Americans vs Brits: what makes us so hard to understand?

Sep 22, 2017 | understand native speakers | 0 comments

This week I’m joined on the blog by fellow online English teacher, Christina Rebuffet, the creator of Speak English with Christina.


Like me she lives in France with her French husband. Unlike me she’s American and that’s exactly why I brought her on for a chat.


Christina also helps non-native speakers of English catch fast, native American speech. She has a great series of videos on this very topic.


We decided to talk about some of the differences between British and American English when it comes to understanding native speakers.


We opened up a Google doc and starting noting down a few ideas in preparation for meeting on Skype.


The thing is, as we made notes, we realised that the same points kept coming up:


  • “perceived” speed (English is not as fast as you think)
  • the schwa sound and the rhythm of stressed and unstressed syllables and words that characterise English
  • what I call “squashed expressions” like “I dunno” or “I shudda”
  • non-standard grammar like ‘ain’t’
  • informal language and “slang”. Although, as you’ll see in the video, you don’t need to worry about “slang” as much as you think you do
  • other issues like background noise and people who don’t articulate


Now of course we noticed some specific features of each variety that characterize the accent like:  


  • ‘t’ sounds sound like ‘d’ sounds in US English in words like ‘city’, ‘thirty’ or ‘what do you’?
  • ‘t’ sounds disappear completely when Americans say ‘twenty’ or ‘internet’
  • glottal stops in British English (although Americans use them too)
  • 2 different ‘r’ sounds


But ultimately, if you’re having trouble understanding both Americans and Brits, it’s for the same reasons.


Go grab your favourite hot beverage and find out what they are and what you need to worry about (or not) when it comes to understanding the accents of English.

More from today’s guest

Christina Rebuffet is the creator of Speak English with Christina where you’ll have fun becoming fluent in American English. Every week, more than 50,000 students improve their fluency with her short video lessons, and you can too! To join the Speak English Community and get your free lessons, sign up at

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