Learning to develop an English RP accent means you’ll have to move your mouth frequently. Speaking in the Received Pronunciation will require you to make a more dramatic movement with your lips and move your tongue sufficiently to produce sounds.
RP (Received pronunciation) is a standard English accent common among well educated English speakers. The RP accent should sound neutral and be well understood. In Britain, it’s somewhat common in the London area.
Use Longer Vowels
If you ever have a conversation with a British speaker in an RP accent, you’ll notice that they use longer vowels.
As the name implies, long vowels are vowel sounds that the speaker prolongs. They can take twice as long to pronounce as short vowels.
For example, the words “aunt,” “are,” “castle,” and “laugh.”
Likewise, “bath,” “grass,” “dance,” and “can’t” become lengthy ‘ahh’ sounds like father or palm in the posh British accent. However, people speaking in Northern English dialects usually spell these words with a short vowel like cat, bat, and sat.
Several long vowel sounds in Received Pronunciation include:
- Long “IR” sounds in words like “nurse,” “stir,” and “learn.”
- Long “OR” sounds in words like “law,” “war,” and “thought.”
- Long “AR” sounds in words like “father,” “start,” and “hard.”
- Long “E” sounds in words like “eat,” “greet,” and “meet.”
- Long “U/OO” sounds in words like “goose,” “loose,” and “blue.”
You might find it challenging to grasp the difference between short and long vowel sounds. The most effective method is to use minimal pairs. For example, you can practice these simple pairs if you have trouble pronouncing the long “E” sounds:
- Feet – Fit
- Cheap – Chip
- Leap – Lip
- Sheep – Ship
- Keen – Kin
Let Your Jaw Drop
Now there’s more to making the prolonged “A” sound than you think. You have to make the proper mouth movements.
You can make the long “A” sound of Received Pronunciation by moving your jaw down rather than out sideways, similar to the “ahh” sound you might make when the dentist looks down your throat.
In essence, you need to close your lips, open your throat and let your jaw drop.
Alternatively, you need to make a strong ‘o’ shape with your lips to pronounce the “O” in RP British English accent.
Here’s an example to better explain the concept. Consider the sentence “turn off the television.” A non-RP English speaker would pronounce ‘off’ as “auf,” while an RP British English speaker would say “ouff,” emphasizing the “o.”
Fully Articulate the Letters
Non-RP English is more hurried than RP English, particularly seen by the term.
One thing that can get up your game in sounding like an educated British speaker is coherently expressing all the consonants in your speech.
When articulating consonants in your sentences, you need to constrain air by forming a narrow passage by various elements of your mouth and tongue but not entirely halt it.
In general, the articulated consonant sounds are created by combining a stop with a fricative.
For example, non-RP English speakers may pronounce “particularly” as “pahr-tic-uly,” whereas Received Pronunciation speakers pronounce it as “par-tic-yoo-lahr-ly.”
Similarly, most non-RP English speakers pronounce “extraordinarily” as “extra-ordinar-ly,” while someone speaking in the RP accent articulates every letter and says “ex-straw-dinarily.” The same case applies to “unnecessarily.”
Another great example is “cough.” A mediocre English speaker would pronounce it “cuff,” while someone with an RP English accent says “cauff.”
Give Your “R” s Some Space.
It is common for many English speakers to roll the letter “r” in their sentences and merge it into the next word.
So, if a non-RP English speaker was to say “father and son,” it would turn up as “fath-rand-son.” However, if we look at someone speaking standard RP English, they would leave a gap after the “r” and pronounce each word coherently instead of blending them up.
Your tongue should not contact the roof of your mouth when making the “R” sound in an RP accent. Return your tongue to the centre of your mouth, where it would naturally sit if you weren’t saying anything. Your lips should be slightly rounded as you say the sound.
Do Justice to Your “Y” s
Watch the movement of your mouth as you say: “finally.”
