Once upon a long ago I taught a diverse bunch of chaps and chapettes in Mexico City how to speak English. Real English. British English. Olde Worlde English. The original. Oh, those were the days. Am I playing on my particular version of English? Well, there is a point to that. There are plenty of English teachers in the US. Mostly from the United States. A few from Canada. Not so many from the UK. It was my selling point. One of them, anyway.
Rightly or wrongly (mostly wrongly as it happens), Mexicans have a favourable view of British English. For a whole load of reasons. Yet, ironically, none of the Mexicans I ever met understood a word I’d say for the first few weeks. I can’t say with 100% certainty that they understood much of what I said after a few years! My accent perhaps sounded exotic. But I’m told it also sounded a bit Double Dutch.
Some of my students would mock my pronunciation. In, so I always assumed, an affectionate manner. They’d exaggerate the invisible R’s that us Brits surreptitiously insert into random words. Carn’t. Warter. But I think they were secretly envious of my accent. Maybe. I should have asked. But then, their envy would have ceased to be a secret. I did have one chap who wanted me to teach him how to ‘speak British’.
Which raised the obvious question. What sort of British? This sort of British? I did once turn it on to BBC Alba and watch it intently until Mrs P felt compelled to say something. She wasn’t fooled. Well, not for long anyway. But I digress. Back to speaking English. The accent in particular, rather than slowly dying ancient tongues that were once spoken widely in parts of this land.
Accents are hard, bordering on the impossible, to learn and successfully replicate. There are a million examples of linguistic travesties in the movies, but one can see why Dick Van Dykes casting in Mary Poppins caused PL Travers to shudder. Although Renee Zelwegger did show that it can be done. Bravo to her. There are, of course, many types of British English. Do you want to learn Glaswegian? Cornish? Cockney? Welsh? Geordie? Brummie? BBC English?
I’ll offer my tuppence worth of advice. Don’t bother. Invariably, the result – regardless of the particular accent you are trying to mimic – will be Fake British. It’ll sound odd. Weird at best. Laughable at worst. If you absolutely must mimic the accent of one part of the UK, then I suggest Welsh. As the video explains, the Welsh accent has certain…shall we say, qualities? If you sound like you’ve had a drink too many, then at least you have an excuse for your abomination of an effort.