Hopeless at accents…

I really am pretty hopeless with accents – I was trying to do a Scottish accent as we were out today; I was looking at a map of Aberdeenshire and was trying to say something with a Scottish accent… My attempts  veered from Scotland to Ireland to Somerset, all within a couple of words, and none of them very convincing. I’m just not very good at doing accents; my husband only has to speak to someone from Liverpool on the phone for a few minutes and he is a Liverpudlian, he sees something minutes later on the TV about Birmingham and he becomes a Brummie, strolls down to the pub and  could have any accent from Weston, to Bristol, to Somerset… he does it quite unconsciously, he just has an ear and a tongue for it!


I moved from the east of England to the west, did I pick up a Somerset accent? Do I roll my ‘r’s and stretch my vowels?  No. I moved to Manchester and lived in the north of England for a very long time; did I shorten my vowels and change their sounds, did ‘th’ become ‘t’? No. I’m back in the west again and I think my accent is as unchanged now as it was when I was sixteen and left Cambridge and East Anglia. The only slight change is I have a hard ‘g’ at the end of ‘ing’ words.

Accents fascinate me, for example, the classic Bristolian way of add ‘l’ to words ending in a vowel – area becomes areal, idea becomes ideal, Monica even becomes Monical! The city itself was originally Bristow, but got Bristolised to Bristol. Instead of saying ‘where did you get that from‘, Bristolians say ‘where did you get that to?’

So how do I manage accents when I write? When I’m writing I can tell my readers that a character has an accent, and pretty much leave it up to them to ‘hear’ it in their heads, although I might leave ‘h’s off the beginnings of words or ‘t’s off the end, or change the verb tense but otherwise I let my readers hear their own Yorkshire, Cornish or Manchester accent…

…or so I thought until in ‘Night Vision’ I have an American character, and it is not just accent, is it? Its words and phrases and ways of saying things. I can mange to use ‘jelly’ instead of ‘jam’ and ‘purse’ instead of ‘handbag’,  ‘pants’ instead of trousers, and take care not to use typically English words like buns, fags or suspenders because they really do mean something entirely different!

I don’t want to try and mimic what I hear on TV or n films because it is much more subtle than that. I think I must find an American friend who will look at my story and check out that my character sounds as if he comes from the right side of the Atlantic!

To see if I managed to be convincing with my character, here is a link to ‘night vision’:




  1. Daniela

    Oh you have touched on the subject so close to my heart! I cam to NZ from Croatia some 18 years ago without a word of English … I have learned English (or some version of it -:)) but of course I still have my accent as one never really loose it if learning new language after the age of 15 or so specialist tells us. I have written how I learned English from watching Coronation Street during my early years in NZ … you can imagine it! While I can live with my accent … when comes to writing, and for some reason, nowadays I can only write in English, I am often really devastated when searching for the right word! What is more, as you mentioned, ‘showing’ readers the way character speaks is really hard for me because all those familiar words and phrases that have special and often double meaning do not come to me as naturally as they do to somebody who grew up with them … what a mass -:)!

    Thank you for this great article!

    Daniela of the Lantern Post


    1. Lois

      How interesting Daniela – and well done you for learning English so well! I am guessing it is very, very different from your mother tongue – also the accent in New Zealand is quite different from other English accents, isn’t it! As for Coronation Street – it used to be a favourite programme of mine and I lived not far from where it was filmed; my husband new a lot of the young actors and actresses in it including Sarah Lancashire and Sean Wilson, through teaching at a theatre workshop!


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