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Learn to Speak The Queen’s English

By Jon, published on 13/03/2019 We Love Prof > Languages > ESOL (English) > How to Speak the Queen’s English

At the start of your English learning adventure, choosing a speaking style – American English versus British English for example, has great significance and relevance.

The worst consequence of choosing badly depends on where you will eventually live, study, and work. For example, adopting a north American vocabulary could risk your not being well understood anywhere in the UK or Australia.

Throw it all against the wall and see what sticks

That is a slang phrase that means “try every avenue and method to see which one will yield faster, better results.”

Many non native English speakers hoping to study outside of their home country avidly apply at every possible institute of higher learning that recruits international students, regardless of what country, in the hopes of being accepted at any one of them.

Such a practice puts the English learner at a disadvantage because, in anticipation of IELTS or TOEFL results, s/he does not know which style of English to increase competency in.

Assuming that you have selected Britain as your destination of choice and have only sat IELTS, you might ponder which accent and style of British English you should cultivate in order for your speech to be effective.

Many non-native English speakers logically aim for the poshest sounding tone but is sounding posh vital in everyday English?

Let us explore why the Queen’s English is revered, BBC English is lovingly mocked and whether either one of them are actually ever used in ordinary English conversation.

English Lessons: What is ‘The Queen’s English’?

The Queen speaks Standard English Although formal sounding, our Queen speaks Standard English (Source: Pixabay Credit: Monica Volpin)

To understand this question, we first have to look at a bit of history. Unfortunately, it involves social classes.

Historically, the more elevated in society a person was, the more education s/he received and the better his/her diction was.

The monarchy symbolized the highest possible social class; the one that every commoner aspired to emulate:in speech, manner, lifestyle, and dress.

The King (or Queen, if there was no king) routinely addressed his/her subjects in public speeches, putting their ability to speechify on display for all to see. The general sentiment was that the sovereign was an educated, talented, knowledgeable and revered being.

“Why, just listen to him speak! So refined, so smart…” they must have said.

The Queen’s English (or the King’s English, if there is a male ruler in place) represents the epitome of education, polish and poise.

The Oxford Dictionary of Living English defines Queen’s English as:

The English language, as written and spoken by educated people in Britain.

They are not suggesting that people who speak Welsh, Scottish or Cockney are uneducated.  Rather, that statement is a reflection of the long-held tradition that the British ruler represents the ultimate in social refinement and therefore, the highest level of education.

To speak English like the Queen, you must first slow your speech.

While many native English speakers tend to speak relatively fast and inject a lot of slang phrases, the Queen’s English is thought to be free of colloquialisms and deliberately, exactly articulated.

The phrase Queen’s English does not refer to accent or regional variations of English in general. Her particular brand of English speaking mainly involves alterations of vowel sounds.

We also note that analysis of her recorded speeches over the years has demonstrated a shift toward the more popular Estuary English, a London accent from counties adjoining the river Thames.

 

Received Pronunciation is a cultivated accent BBC English is a cultivated accent (Source: Pixabay Credit: DesignFile)

Learn English: What is BBC English?

IELTS candidates and those learning English as a second language often find that listening to BBC Radio or watching popular British television programs helps in learning English pronunciation and honing English listening skills.

It is never a bad idea to improve your English by emulating native English speakers. However, you should be aware of what exactly you are copying.

Is BBC English a good model for ESL students to follow?

Let us delve again into the history books to see why this style of spoken English features so prominently in ESOL courses all over the world.

The BBC starting broadcasting radio programmes in 1922, under a Royal Charter. The trouble was, not everyone spoke or understood BBC presenters’ spoken English.

To this day, Britain has more than recognises fifty-six regional dialects, with the London accent and expressions having always been thought as the most popular.

Because the BBC was headquartered in London, radio hosts cultivated an exaggerated manner of speaking that regional banter, to better be understood over the tricky wireless airwaves.

In keeping with the demonstrated example of properly spoken English transmitted on the air and heard all over the world, the teaching of grammar, vocabulary and especially pronunciation in UK schools was revolutionized.

It is not uncommon for a country to formulate a standardized version of its native language, all while maintaining local dialects.

To standardize the English language in the UK, school curricula were modified to teach Received Pronunciation, sometimes to the detriment of the existing national language, such as Irish.

English Language Standardization

Global broadcasting of BBC English, or RP – as Received Pronunciation is often called was, in fact, the beginning of standardization of the English language in the UK.

Standardization of any language including English involves:

  • Codification – how standard language is validated
    • dictionaries, grammar and vocabulary textbooks, style and usage guides.
  • Dialect leveling
  • Language ecology and planning
  • Usage

The English language is currently undergoing further standardization because of the popularity of movies and music in English.This time, the shift is more toward a north American accent, or a neutral accent.

What does that mean for all of you, who are developing English language skills?

The Queen’s English vs BBC English: What Defines Them?

