Listening Skills: How to understand different British accents

14 September 20233 mins read

If you’re learning English, you might have noticed that not all English speakers sound the same. Many people around the world think that all British people speak like the Queen. However, this ‘posh’ accent is actually called Received Pronunciation (RP), and it’s just one of many accents in Britain. Other accents come from different parts of the UK, like Scotland, Wales, and various regions of England. If you find some of these accents hard to understand, don’t worry—you’re not alone. In this blog, we’ll offer some practical tips to improve your listening skills and help you to understand the rich variety of British accents.

Pay Attention to How Words are Spoken

The key to understanding different accents involves listening carefully to their unique tone and pronunciation. If you’re struggling to understand someone, find out where they’re from and then do some research on that specific accent. Websites like Dialects Archive and the British Library’s collection of recordings can be particularly helpful, providing sound recordings of different accents for you to get to grips with.

Experiment with Audio Speeds

YouTube and other platforms allow you to adjust the playback speed. If an accent or dialect is proving to be a challenge, slow down the speed to help your brain catch up. Gradually increase the speed as you get more comfortable.

Watch British TV Shows and Films (with Subtitles!)

If you’re having trouble with a particular accent, just watch a TV show or film set in that region. This can be an excellent way to improve your language skills and become a more confident communicator across the UK. For instance, a show like “Peaky Blinders”, starring Oppenheimer’s Cillian Murphy, will give you an ear for the Birmingham accent, while “EastEnders”, a classic British soap show, is ideal for understanding the Cockney accent, which you might overhear in the East of London. Here’s some other recommendations:

  • Downton Abbey: This series provides a good example of received pronunciation, also known as the Queen’s English.
  • Coronation Street: This long-running soap opera will introduce you to Northern accents, primarily Mancunian (from Manchester).
  • Doc Martin: This show offers insight into the Cornish accent and is set in the South West of England.
  • Gavin & Stacey: For a lighter touch, this comedy showcases accents from both England and Wales.

Listen to a Podcast

There are lots of British podcasts available on a range of topics, spoken in a range of accents! Listening to these can not only enhance your vocabulary but expose you to different accents as well. If you’re not sure where to begin, click here for a handy list of recommendations, catered to different interests.

Listen and Read Together

If you’re still scratching your head, try listening to audiobooks while reading the text. This helps you to understand the story and the accent at the same time. Look out for audiobooks with different British accents to practice. There’s lots of British narrators to pick from, but here’s some that might peak your interest.

Take a Deep Breath

Don’t feel shy if you can’t understand an accent right away. The key to learning is practice. Be open, and keep trying. Your efforts will help you understand better over time.


Understanding different British accents might seem overwhelming, but with practice and active listening, you can get there. Whether you’re trying to catch every word of a TV series, or chatting with a local, these strategies will make understanding various British accents a less daunting task. Happy listening!