interesting:
schedule (UK) / schedule (US)
either (UK) / either (US)
leisure (UK) / leisure (US)
missile (UK) / missile (US)
privacy (UK) / privacy (US)
garage (UK) / garage (US)
mobile (UK) / mobile (US)
vitamins (UK) / vitamins (US)
clerk (UK) / clerk (US)
tomato (UK) / tomato (US)
5. Lean Which Words to Use to Sound Natural
When speaking English (or any other language), you want to use the right words not to be misunderstood and not to say anything rude or embarrassing.
Even though we’re not talking about pronunciation here, using the wrong word when you’re speaking can make you sound less “American.”
If you want to sound natural when you speak American English, knowing the right words to use is just as important as saying them correctly!
British and American English have lots of great examples of different word usage. But this is even true inside the US, where people use different words for the same thing depending on where they live.
Below are some more specific examples of which words to use if you’re trying to speak American English.
Britishisms vs. Americanisms
If we compare the British and American accents, we’ll see that there are what we call Britishisms and Americanisms. These are things that are called one thing in American English and something different in British English.
It’d be impossible to include a complete list of Britishisms and Americanisms in this post, but the following words are a perfect example of how different they can be:
queue (UK) / line (US)
lift (UK) / elevator (US)
chips (UK) / French fries (US)
crisps (UK) / potato chips (US)
trousers (UK) / pants (US)
pants (UK) / underwear (US)
trainers (UK) / sneakers (US)
fit (UK) / attractive (US)
bobby (UK) / policeman (US)
toilet (UK) / bathroom (US)
underground (UK) / subway (US)
A lot of English learners have a problem understanding very informal conversations among young people because they’re full of slang words and expressions.
Once again, we can’t include all the slang words that exist in the US, but you can start your own list with these words:
to bail/to ditch — to cancel plans with someone
to slay — to do very well
tea — gossip
wack — boring
juiced — very excited (to do something)
swag — coolness
zonked — very tired
hyped — very excited
hit someone up — contact someone
vanilla — ordinary/boring
“Have Got” vs “Have” and the Verb “Get”
There are a couple of little differences between the British and the American accents you need to remember if you really want to sound like a native speaker.
British speakers prefer using “have got” when they’re talking about possessions, while American speakers prefer using “have.” This difference is easy to remember, but be extra careful about how these two verbs form negative sentences and questions differently:
I haven’t got a car. (UK) / I don’t have a car. (US)
Have you got a car? (UK) / Do you have a car? (US)
In addition, the past participle (third form of the verb, used in perfect tenses) of the verb “get” is “got” in British English but “gotten” in American English. Here are a few examples:
He’s got himself a new car. (UK) / He’s gotten himself a new car. (US)
She’s got taller. (UK) / He’s gotten taller. (US)
American English also uses “have got” for emphasis:
You’ve got to see this! (US)
You’ve just got to read this book, it’s so good. (US)
American Informal Contractions
Finally, there are a few informal contractions Americans love to use informally.
These contractions have become very popular lately thanks to music, movies and TV programs.
There are a lot of teachers who will tell you not to use these types of words during class or when you’re writing in general. But you’d use them when you’re speaking to friends, texting, writing on social media or in other informal interactions.
Here are some common examples:
gonna — going to
I’m gonna go now. — I’m going to go now.
wanna — want to
We don’t wanna go. — We don’t want to go.
gotta — got to/have to
I gotta go. — I have to go.
kinda — kind of
That’s kinda funny. — That’s kind of (a little) funny.
sorta — sort of
I sorta like it here. — I sort of like it here. (I like it here but not too much)
6. Use American Accent Training Videos
American accent training is available from many different sources on the internet to help you learn the American English accent.
Below, I’ve listed some sources where you can start.
Speaking Your Best, Inc.
Speaking Your Best is a free online course run by a licensed speech pathologist.
There are specific accent guides that will help you depending on your native language.
You’ll learn general advice, like why it’s important for American English learners to speak slowly, as well as how to say very specific sounds like an American.
Want to learn the American English accent directly from native speakers? FluentU can help.
FluentU was created to make study sessions easier and more efficient for language learners. This is possible because FluentU mixes great native resources with fun videos and activities.
But what exactly is FluentU?
Unlike traditional language learning sites, FluentU uses a natural approach that helps you ease into the English language and culture over time. You’ll learn English as it’s spoken in real life.
