The neutral RP accent is one of the most sought-after English accents. Received Pronunciation tends to be easily understood and facilitates easier communication, especially for those who are from a non-native English-speaking background. Received Pronunciation isn’t necessarily ‘the Queen’s English’ or the accent spoken by Tory MPs. It’s an accent that is spoken by a wide variety of people hailing from diverse backgrounds including newsreaders, narrators and television presenters.
The methods that should be implemented to achieve an RP accent can vary according to the background of the individual. Native and non-native English speakers may need a different approach. In this article, I’m going to provide some tips for those from a non-native English-speaking background.
Learn the tools: the International Phonetic Alphabet & Vowel Sound Chart
My first suggestion is to learn about the International Phonetic Alphabet and the Vowel Sound Chart. This will help you better identify the sounds of British English. You need to start by developing an ear for the sounds and the problem is that many people who try to learn a new accent haven’t developed an ear for the sounds. Can you clearly distinguish the sounds that you hear? Can you pinpoint the different vowel sounds according to their phonetic readings and the vowel sound chart?
Understand how you articulate sounds in your own language
The next step is to better understand your mother tongue and how you articulate the sounds in your native language. Ask yourself, which part of the vocal tract are you using? For example, do the sounds you articulate in your native language resonate from the nasal region, the pharynx, the uvula, the velum or the guttural region? Even within these regions, the regions can be further differentiated. It’s important to get a feel for the natural aspiration of sounds. You may be subconsciously using certain aspects of the vocal tract that need to be released if you want to speak with an RP accent. This is perhaps the trickiest part but the most fundamental for improving.
Learn to repeat back the basic sounds of RP
Once you can understand how your vocal tract works, learn the different sounds of Received Pronunciation and try and mimic each phoneme one by one. Can you repeat back each of the 20 vowel sounds and each of the 24 consonant sounds with absolute precision? Now try and link the sounds together into basic syllables and word structures.
Observe, listen & repeat
Observe native English speakers. Watch their facial expressions and the way they articulate specific sounds. Try to mimic them. Listen to audiobooks narrated in RP and try to immerse yourself as much as possible.
Now, I’ve simplified the whole process and it might take some time to get the hang of it. However, if you follow these steps, I’m confident you can learn to speak with an RP accent.