  1. The Queen’s English is not an accent. It is a slower speech pattern distinguished by elongated vowel sounds.
    1. The Queen’s (or King’s) English is considered Standard English that is not necessarily spoken in conjunction with RP.
  2. BBC English, or Received Pronunciation is considered a cultivated accent, not a natural speech pattern developed by a segment of society, as other dialects are.

Only about two percent of Britons speak RP in its purest form. – David William

How to Speak English Clearly and Effectively

Obviously, striving for the best English skills possible should be the goal of every English learner, whether native speaker or for speakers of other languages.

To learn English online in such a way that you are confident in your transactions with native English speakers, you need only to:

  • Amass a substantial English vocabulary
    • If you are beyond middle-intermediate English, learn phrases, not words.
    • You might also consider learning business English as an extra boost to your literacy
  • Develop your speaking skills by using English every day, even if you are not yet in the UK.
  • Develop your writing and spelling skills by keeping a journal in English.
  • Learn to conjugate verbs in all of their tenses
  • Participate in language learning through English courses, or by learning English online.
  • Practise your skills daily

To achieve fluency in English, you needn’t worry over which accent to adopt, which English is better or inspires more confidence when spoken.

You only need to study English with the end goal of becoming fluent.

Pronounce words correctly by following the rules Apply pronunciation rules to any new words you learn (Source: Pixabay Credit: Alexa Photos)

Where to Find a Suitable English Language Tutor

You might wonder about that ‘suitable’ qualifier. Isn’t anyone who speaks English qualified to tutor in the spoken language?

In theory, yes. Practice is a different kettle altogether, for several reasons.

Depending on where in the world you live, you may not have access to native English speakers and, if you do, they might not speak the type of English you are striving to learn.

In spite of global gravitation to a ‘region neutral’ adaptation to the English language, there are still distinct accents, dialects and vocabulary to contend with.

A good example of variances in vocabulary is the word ‘jumper’.

In British English, a jumper is a knit garment that covers the torso and arms; in other words: a sweater.

In other English speaking countries, that same article of clothing would simply be called a sweater, while a jumper would represent a sleeveless dress worn over a blouse.

Turnabout is fair play! In Great Britain, such a dress is called a pinafore.

You can see where the confusion would start… right?

This trouble is exacerbated by the policy of some non-English speaking countries to learn and teach both British and American English and blending the two.

If you live in Poland or India, two diverse examples of situations that involve English learning, most likely you will be exposed to and have access to British English speakers.

However, if you live in China, Japan or South Korea, your English curriculum at school may consist of a mix of the various styles of English. You may, for example, use a textbook that reflects American English but any recordings or videos could be in British English.

Furthermore, your school’s curriculum may place less emphasis on your learning and practising pronunciation, favouring instead your acquisition of vocabulary and your understanding of grammar rules, proven through rigorous exams.

Finally, any Native English speaker working as a foreign teacher you encounter in your country might speak with either British, Australian or American pronunciation.

Remember: the most important criterion in finding an English teacher to learn with is what your purpose and goals are with regard to your use of English.

With all of the factors to consider, how can you find your ideal English teacher: one you click with on a personal level – a very important aspect of taking lessons, and that you can learn well from?

First, ask around.

If you have a native English speaker for a teacher in your classes, ask him or her if s/he may give private lessons. If s/he doesn’t, ask if s/he has any friends or colleagues who are local that might be interested in taking you on.

It is not recommended that you approach random English speakers on the street to ask them if they might help you practise your spoken English.

One reason is that you do not know that person. Will s/he have time and interest in teaching English pronunciation outside of class? Is s/he a good teacher, one who cares about your learning or someone who might charge you a high price and not do much to help you improve?

Yes, such teachers do exist!

Another reason is that foreign teachers hear such requests all the time! Many expatriate teachers report burnout, in part because of the excessive demands from virtually everyone they encounter to help them learn and practise speaking English.

So, be considerate! Let those foreign teachers go about their business; there are other ways for you to find a teacher to help cultivate your English pronunciation.

You too can make use of online resources Students of all types make use of online learning tools; so can you! Source: Pixabay Credit: Rawpixel

Take a look online.

Because learning English is a global undertaking, there are tons of resources online to help guide your English pronunciation and more are added seemingly every day.

None would be better than having a regular chat with an English speaker who is invested in your learning. In other words: a tutor.

Finding a tutor to work on your pronunciation has never been easier, thanks to platforms such as Italki, LiveLingua and Tutoroo.

Italki is a language learning website where you get to choose your teacher. After signing up (it’s free!), you simply scroll through teacher profiles until you find the teacher most suited to your English learning goals.

Take a quick look at his/her calendar: does s/he have open time slots that correspond with your schedule? You are in luck! Mark your place and, at the appointed time, join your teacher online for a lively chat.

On Italki, you only pay for the sessions you participate in. There are no other fees, no membership costs and no overhead costs.

And, if you’d like to be an ambassador for your native language, you could sign up for language exchange and let people find you! You would teach your native tongue to interested parties and they, in turn, would help you cultivate your English pronunciation. Participation in this programme can offset your costs of mastering English pronunciation.