FluentU has a variety of engaging content from popular talk shows, nature documentaries and funny commercials, as you can see here:
FluentU makes it really easy to watch English videos. There are captions that are interactive. That means you can tap on any word to see an image, definition and useful examples.
For example, when you tap on the word "searching," you'll see this:
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
The best part is that FluentU keeps track of the vocabulary that you’re learning and gives you extra practice with difficult words. It even reminds you when it’s time to review! Every learner has a truly personalized experience, even if they’re learning with the same video.
You can start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, by downloading the app from the iTunes or Google Play stores.
Learn English with Let’s Talk
This YouTube channel uploads new videos every other day.
They focus on helping English learners speak with a neutral accent. Their videos include helpful tips and fun facts to make accent mastery (control of a skill) fun.
Along with accent help, you’ll also get vocabulary and grammar English tips.
Pronunciation Pro is run by accent reduction (the act of making something smaller) professional Annie Ruden.
Her accent reduction program isn’t free, but she does provide helpful YouTube videos for free. There you’ll find a wide variety of playlists with pronunciation tips for beginners and advanced learners of English.
She offers specific lessons on American English sounds and rhythms.
If you’re interested in her course, she also includes videos with more information.
Amy Walker’s “How to Do an American Accent” Series
While Amy Walker isn’t an English language teacher, her series is fun and useful for English learners.
Amy Walker is an actress, so the methods she teaches are the same that actors use to create the convincing (easy to believe) accents you see on TV and in movies.
Her series on how to do an American accent includes lessons, exercises and even a demonstration of different American accents.
7. Watch American TV Shows
Many English learners have used American TV shows to help them learn English.
You can hear different American accents in American shows, though you’ll typically hear something close to the Midwestern or General American accent.
The suggestions listed below are useful for English learners because they’re popular and use everyday language. You can find these shows on DVD or online. You may even be able to access some episodes on YouTube.
You can find even more suggestions here.
“The Simpsons” is an American classic that’s been on the air since 1989.
Episodes are shown all over the world and the characters are so popular that they’ve introduced new expressions into American culture.
Any American you meet will be familiar with “The Simpsons.” Some English learning programs even incorporate “The Simpsons” into their lessons.
Note that “The Simpsons” generally uses a lot of topical (related to current events) and cultural references, so it may be better for advanced learners.
“Friends” was (and still is) one of the most popular sitcoms (situational comedies) in the US.
It takes place in New York City, and the characters have different backgrounds and speech patterns. Many of the themes in the program are relatable (people can identify with them).
You can watch full episodes on HBO Max to hear how Americans speak and respond to one another.
But if you’ve never heard about “Friends,” here’s an example of what you’ve been missing:
“Full House” is another sitcom that’s seen all over the world.
The characters range from children to adults, so many of the stories are interesting to the entire family. “Full House” is so popular that some have learned English by watching it!
Sitcoms like “Friends” and “Full House” are good for English learners because they’re short and incorporate everyday problems into storylines. They also use a lot of physical humor that’ll help you understand what’s going on even if you can’t follow the dialogue at first.
8. Watch American News Programs
News programs from the US are a great source of American accent audio. For the best experience, try national news programs such as the ones listed below. National news anchors (presenters, reporters) tend to have the General American accent.
If you know you’ll be traveling to a region with a strong local accent, such as the South or West, look for videos from local news stations in those areas. You may hear some localized accents.
9. Get Help from an Accent Tutor
Tutors are always the best resource because they can help you with your own specific pronunciation needs. The following tutors or language services specialize in helping people learn the American English accent.
American Accent Course
This American accent audio course is an online program that you can access whenever’s best for you.
You’ll receive listening exercises and lessons in rhythm and pronunciation. You’ll also get quizzes on your progress and live tutors are there to help you with difficulties and to offer more help.
Cambly is a course you can use online or on your mobile device. It offers a free trial option to see if it’s the right course for you.
Cambly allows you to practice English conversation with a tutor so you can get immediate feedback on your accent.
Rachel is an English teacher who specializes in helping learners improve their American accent. While she provides a lot of paid material, her website also features over 400 free videos to get you started.
And that’s everything for today, my friends!
Speak with your American friends, tutors or teachers, and use the American accent training resources and tips above. You’ll be talking like you’re from the States in no time.
Stay curious and happy American accent learning!
Francisco J. Vare loves teaching and writing about grammar. He’s a proud language nerd, and you’ll normally find him learning languages, teaching students or reading. He’s been writing for FluentU for many years and is one of their staff writers.
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