English accents comprehension

Curious person   Sunday, March 20, 2005, 11:00 GMT
Hi guys

I’m not a native english speaker and i have a curiosity, therefore i would like to know which accent is more comfortable or understandable when a native english speaker is listening another foreign english accent .

I mean :

For a north american person ( US and Canadian ) is more understandable irish accent , england accent , or australian accent ?.

For a person from England is more understandable american english, irish english or australian english ?.

And the same question for irish speakers and australian speakers ?

Thanks .

PS : I know in previous threads you have talked about similar topics as neutral accents etc, but at those threads i haven’t found the whole answer to my question.
Adam   Sunday, March 20, 2005, 11:03 GMT
I think Americans could understand Southern English accents fine. Northern English accents might be more difficult.

Scottish accents are also difficult to understand.

English people find Scottish accents difficult. Sometimes, when I hear a Scot speak, I can't understand a word that they say.
Damian   Sunday, March 20, 2005, 12:09 GMT
<<English people find Scottish accents difficult. Sometimes, when I hear a Scot speak, I can't understand a word that they say>>


To be totally truthful, it's just as well. You really wouldn't want to know! :-)

Only jesting....actually some Scots are almost incomprehensible to others.....when in Glasgow (which is not often) I sometimes feel I need a phrase book.


Hi there. North Americans come from all sorts of national backgrounds...that's why it's called a "melting pot". I guess Adam is right....most of them are familiar with the "Standard British Accent" brought to them in films and TV programs....the much quoted Hugh Grant..all that RP stuff. Or British royalty, like the late Diana and the Queen of England...accents which are far from the norm in England, believe me. People from one part of England may well have a bit of difficulty understanding a speaker from another area. The same up here in Scotland, as I have said.
Outside of this Standard British (English) English, most North Americans would have difficulty most British regional accents unless of course they have had experience of them before for whatever reason. An American from Boston USA may well fully understand the Irish accent, for instance, because many of them have their origins in Ireland.

Coming from the UK I personally have no difficulty understanding Standard American English...in reverse, the most usual accent I hear on films and TV. There again I would find it a bit difficult to understand someone from the Deep South, with the long drawn out drawl. The same goes for the accent of African Americans...so called Ebonics. That is really hard to understand...it's almost like a foreign language.

I have no problems with the standard Australian accent.....you can more or less guess what are all the abbreviations they use there...barbie for barbecue is just one example.

I am Scottish and have no difficulty with the accent from Northern Ireland (Ulster) or from the very different accent from the Republic of Ireland (a completely separate country..literally a foreign country).

A person from England would probably give quite different answers in response to your post, CP.
JunJun   Sunday, March 20, 2005, 12:25 GMT
I think that's a good question.

Australian accents are very similar to the accents in Southern England. So for a southern English person it should be easier to understand an Australian accent than an American or Irish accent. Americans arguably speak similar to the Irish, but probably more clearly.

For me, I'm from the city of Liverpool in northwest England. It's a place that's been heavily influenced by the Irish/Welsh immigration. So the actual accent is more similar to Irish than all the other English accents. I can understand Irish accents better than say Cockney or Geordie.

I also find it easier to understand a person speaking with a standard American and Australian accent better than regional accents in my own country. When I went to Newcastle there were many Geordies who where very hard to understand, the same is with Glasgow. It's also hard to understand a strong Cornish accent (Southwest England).

People in southern England will find difficulty understand me. Probably more so than standard English accents from other countries.
JunJun   Sunday, March 20, 2005, 12:34 GMT
When I went to Cornwall (southwest England), some idiots actually thought I was Scottish, while others thought I was Irish. That's how backward they are in Cornwall lol.
JunJun   Sunday, March 20, 2005, 12:38 GMT
Damian, as for the English understanding Scottish accents I think that will vary. Northerners will have no problems, while southerners will. Unless it's someone from a really rough area of "Glasgy"
Julian   Sunday, March 20, 2005, 23:23 GMT
I agree with Adam and Damian's assessment of Anglophone North Americans' comprehension of other English accents. It really depends on a person's exposure to other native English accents. I would venture to guess that many American's living in more homogenous or insulated parts of the country, where contact with foreigners and foreign media is next to nil, would not be able to differentiate between English accents, Australian accents, New Zealand accents, Boston accents, or other non-rhotic accents. For them, if you drop your r's you must be from England!

