English is spoken by more than 1.5 billion people all around the world, which means there are hundreds of different English dialects and accents that you'll encounter! The way people speak English in one place—like a particular country, region, or city—is called a regional dialect: people might use vocabulary, pronunciations, grammar, and even conversational rules that you don't hear in other places!
Here are 6 regional dialects of English you'll find around the globe.
In addition to being known throughout the world in Hollywood movies and pop music, American English is what you'll hear at universities in the United States, which host more international students than any other country. Though there is a good deal of variation across the U.S., you'll probably hear some of these notably American features:
- Pronunciation: When there is a “t” sound in the middle of the word, it often gets pronounced more like a “d” sound—so “butter” sounds like “budder” and “water” sounds like “wadder.”
- Grammar: The simple past (like "ate" and "saw") is used more often in situations where speakers of other dialects would be more likely to use the present perfect ("have eaten" or "have seen"). For example, in the U.S. you might hear “I just ate dinner” more than “I've just eaten dinner.” You'll hear this in questions, too, like “Did you eat yet?” instead of “Have you eaten yet?” (And it could also be pronounced differently, more like “Jeet yet?” if you are a speaker of Pittsburgh English!)
- Vocabulary: To give someone your “John Hancock” is to give them your signature, “soccer” is the sport the rest of the world calls “football,” the “first floor” of a building is more often referred to as the “ground floor” in other places (and the “second floor” of a building in the U.S. would be the first floor in the U.K.!).
British English is the regional dialect spoken in the U.K., and along with American English, it's one of the most widely studied by learners around the world. It’s also similar to the Englishes of many Commonwealth countries, such as Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.
- Pronunciation: The letter “r” is usually only pronounced when there is a vowel right after it. This leads to longer, or more stretched-out sounding, vowels than in other dialects (like American English). So in words like “park” or “car” you don’t really hear an “r” sound in British English, but in American English you would.
- Grammar: Nouns for groups of people, like “team” or “government,” usually take a plural verb form—even though the nouns themselves look singular! In British English you say “The government are making new laws” and “Our team are winning.”
- Vocabulary: There are many words particular to British English and the other Commonwealth Englishes, for example "trousers" (vs. "pants" in the U.S.), "nappy" (vs. "diaper"), "bonnet (of a car)" (vs. "hood"), "lift" (vs. "elevator"), "trainers" (vs. "sneakers"), and "petrol" (vs. "gas").
English is one of India’s 22 official languages (though there are well over 100 languages spoken across the country). At least 125 million Indians speak English—so India has one of the largest English-speaking populations in the world! The language is also used in some contexts as a common language (or lingua franca) among people who don't know each other's language. English is also used extensively in higher education and is the primary language of the Indian judiciary.
- Pronunciation: Indian English is known for having a rhythm quite different from other dialects. When it comes to consonant sounds, “w” often gets pronounced more like “v” so “wine” sounds like “vine.” Also, most “p” sounds don't have the puff of air that you'll hear in other countries. For example, English speakers of other dialects make a small puff of air right after the "p" in a word like “party”—you can feel it by putting your hand in front of your mouth when you say it! In Indian English, almost no puff of air happens there, making that “p” sound distinct from other English dialects.
- Vocabulary: Hindi (and other languages, too!) have more words for different family members than most English dialects—so Indian English has developed special family vocabulary, too! For example, you'll hear "cousin brother" for "male cousin" and "cousin sister" for "female cousin." Indian English uses lots of other innovative, unique words, too! In Indian English, “trial room” isn’t in a courthouse, but a “fitting room” where you try on clothes in a store. “Pain” is used as a verb, as in “My head is paining” to say that you’ve got a headache. And “passing out” doesn’t mean you’ve just fainted, but that you’ve graduated from school!
English is one of the four main languages used by Singapore's multi-ethnic, multilingual population. You'll also hear a lot of Singlish, a creole language that developed from English and some of the other main languages in Singapore. Nearly half of all Singaporeans use English as their primary language at home, not to mention those who learn English in the community—it’s the main language in Singapore's schools! If you're in Singapore, you might hear some of these features in Singaporean English and Singlish:
- Pronunciation: “th” is often pronounced a bit differently, so “though” might sound more like “dough” and “thing” like “ting.”
- Grammar: It’s not uncommon for verb endings to be simplified in Singaporean English, so you might hear “He never go there.” There are also different rules for articles like "the" and "a," so you might not hear them as much, as in “I want to get new car.”
- Vocabulary: Short words like, “lah,” “ah,” “meh” and others are added to the ends of sentences to give extra nuance to the meaning, for example, to show that the speaker was surprised or confused. If you’ve just taken a great photo, you might say “This is Insta-worthy siah!”—the siah adds emphasis to what you’ve said.
English is the official language of Jamaica, but Jamaicans also speak Jamaican Creole (a distinct language that evolved from English and West African languages like Akan). Just like other regional dialects, Jamaican English has unique features and many of its own rules:
- Pronunciation: Many words are pronounced with a “w” or "y" sound before the vowel, like in “bwoy” for "boy" and “gyal” for "girl." Jamaican English also has different rules about combining sounds, so many words are simplified to have fewer consonants, especially at the end. You might hear “fren” for "friend," “juss” for "just," and “sumem” for "something."
- Vocabulary: In Jamaican English, “Wah gwaan?” is a common greeting that's used for “How are you?” This dialect all has its own second person plural pronoun, "unuh"—this is used the way some U.S. dialects use “y'all” or “yinz.”
Nigeria is another example of a country where English is an official language, but Nigerians speak many (hundreds!) of other languages, too—in most cases their native language or languages and English for communication with speakers of other languages. About 53% of Nigerians (over 100 million people!) speak English, so Nigeria is another one of the largest English-speaking countries in the world!
- Pronunciation: Nigerian English uses a different set of vowel sounds than other regional dialects, so some words that sound different in other places will sound basically the same in Nigerian English. For example, “chip” and “cheap” are pronounced the same!
- Grammar: Nigerian English is also influenced by its multilingual speakers and some of the indigenous languages of Nigeria. One grammar feature from these other languages is that all nouns can be made plural—for example, you might hear “My friend gave me some good advices,” with "advice" becoming plural! Nigerian English also has different rules about the subject of a sentence, so you're likely to hear two subjects (sort of like in French!), such as “Me I am happy,” or even no subject at all, as in “Is because she is a new student.”
Listen out for the Englishes all around you!
So, which is the best dialect of English? Trick question: No dialect is inherently better than another! Our dialects reflect where we're from, who our community is, and many other parts of our identity, too.
People also have their own reasons for studying a certain dialect: maybe it's the one spoken where you want to study, or it's the most common one you'll hear at work, or it's how people speak at your favorite travel destination.
A great way to get a taste of these different flavors of English is by checking out TV series and music from those places. For example, I just finished watching Eternally Confused and Eager for Love on Netflix, which was a really interesting way to explore Indian English. And Heartstopper, a Netflix series from the U.K., is a cool opportunity to hear British English. Jumping into the community's culture is fun and will help you learn more about their dialect!