What dialect of English should you learn?

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Introduction to dialects


If you already know what dialects are, you can skip this section. If you are not familiarized with the concept, a dialect is like a "version" of a particular language, where certain pronunciations, grammar bits and certain words in that version can be very different to other versions.

For instance, Portugal's Portuguese is not exactly the same as Brasil's Portuguese – each of these regions handles a general dialect (i.e. a "version of the language") that is different, even though both languages share the same base language. The same happens with France's French compared to Quebec's French, and North Korea's Korean compared to South Korea's Korean. And don't get me started with the Spanish language, for which there is a lot of different dialects: There's the dialect from Spain to the dialects from Argentina, Mexico, Chile and Ecuador.

Also, in each single country you can find even more diverse dialects. For example, here in Colombia we have several dialects depending on what region of the country you decide to visit: We have the dialect from Bogota, the "Paisa" dialect, the "Pastuso (from the region of Pasto)" accent, the "Costeño (from the coast)" dialect, and even the... *gulp*... "ñero" dialect. Here´s a parodic representation (all in... "Spanish") of that kind of people to protect the mental health of the audience...

How are dialects under the same base language different? There could be, for instance, words that exist and are used in two (or more) dialects within the same language, but that are NOT used in the same way on each dialect.

For instance, here in Colombia it's pretty common to say that you need to go out to "Coger el bus (to "grab" the bus)", but if you tell a Spaniard that you are sitting on the bus stop waiting to "Coger el bus", which to him would mean to "fuck" the bus... you can imagine the look the guy will give you xD

(Ohh, and if you are sitting outside, in a story teller show or something like that where you have to sit down on the floor close to other assistants, and a girl in front of you is blocking your view you can tell her, "Disculpa, podrías correrte un poquito por favor? (Excuse me, could you move a bit, please?)", and she will go like, "Ohh sure, ok", and will move a bit to the left or right to let you see. But if you tell a Spaniard girl to "correrse un poquito (to come (sexually) a bit)... get prepared to get a face of pure disgust from her. Or a punch to your nose, whichever comes first.)

There are also words that are practically exclusive to one dialect, and that would sound weird to say them in a dialect different to that one. For instance, if you tell someone from the US if you can lie on the chesterfield, s/he will think you want to go out and lie on some sort of field... named "chester"... "what's that, a football field sponsored by Cheetos or something?" But if you tell a Canadian that you want to lie on the chesterfield, s/he will start taking all rags and clothes from the sofa so you can lie on it.

Different dialects could also have slight changes in grammar. For instance, in South American Spanish it would be said "Vamos por provisiones (Let's go for provisions)", while in Spanish from Spain they add an extra 'a' and say "Vamos a por provisiones". And of course, there are changes of pronunciation and intonation on each dialect that go from the subtle (it sounds subtle to me :P) to the remarkably strong.

Between languages there are a loooooooot of different dialects and accents, all of them with their own variations and weird things compared to each other, and that makes each dialect unique and special. And as you would expect, the English language is not the exception to this phenomenon.

So, if you've ever wondered: "Hey, from all possible dialects that exist in English... which one should I learn? Which one should I master? Which dialect should I train in?"

... then you will find my recommendations regarding this, right up.


How many dialects are there in English?


English has... well... a LOT of dialects. There's US English, Scottish English, Irish English, the African American vernacular, British English, Welsh English, Canadian English, Australian English, and there's even English in Mexican pronunciation, Indian pronunciation, Chinese pronunciation, Japanese pronunciation, etc. etc. If you want, I invite you to watch a funny compilation of animations where Truseneye92, a British guy, imitates really well 30 English dialects here.

If you are curious about researching a particular English dialect you can check this list of dialects on Wikipedia, but in practical terms I recommend you focus your learning one of the following two dialects:

US English: This is the clearest English (my perception) that's spoken in the United States. This is practically the same as Canadian English, except from some slight differences in pronunciation and some expressions.

British English: This is the most used dialect in the United Kingdom. Something special that characterizes this dialect is that the 'r' at the end of many words is mute ("car" is pronounced /kɑː/). This dialect's accent is similar to the accent of Australia's English accent, but both dialects have several differences in pronunciation and vocabulary.


What English dialect should you learn?


My personal recommendation is that you focus on learning US English.

I recommend you do this because, first, you will be able to find much more content on the Internet in US and Canadian English than British English. That way you will have higher probabilities of finding content in English you really like to do your learning.

And secondly, I recommend you focus on US English because, in my opinion, this is the clearest English of them all. If it's important to you to be able to communicate clearly with other people who master English (wherever they may come from), and make yourself understood well in English, I think that learning to express yourself in US English will be your best decision.

If for any reason you need to express yourself well in British English or any other dialect, maybe to do acting or imitations or comedy or something of that sort, I would recommend you learn US English first, and once you master it, then work in your British English or any other dialect of your choice. Once you master US English, grabbing the differences in accent and pronunciation and vocabulary between both dialects will be much easier.

I base these recommendations on what I believe is most practical. If you personally like content in British English more and how that dialect sounds, and you really really see yourself speaking on that dialect, then go ahead, do your learning in that dialect, and remember to verify the correct pronunciation in British English of each word you look up in your dictionary.

More information: Choosing between American and British pronunciation


Summary


Learning US English is what's most practical, because that dialect is very clear and you can find a lot more content in that English dialect than in others. But if for some reason you are interested in learning and using British English or any other dialect... knock yourself out.


Last updated: May 25 of 2015

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