Have you ever noticed that Londoners speak a little different from the rest of the British people? I’m sure you have!
I guess you want British people to pronounce words very clearly, and preferably also slowly! Of course, this does not happen in real life.
The main ‘local’ accents that you will hear in London are quite different from each other. The easiest accent for you to understand, and the accent that many English learners try to learn when speaking English, is actually not a local accent at all. It is Received Pronunciation, or RP, also sometimes called BBC English, or Queen’s English, and it is the Standard British accent. It is the accent you will find if you look up the pronunciation of a word in a dictionary.
For example, an RP speaker would say ‘Can I have a glass of water, please?’. Not many people speak with a pure RP accent these days – not even Prince William! Pure RP can sound rather formal and exclusive.
There are 2 main accents that are native to London now (apart from all the accents from other countries, of course, such as Indian English). The first is the cockney accent, which originated in East London, a predominantly working class area – but in fact it is widely spoken all over London and the south east of England. Visitors to Britain find this accent very hard to understand, because some letters are not pronounced, especially T and H, and some vowel sounds are different.
For example, a cockney speaker would say, ‘Can I have a glass of water, please?’ In this sentence, the red letters are not pronounced at all! The letter T is pronounced as /ʔ/ – this sound is called a ‘glottal stop’. The vowels sounds are also quite different, for example, please with an /əi/ sound, instead of please with an /i:/ sound. Another feature of the cockney accent is that /θ/ is pronounced as /f/. So a cockney speaker says ‘free’ instead of ‘three’.
The second main accent in London was only given a name in 1984. It is called Estuary English, because it is mainly spoken in the areas near the River Thames and its estuary. You can see the Thames Estuary area in the picture. An Estuary English accent has some features of Standard English, or RP, and some features of a cockney accent. This accent is very widely used, especially among people under 60 years old, as people of all social classes mix together much more than they used to.
A person with an Estuary English accent sometimes drops the letter T, or the letter H, for example, but not always. They tend to use mostly RP vowel sounds. For example, they may say ‘Can I have a glass of water, please?’ In this sentence, only the T is dropped, or in other cases it may be pronounced as a /d/ – for example ‘Can I have a glass of water, please?’