So, how did it go? If pronouncing the “y” in “finally” puts a smile on your face, you should note this point down. Non-RP English speakers firmly pronounce the “Y” s at the end of words.
On the other hand, in a standard RP British accent, the “y” is half-pronounced. So, their “Y’s” sound like “eh” and “finally” becomes “final-eh.”
This is most obvious in words with an ‘r’ before the ‘y,’ such as haste, carry, and marry, because the ‘r’ weakens the final consonant – ‘hurr-eh, carr-eh, marr-eh.’
Do Not Drop Your “H” s from the Beginning of Words
If you want to speak in a modern RP accent, you should never drop the “h’s” at the beginning of words.
Modern English has become lazy, and people find it okay to drop a few letters here or there when pronouncing different words.
For example, you might find English speakers with a strong accent saying ‘Ere’s the gift ‘amper you won” or ‘Ave you been to Dubai?”
But have you ever heard a well-educated British say, ‘Ello there mate? You probably haven’t because dropping an “h” at the beginning of a word is considered bad pronunciation in the intellectual community.
So, to sound scholarly with an RP British English accent, you need to say those “h’s” crisply and clearly.
So, if you were speaking to someone in a sophisticated British dialect, you would crisply pronounce the “h’s” in “Have you been on holiday lately” or “Hold my hat.”
Know When to Pronounce Your “R’s”
For novice English speakers, silent r is possibly the most perplexing element of the Received Pronunciation British English. It does, however, adhere to several rules, which we will discuss further below.
- Vowel Changes
Well-educated English speakers pronounce the “R” only when following a vowel sound. For example, you wouldn’t pronounce the “r” in “farm,” but you would in words like “scratch” or “brick.”
Consider the words “fork,” “bird,” “cart,” “where.” Since the “r” in “fork” is followed by a non-vowel sound “k,” you don’t pronounce the “r” when attempting an RP accent.
However, even though the “r” in these words is silent, it signifies a long vowel sound on a stressed syllable and a short, weak vowel sound on an unstressed syllable.
Nevertheless, there is an exception in this case. If you consider the word “iron,” you will notice that even an English speaker with an RP accent would pronounce the “r” despite it following the vowel sound “u.”
- Linking “R.”
The criterion for silent “r” also applies to connected speech. If a word ends in “r” and the following word starts with a vowel sound, the “r” will be pronounced in connected speech, but not if the words are spoken individually.
Consider the words “four,” “sir,” and “here.” When spoken individually in a refined RP English accent, you would say “fouh,” “suh,” and “he-uh.” However, adding a syllable beginning with a vowel sound would negate the silent “r” rule, and the words would become “four eggs,” “Sir Edward,” and “here it is.”
Keeping in mind that the final “r” in British English is silent because it is not followed by a vowel, the word “teacher” is pronounced, “teach-uh.” For example, “The principal appointed a substitute teach-uh.”
However, if that word is followed by another word that starts with a vowel, for example, “entered,” the “r” is followed by a vowel and is therefore pronounced: “The teach-er entered the classroom.”
This final R that connects one word to the next is known as a “linking R.”
- Intrusive “R.”
RP British English speakers often add an extra “r” between words to link them. This practice is known as intrusive “r” and is highly effective in helping you sound like a sophisticated British.
Even highly educated British people find it reasonable to occasionally employ a “linking R” in the wrong location.
Consider a sentence, “This book on Africa and America is amazing.” Non-native British speakers will deliver the sentence as it is. However, if you speak in an RP British English dialect, you can add an intrusive “r” and deliver the sentence as “This book on AfricarandAmerica is amazing.”
Pronounce Your “T’s” Instead of Using Glottal Stops
Words that contain the word “t” should be pronounced with the “t.” Using glottal stops rather than pronouncing the “t” sound in words makes a huge difference in portraying whether you have a posh accent or a layman dialect.
Most people use glottal stops without knowing they are using them, so let’s discuss what they are. Glottal stops are where you block air coming from your throat and don’t pronounce a specific sound, usually “t.”