LiveLingua also enjoys a great reputation for online language learning.

One of their best selling points is that they have native English speakers from each of the four most sought-after regions: Canada, the UK and US, as well as Australia.

Here again, you select which teacher you’d most like to work with and meet on Skype for your lessons, according to the schedule you outlined!

There are so many language exchange platforms out there that we could write a separate article about them and still not cover them all!

Learning English Pronunciation in England

If you are already living in England and wish to improve your English pronunciation, you are spoiled for choice when it comes to finding conversation partners!

The only aspect of selecting a tutor or teacher would be, again, whether you would learn Received Pronunciation or the Queen’s English.

As mentioned before, our royals speak very well but not necessarily in an everyday vernacular. BBC English has its share of critics, too.

Perhaps it would be best to adopt the accent, speech patterns and phrases particular to your area, at least initially, so that you can communicate and understand the people you deal with daily: shopkeepers, neighbours and maybe even your children’s school teacher.

As such, you would need to narrow your search for a language teacher to your immediate area.

Have you talked with anyone at your local community centre?

Oftentimes, such facilities offer language classes and have contact information of teachers and tutors who might live or work close to you, who would be happy to work on your language skills with you.

You might also check in with your local library. It is fairly common for libraries to sponsor continuous learning programmes and, as such, likely keep a roster of training volunteers handy.

If you’d rather not talk with anyone about your language learning needs just yet, how about scanning bulletin boards?

Both your community centre and library have such boards, usually mounted by the entrance to the facility, with adverts from anyone offering services from car repairs to language lessons.

You might also find such adverts at your local supermarket, petrol station and even on college campuses!

And, naturally, you could search online for a tutor close to you.

Your Superprof recommends against searching social media sites such as Facebook and services sites like Craigslist because you might be hard-pressed to verify any potential teachers’ credentials or experience in teaching.

Likewise, you could search for an English tutor on Gumtree or Freeads but, again: how would you know such a teacher has the experience needed to help you master English pronunciation?

The wise choice would be to head directly to a learning website; a tutoring platform where you can find everything you need to know about any tutor you’d like to work with.

While there are plenty such sites to be found, obviously Superprof offers you the superior choice.

You may search for a tutor in your area or work with a teacher strictly online – Superprof tutors work much like the aforementioned Italki teachers insofar as giving lessons online.

Every Superprof tutor has their own profile page where they list their credentials and experience, indicate whether they would come to your home, or meet you out somewhere – or whether you would work together via webcam.

Most importantly, you will be able to read testimonials from other students this tutor has worked with.

Every tutor sets their own rates based on their experience and the level they teach at, and most Superprof tutors offer their first hour of lessons at no cost!

Best of all: there are Superprof tutors available online just about anywhere in the world!

Whether you are a postgraduate student preparing to sit IELTS in your native country or have recently arrived in the UK with the intent of making it your home, you should know that your English pronunciation will be of paramount importance.

Would you understand Estuary English upon arrival in London? If you are newly arrived in London, you may be overwhelmed at how fast people talk! Source: Pixabay Credit: Free-Photos

The debate continues: Queen’s English or Received Pronunciation? How about just speaking English in such a way that you will be understood?

Next, we share some simple rules of English pronunciation so that you can be ready for when your Superprof tutor expounds on them!

How to Learn New English Words

More important than adopting any particular accent is being able to speak English using the proper tone and stress.

Inflexion is defined as stress or pitch in the voice when speaking.

Like many other languages that use stress, tone or pitch to give meaning to their words, English also has rules for inflexion that you must follow.

For two (spoken) syllable nouns, the first syllable is stressed: TA-ble, DRES-ser, WIN-dow, etc.

PIC-ture and SYL-lable technically have three syllables but, because the last syllable is silent, it is pronounced as a two-syllable word.

For two-syllable verbs, the rule is reversed: ad-MIT, pro-TECT, in-SERT, re-LAX.

Two-syllable prepositions are spoken the same as two-syllable verbs.

You should adopt and follow these principles as you practice English vocabulary, so that any native English speaker will understand you, every time, without the benefit of any regional accent.

Find a private tutor to help you with your ESOL courses.

Is Speaking English with an Accent really Important?

Finding quality programs to learn English online is not difficult and, more and more, online English is moving toward a neutral accent – neither British, Australian or north American.

The British Council uses Standard English in its podcasts and lessons targeted at non native speakers who are learning English. The narrators use a variety of accents to teach English, edging ever more away from any affected speech.

BBC reporters and presenters will most likely continue to broadcast using a Received Pronunciation accent in spite of the mild ridicule that those who emulate that manner of speaking endure.

The Queen will most likely continue to speak Standard English slowly and clearly, with drawn-out vowel sounds.

How you cultivate your English language skills will depend on where you live, what your preference is and how your English teacher inflects.

The important thing is that you are learning the language that more and more people of the world know how to speak.

Learn how to perfect your English accent with our guide to pronunciation.

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