Try out four of the most popular American English accents

Learning English is hard enough without thinking about what accent you’d like to have. In our language learning blog, we’ve explored the difference between American, British, and Australian English. Have you ever thought it could get even more complicated?

While learning English, have you heard the difference between regional accents?  With over 4 distinct accents in a single country, people from the West Coast of the United States sound totally different from the East Coast American accent.

The study of these differences is called phonology. As a native English-speaker who grew up in California and moved to the Midwest for four years, even I was shocked at how different people sound. 

Let’s take a look at the four most popular regional American accents and examples of where you can hear them. With these in mind, language learners can fine-tune their ear for English learning. 

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The Californian accent

The West Coast or California accent is common in popular movies. Because Hollywood is located in California, most movies and television serious feature actors from California. This phenomenon has made the California accent one of the most recognisable accents around the world. 

Some consider the California accent to be neutral while other Americans think it has a distinct West Coast surfer quality. Typical expressions include “dude”, “awesome”, and “for sure”. 

California accents can be heard from social media queen Kim Kardashian and the high school characters in the movie Clueless. You can listen to the contrast between Cher and Dionne as opposed to the new student character Tai, who has an East Coast accent.

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The East Coast accent

The East Coast accent is found in Boston and New York City. Some Americans can hear the difference between these two cities by listening alone.

Vowels are pronounced in a unique way: “caught” becomes kwaut and “New York” becomes New Yu-wak. A very New York thing to say in this accent is to copy the infamous Midnight Cowboy quote: shout at a taxi that comes dangerously close to hitting you, “Hey! I’m wuakin he-yah!”

You can hear the East Coast accent from actor Mark Wahlberg, on the TV programme Seinfeld, the cartoon Family Guy, and in the film Good Will Hunting.

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The Southern American accent

This accent is known in the United States as a “Southern drawl” meaning that the ends of words are drawn-out to sound long and soft. This accent is spoken with a wide open mouth and a lot of chin movement and sometimes a breathy quality. Southerners are inclined to swap short vowel sounds by saying “sit” as set and “get” as git.  

Southern American English accents are found from Texas in the West to the coastal states of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. Most Americans agree that the drawl gets softer as it moves East. This accent is used by rich oil tycoons or to represent a stereotypically uneducated or “backwoods country” character. 

Some TV programmes that feature the Southern accent are the cartoon King of the Hill (Texas), Designing Women (Georgia) and Rue McClanahan’s character Blanche Devereaux on The Golden Girls (also from the state of Georgia). The 1939 movie Gone with the Wind is a classic depiction of the Southern accent during the American Civil War. 

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The Midwestern accent

Midwestern vowels are pronounced slowly, with a round mouth-shape, and a slight nasal quality. There is also a quality of calm optimism. You can hear the accent best in Midwestern catchphrases like “Dontcha know?” and “You betcha!”

You can hear the Midwestern accent on the cartoon Bobby’s World, the movie that became a TV series called Fargo, and other movies like Drop Dead Gorgeous and Waiting for Guffman. For a softer version of this accent, listen to Betty White’s character Rose Nylund on the TV programme The Golden Girls. 

Now that you learned the differences between Californian, East Coast, Southern, and Midwestern American English accents, can you hear them? Do you think you could try out one of these accents yourself?

If you’d like to speak to native English speaking teachers from across the world, sign up for your free 7 day trial with Lingoda. You’ll experience structured classes with teachers with American, Australian and British accents!