For me, I have no problems understanding the accents on BBC and BBC America, since those are the range of accents we're accustomed to hearing via the mass media. Regional British accents are a bit trickier. It took me awhile to adapt to Estuary, which they say is based on South London/Cockney accent, but for the life of me, I still can't make out what the heck Kathy Burke is carrying on about in those "AbFab" reruns. Forty years of the Beatles and other Liverpudlian rockers on our shores have familiarized us with Scouse, while Mancunian is still a mystery. I remember watching an MTV interview with those rascally Gallagher boys from Manchester and not comprehending a single word they muttered (I guess I wasn't the only one since MTV saw fit to subtitle them). Scottish accents are hard to make out, unless they've been given the Hollywood treatment (Braveheart, Rob Roy, but definitely not Trainspotting). Irish accents are easier (I think. I'm sure there are a variety of Irish accents I have yet to hear). Australian accents I can understand, but a recent visit to Australia "schooled" me to the fact that some Australian accents are more readily understandable than others.
JunJun   Monday, March 21, 2005, 00:39 GMT
Julian, the Beatles didn't really talk in a scouse accent, they did but it wasn't that thick.
Inez   Monday, March 21, 2005, 02:41 GMT
I think we have to accept that English, spoken by so many globally, will be coloured by mother tongues. Once we get past our mental block of 'Correct English' we will find communicating easier. For there to be a cross-culture understanding of English it will probably be easier to go with the IP sounds and focus on being understood as this is used by the media worldwide.Bush and Blair understand one another don't they? It may be harder for them to understand orientals whose accents are coloured by Mandarin, Cantonese etc. But understanding WILL occur.
It's when cross cultures use internal words and phrases that confusion can happen. Isms can be confusing unless you're a native of that particular region.
So get your english grammar in place and most everything else wil take care of itself.
Julian   Monday, March 21, 2005, 06:14 GMT
<<Julian, the Beatles didn't really talk in a scouse accent, they did but it wasn't that thick.>>

Ah! Thanks for the clarification, JunJun. I just listened to sound files of people speaking with thick Scouse accents, and I could barely make out what they were saying. So I stand corrected.

I also listened to audio of an elderly lady speaking Merseyside backslang. Bizarre! It reminded me of that creepy dancing dwarf in "Twin Peaks" who spoke backwards.
Deborah   Monday, March 21, 2005, 09:14 GMT
I'm from the US and have no trouble understanding Australian accents. My mother is an anglophile, so I've been exposed to British movies and television my whole life (one of the earliest movies I remember seeing is Olivier's "Hamlet"), and have had trouble understanding only an occasional part of a sentence spoken in some English accents (such as the ones used in "Letter to Breshnev" and "The Full Monty"). There've been a somewhat more sentence fragments that have eluded me in Irish and Scottish movies. The only accent from that part of the world that has truly baffled me is the Glaswegian.
Tom K.   Monday, March 21, 2005, 14:50 GMT
I think the most incomprehensible accent I've ever heard was the Pikey accent in "Snatch." If you have the DVD you can set it up to use subtitles whenever Brad Pitt says anything. That helps a lot.
Tom K.   Monday, March 21, 2005, 14:52 GMT
Oh yeah, there was this time I traveled to Boston and there was this waiter in the hotel, probably in his late 20s or early 30s, and his accent was so thick I thought he was a foreigner. I mean, from a non-English speaking country. But as it turns out he was really from Boston.
Damian   Monday, March 21, 2005, 17:01 GMT

The Gallagher brothers are almost totally incomprehensible to many people..here, there and everywhere. It's not solely due to their Mancunian accent...more their ultra sloppy style of speech. That verges on the rude to be honest as they seem to make no effort to be understood and listening to any TV interview with them was a test of endurance. They perceive it as some sort of trademark.

There is very much a "street culture" among urban males in the UK, especially those who fail in the educational system, more often by design. Boys consistently fall well below the standards set by girls in this sort of background and it's not seen as "cool" by many boys in this environment to perform well at school. That includes "speaking properly and clearly". Mumbling is all part of this sub culture...I don't know if this is endemic in other countries as well. I read somewhere that this "underclass" situation is being dealt with and results are positive. The same goes for attempts to stem the binge drinking culture in the UK.


Glaswegian is virtually incomprehensible to most people...the only person who can fully understand a Glaswegian is another Glaswegian and even then that can't be guaranteed. Take it from me, it is far and away Scotland's harshest accent to have to listen to. I say that without any reservation.
JunJun   Monday, March 21, 2005, 17:43 GMT
I can fully understand the Gallagher brothers when they speak, they aren't mumbling so you can't understand them. Rather they are speaking in as strong a working class Mancunian accent as they can without them even knowing it. They grew up on a council estate and so it's psycological built it than you have to speak in a thick accent to be "hard". Obviously being soft on a council estate as a kid you won't survive. Obviously over time it becomes naturally. Noel is easy to understand, but Liam puts it's on I think aswell as his walk. He thinks he walks cool but looks like a complete idiot and I've seen many mancs walk like him.