In some cases, glottal stops are necessary, for example, in words like “football” and “setback.” Notice that we don’t say “football” and “setback.”
However, people have started absurdly overusing the glottal stop. For example, you may hear non-RP English speakers keeping the “t” silent in “bottle,” “daughter,” and “water.” On the other hand, more educated English speakers will emphasize their “t’s” and pronounce “water” as “wah-ttah” and “daughter” as “dauh’ttah.”
So, the key to effortlessly sounding like a proper British is to pronounce the “t” clearly instead of using a glottal stop.
Add a Sophisticated Touch to Your Speech
If you pay attention to the royal family’s English accents, you will notice that they have an element of sophistication in their speeches.
When adopting a Received Pronunciation posh British accent, you should convert words such as “man,” “tan,” “bat,” and “bank” to “men,” “ten,” “bet,” and “benk.”
Say No to Yod Dropping
You might have noticed that invisible “y” sound in the British pronunciation of certain words like “Tuesday,” “tune,” “music,” and “news.”
Americans and even some British nationals from the East Anglia tend to drop these “y” sounds and pronounce these words as “Toosday,” “toon,” and “moosic.” This is known as yod dropping.
Nevertheless, if you attempt to speak in an RP English accent, you must keep this “y” sound intact.
Pronounce the “ING” Phoneme
In many regional accents, people drop the “g” from words ending with “-ing.”
So, they pronounce various words like “singing,” “talking,” “fasting,” “chatting,” and “walking” as “singin’,” “talkin’,” “fastin’,” “chattin’,” and “walkin’.”
However, the cultured British society considers unnecessarily omitting the “ing” phoneme as slang. So, you know what not to do if you want to sound like a civilized British!
Practice Your Plosives
You might have noticed that certain words in English have a silent letter. One may think that the particular letter is supposed to be silent in every word yet you come across another word where you’re supposed to pronounce the letter.
Here’s an example: the letter “t” is silent in words like “hustle,” “castle,” “mortgage,” “nestle,” “often,” and “ballet,” but you are supposed to pronounce them in “button,” “moisten,” and “ghost.”
Likewise, words like “psychiatric,” “receipt,” and “raspberry” have a silent “p,” but in the RP accent, the British English speakers pronounce both the “p’s” in “impromptu.”
These speech sounds are more frequently overlooked in regular conversation, but it is critical to enunciate these plosive sounds accurately.
Master the Diphthongs
Diphthongs can be difficult for non-native speakers to master. As you make the sound, your mouth will change position.
Diphthongs are tough for learners to produce since they are a motor skill you must practise to achieve a decent output. You can sound like a well-educated person by mastering some main diphthong sounds in British English.
Nevertheless, there are some exemptions to the rules as well.
Let’s look at a few words for reference:
A non-RP English speaker would “shower,” “power,” and “tower” as “shaa-u-er,” “paa-u-er,” and “taa-u-er.” On the other hand, a cultured English speaker would negate the diphthongs and say “shaa-er,” “paa-er,” and “taa-er.”
Use Sophisticated British Words
Like you would look sophisticated by working on your dressing and lifestyle, you can sound British using specific vocabulary.
Certain words are common among the well-educated British people, like:
- Rather instead of quite/ fairly
- Terribly or awfully (as an intensifier) instead of very/ sorry/ really
- Jolly as an adverb to good or bad
- Utterly instead of totally/ completely
- Spiffing means very good/ excellent
- Stupendous to express something very large or impressive
- Ravishing instead of beautiful
- Ghastly or beastly instead of very bad/ unpleasant
To Speak, You Must Hear
Do you know how parents speak childishly in front of infants to help them grasp words? You, too, can learn a lot about speaking in an RP English accent if you only hear others say it.
Hearing personalities like Kate Middleton and the Queen’s annual Christmas address and watching movies and TV shows like Harry Potter, Downtown Abbey, and Line of Duty can astonishingly improve your Received Pronunciation British English accent.