English and its peculiarities


English is the official language of the UK. It is also considered to be the international language of the world and is spoken, either as a first or second language, by 1.5 billion people.

The way English is spoken varies slightly from one country to another, but native English speakers are usually able to understand each other without problems (although Americans sometimes complain of not being unable to understand regional British accents). American and British English differ mainly in the spelling and pronunciation.

There are very few dialects in the UK, but a lot of different regional accents, some of which are so strong that they may pose difficulties even to British people from another region to understand. For people arriving in the UK, it sometimes seems surprising how rapidly accents change when moving from region to region.

Cockney is the main London accent, which can be observed in its full glory in the BBC’s popular soap-opera Eastenders (for a Northern England accent (Manchester) check out Coronation Street). Other major cities which have strong accents include Liverpool and Newcastle. Colloquially known as ‘Scouse’ (Liverpool) and ‘Geordie’ (Newcastle), these accents are extremely tricky for the untrained ear and are accompanied by a bewildering range of vocabulary. If you are coming to the UK with the intention of improving your English, these areas are only recommended to more advanced linguists.

‘Standard English’ (or ‘BBC English’ as it is colloquially known) is that which is spoken on the television and radio news. Those who speak it like to think of it as ‘proper English’.

The Brits love their language - you will never see as many people doing crosswords as in the UK - and they firmly believe theirs is the only pure English.

Other languages spoken in the UK

There are three other languages that are used widely in certain parts of the UK, these are: Welsh in Wales, Gaelic in Scotland and Irish in Northern Ireland. If you live in Wales, your children will be obliged to learn Welsh at school. This does not happen in Scotland or Northern Ireland, where Gaelic and Irish are optional subjects in school.

Further reading

Does this article help?

Do you have any comments, updates or questions on this topic? Ask them here:

Other comments

  • anonymous, 28 October 2010 Reply

    Correcting issues in this article

    Cockney is NOT the main accent in London. It was never a very prominent accent in London, only spoken in the East End and it is fast disappearing. Also, there is no such thing as standard English and BBC/ Received Pronunciation isn't a requirement of the BBC anymore (although people of higher class tend to use this form of English). Also, 'British' is misleading as people in UK consider themselves to be from/ live in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland; and non-English British people (Welsh, Scottish, N. Irish) generally don't like being called British. We consider ourselves separate and each country to have its own plethora of accents. There is also the English North/ South divide to consider.