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The Difference Between an English Dialect and English Accent and Grammar

Several parents who have children learning English consistently inquire about their children learning to speak a particular country’s accent. Many non-native English speakers can distinguish between a British accent and an American accent for example. But rarely are they able to distinguish between the country’s dialects. For example a native American can tell if another American is from the south, north, west, Midwest, “The Islands” or even if they are a foreigner, who so happens to speak good English. These are called American dialects. It’s no different than many other languages. For example, an Egyptian living in Alexandria, can distinguish between the dialect of a Cairo speaking Egyptian, or one from Quena. And they can also distinguish between and Arabic speaker who is not Egyptian at all, for example, someone from the UAE or Morocco.

Neither children nor adults can learn a particular accent from school. You can’t TEACH someone how to speak with a certain accent. People ‘pick-up’ accents by simply being around a certain person all the time, and imitating the intonation of that person’s speech. What teachers should teach is grammar and correct pronunciation of a word, which is much more important than their accent. No Americans and British native speakers speak grammatically correct, although they are born with their native accent.  This is why even Native speakers must take English classes all throughout school, to learn to speak correctly. It is for the same reason Egyptians must take Arabic or Russians must take Russian language classes, because we are not born speaking correctly.

This should be the focus of your child’s foreign language learning; speaking clearly, and pronouncing the words grammatically correctly, rather than focussing on the accent. One can learn an American accent from a native speaking maid or a high school drop-out, but one must be educated and qualified to teach in order to teach them to speak grammatically correct. For example, in the Arabic language the English sound of the letter “P” does not exist. It is pronounced like the English letter “B”. The same for the “TH” sound, which is often pronounced like the letter “Z”. A good English teacher would focus on the children CORRECTLY pronouncing the words, and NOT on them sounding like they lived in New York City, because that is not important!

So when choosing any foreign language schools or classes for your students, redirect your focus to Grammar and pronunciation, and in no time at all your child will be speaking “good” English. And remember just because they’ve adopted an accent, doesn’t mean they are speaking correctly.

Lahoma Williams is an independent Columnist who specializes in Childhood Education and Development. For questions, please email her at

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