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Understanding Accents

My latest venture, namely a YouTube Podcast was met with mixed reviews, as I expected.

The main criticism was that people could not understand me. I do try to speak slowly, but I am up against this in my daily life.

For example, in restaurants making a request for something as simple as a glass of water, is more often than not met with a blank stare. 

If I were living in a country where everyone spoke precise English, I could understand, but America has not spoken it for years. So if anyone should be allowed to butcher the language it should be me, a native of that country.

The England I grew up in was a mix of regional accents, you could travel just thirty miles and find a totally different dialect. I’m sure today, with people being more mobile that is not so much the case.

I evacuated out of London early in WWII because of the bombing. I lived in the South West of England  from the age of 4 years, so when I returned to the East End of London after the war, I was 10 years old and had a thick rural accent from the South West.

I was ridiculed and bullied horribly by the tough street wise kids who had stayed in London for most of the war. I quickly adapted and picked up the Cockney dialect, it was a survival thing. That is the accent I would keep (More or less.) for the rest of my life.

I say more or less, because when I first came to the US in 1979, I may as well have spoken a foreign language. No one understood a word I said. In the interest of survival I had to adapt. With the London or Cockney dialect, the “H” and “T” are not sounded, neither is “th.”

Actor Michael Caine is known for trivia, and his cockney accent. To do a Michael Caine impression one should end with, “Dere’s no’ a lo’ a people know dat.’ Translated: “There’s not a lot of people know that.” But if you sounded every “T” and “Th” it would not even be a close Michael Caine impression.

In order to be somewhat understood as I went about my daily life, I gradually started putting back the “Ts” and the “H” (Aches.) Many English people on coming to the US speak a precise BBC English, and everyone goes, “Oh, I love your accent.” Personally, I hate it. I told one young man to stop talking like “A poor man’s Hugh Grant.”

I have lived in the US for 38 years, not quite half my life. The accent I have now is a “Basterdized” London accent. But at least it is my accent, it is who I am. It is part of my personality. At over 80 years old it ain’t gonna change now. For my part, I will talk slowly and you for your part, might pay attention and listen carefully. 

If I go back to England, people think I have an American accent. In the US people ask, “What’s that accent, Australian? Irish?” They will guess anything but English.

The written word is a whole different entity, it is an art form all its own, I will not give up writing here. As for the podcast, I will keep it separate from the blog on YouTube. Anyone interested can find it there. If no one is interested or they can’t understands it, it will die a natural death.


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Reader Comments (25)

The funny thing is that I, as a non-native English speaker, paid no attention whatsoever to your accent. It sounded perfectly normal to me.

January 23, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterV

I understood it perfectly. I even detected a hint of an American accent, but I live in England. I have lived in Scotland and Wales so I can cope with pretty much any accent, even American.

January 23, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterYoav

Bath BARTH Derby Darby, Worcester Wuster, Birmingham Bumenam Bike BOIK!!!!! Ass arse

January 23, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterjohn Crump

Regrettably, I must admit I have to turn on closed captions when watching BBC shows. I saw a film called "Mr. Turner" that may as well have been in Greek. But I've been watching "The Crown," and it seems as if they've slowed down the pace of talking so we poor Yanks can keep up.

January 23, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEd

I am from Birmingham England, Brummies have their very own accent, I have been over in the USA since 1957 age 23 When we visit Brum UK I always have a hard time trying to understand the people. I am almost stone deaf anyway and use hearing aids, I turn the volume up high and ask them to speak slowly, As Dave says accents vary widely from one district to another, but that is the charm of going to England. Watching TV at home I always use CC and admit I can not understand a word said on British shows at all. One show in England that is not played in the USA is PEAKY BLINDERS This is a great show, filmed in sepia colour very good acting, filmed in Brum and the black country, a very industrial part of England. Apart from the constant use of the word FUCK (Which I do not think was used in those times)The accents to me are like a foreign language, but still spoken even these days. By the way I did Google the word FUCK and it does go back to the 1500s But as a nipper in England I never heard anyone use it, Did you Dave,ever use FUCK FUCK FUCK???

January 23, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterjohn crump

Apparently Mr.Turner was known as a mumbler and grunter. I'm probably not the only englishman who has diffulculties understanding him in the never-the-less very good film. If you have the DVD watch the interesting ' making of ' extras for more on our theme.

January 23, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAnthony C.

My mum was born and raised in London, even survived a WWII bomb hit at the library as a little girl. She came to the states in the 50's as a teen and to this day has managed to hang on to her accent and duel citizenship, which I have always appreciated. Having had that exposure at an early age has helped me a bit with the many blends of accents from Great Britain. Except Welsh. Had a physics professor from Wales and I was lucky if I understood half of what he said.

