In the world of global English, there are recognized two main accents or varieties of English pronunciation. They are British and American pronunciation. If you are taking an English conversation course, general English course, business English course, or private tuition, pronunciation is an important factor to consider. Students taking an English course in Singapore may wish to think about the differences between British and American pronunciation.

British English Pronunciation

What is commonly referred to as ‘British pronunciation’ is actually called received pronunciation (or RP for short). It is a variety of English pronunciation that originated from the early modern English dialects of the East Midlands of England during the 14th and 15th centuries. RP itself has gone through some changes, but what is now considered Received Pronunciation contains a blend of London speech, East Midlands, Middlesex and Essex, according to Wikipedia. RP is often associated with the upper class English speakers of England; it is used by members of the Royal Family, Members of Parliament, academic experts, actors and celebrities. It is the accent you usually hear on BBC programmes, and RP is the pronunciation used in English course books and dictionaries from Oxford, Longman and Cambridge. It is considered ‘the’ British accent, meaning it is the most widely recognized accent, although only about 5% of England’s population speak with an RP accent.

RP is classified as non-rhotic, meaning that the letter ‘r’ is usually not pronounced, unless it is followed by a vowel. Consider the following examples:

far /fa: /

computer / kəmpju:tə /

bird / bɜ:d /

confirm / kənfɜ:m /

When the ‘r’ is followed by a vowel, it will be pronounced:

run / rʌn /

error / erə /

press / pres /

prompt / prɒmpt

American English Pronunciation

The American pronunciation that is taught in North American schools is called General American pronunciation (or GenAm). It is the variety of English pronunciation that is used in government schools and on national television in North America. It makes up about 90% of the English heard on television, radio, movies and podcasts. It originated from the speech patterns of the Eastern interior United States, according to Wikipedia. General American pronunciation is the pronunciation presented in English course books and dictionaries published in North America. And unlike Received Pronunciation, General English pronunciation is rhotic, meaning the ‘r’ is always pronounced:

far /fa:r /

computer / kəmpju:tər /

bird / bɜ:rd /

confirm / kənfɜ:rm /

Other differences between RP and General American Pronunciation

The other critical difference between these two varieties of English is vowel sounds in words. In some cases, the same word will be pronounced the same in RP, whereas in General English, they will be pronounced differently. Have a look at the following examples:



General American

or – awe

court - caught




ɔ: - ɔ:

kɔ:t - kɔ:t

sɔ: - sɔ:

fa:ðə - fa:ðə

fɔ:məli - fɔ:məli

ɔ:r - a:

kɔ:rt - kɒt

sɔ:r - sa:

fa:ðər - fa:rðər

fɔ:mərli - fɔ:məli

If you are thinking about taking an English course in Singapore, you may want to think about which accent you want to learn. The fact is, RP is taught in the government schools in Singapore; however, with the increase in American media and entertainment, General American pronunciation is becoming an increasingly common sound on the streets. You will want to learn the accent that will best suit your purpose: are you going to move to England or North America? What do your English colleagues use? Do you have friends that speak with one accent or the other? Ideally, you want to be able to understand both accents easily; fortunately, English courses in Singapore will try to give you exposure to as many accents as possible, to help you understand spoken English in the real world – and Singapore has English speakers from every part of the world! Ease of learning is also something to consider. Obviously, you’ll prefer to learn whichever pronunciation is easier for you. But remember, don’t try to be perfect, unless you want to sound like you’re from American or England.

To listen to the differences between RP and General English pronunciation, check out this youtube video:

Michael Bunyak

English Teacher at Canadian Education College, Singapore