You mentioned Michael Caine. The running joke impression of him sounds like, "My name is My Cocaine." (Say it out loud for effect)

January 23, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterHaffassa Tempt

Listening to Dave's pod cast, The first word that to me, that tells you where Dave is from is the word PARK No one BUT a bloody Englishman could say that word the way Dave does, or I for that matter. By the way 'Mr Turner' is a great movie the photography is outstanding. CC is available. Funny how things come to mind, only in England in a court of law could they say with a straight face "BE UPSTANDING" when the Judge appears.

January 23, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterjohn crump

I had many Mexican-American co-workers in my first job on arrival in this country from England in 1994. I found it interesting that these colleagues could generally understand me much better than the rest. At the time I theorized that it was because they listened harder.

January 23, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMartinW

Doh! Tablet typing errors. Dual citizenship, not Duel citizenship. Apologies.

January 23, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterHaffassa

Anthony C - thanks on that info - I am interested to see that and learn more on Mr Turner.
John Crump - "Peaky Blinders," great show!

January 23, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEd

'Peaky Blinders' My son Paul get the show on the internet some how. If any of you are ever in the Midlands in UK there is a Black Country exhibit that is outstanding, be sure and go see it if you can, Takes you back to those days, all period correct with actors in costume etc. Also a canal system runs though Birmingham and the black country you can go on canal boats all though it.

January 23, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterjohn Crump

John, 'Peaky Blinders' can be viewed via Netflix streaming if you subscribe to such a thing.

January 23, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMartinW

Dave -

I had no issues understanding you in your video. This could be because I moved to the US from India and had essentially the same issue with accents that you did. My family and I spoke English as a first language when I lived in Bombay, and I thought it would all be fine when I moved to Ohio about 20 years ago. Of course, that wasn't the case. I did have a lot of the 'ne comprends pas' reaction when I spoke.

Over time, my accent changed to something that is a mix of a Bombay accent (not the accent you hear as 'Indian' in the movies), a midwest accent and an Irish one (I spent some time in Ireland as well). Most people have no problems understanding me, while some do. Like you, I try to speak slower to make myself understood.

Keep on making your videos. Trying new things keeps you young and it's fun to hear what you have to say (or write).

January 25, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterYohann

I'm originally from Wilmington, about 200 miles up the coast from you in Charleston. I had no trouble at all understanding you. The Low Country accent in the coastal south grew right out of a south English accent, but of course it's had a few hundred years to drift.

I know what you mean about picking up the local color though. I think it's a subconscious effort to be understood. I've lived in the Chicago area for 27 years now. I don't think I sound any different, but when I go home to Carolina my sisters tease me mercilessly about my "yankee" accent.

January 25, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Cowan

A long-time professor at the upper Midwestern U.S. university where I work is originally from England and has lived here for decades. He says he now has a mid-Atlantic accent.

January 25, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAlan

I want to plug for Dave, for all his good work, His book I DON'T SUFFER FOR MY ART This book shows just how talented Dave is, thousand's of one and two liners jokes quotes some very funny some make you thinks once or twice,BUT all worth a read, Re. the recent election one that I like is one man's opinion is another man's "I DON'T GIVE A SHIT" How very true, Great stuff Dave,

January 25, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterjohn Crump

Its funny, but up to now I really have not paid much attention to Brit accents, But last night I watched Wheeler's Dealers the car show, He was fixing the MASTER cylinder and of course in his veddy Briitsh accent said the MARRRSTER CYCLINDARRRRRR I still have not figured out where Mike the buyer of the cars is from in England sounds almost like an Ozzie accent?

January 26, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterjohn Crump

John, I have been watching that show recently, and listening to Mike's voice, I believe he is probably from the London area or maybe Essex.

January 26, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMartin W

Thanks Martin I detect a twang in certain words, Maybe he has lived in the USA for awhile

January 26, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterjohn Crump

I had no trouble understanding your spoken words on the podcast but found the sub-titles to be amusing translations. Perhaps something computer automated?

January 27, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterdoug peterson

I'm trying to work out how we can bring racing bikes into this discussion but................

January 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAnthony C.

Dave: hearing your voice was an itch I have longed to scratch. For years I've wondered what influences the South might have had on your speech.

That done, my honest assessment is that your accent is median or better among overseas Anglophones. If I do not continue watching the videos, it will not be for lack of understanding (or interest). Please post them here from time to time, if not as the entirety of your blog posts.

January 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterChamps

Just listened to your Youtube video. I understood you just fine. Keep them coming Dave!

January 29, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJim

Is it true that no one is more English than an Englishman who no longer lives in England? I heard Mike Meyers say that about his father once.

January 30, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Cowan

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