Why is the British Accent Difficult to Understand?

You’re not alone if you’ve recently struggled to understand the British accent.

Why is the British Accent Difficult to Understand?

by | Mar 29, 2023 | Hearing Loss, Hearing Test, Patient Resources

It can be challenging to understand someone speaking with a foreign accent.

This is especially true for elderly Americans who, having grown up speaking American English, may find it difficult to understand someone speaking with a British accent. I feel it’s important to address this to help those struggling with different accents understand the science behind it.

Let’s explore some reasons Americans may struggle to understand British accents and consider ways to help them better comprehend conversations with British people.

I’ll begin by looking at the differences between American and British English and discussing how these differences can contribute to comprehension issues.

Proof That This Is an Emerging Problem

A small study from the University of Utah Health Sciences suggests hard-of-hearing senior citizens have more trouble than young people comprehending British accents when there is background noise.

The older hard of hearing had a little more trouble understanding British accents than American accents when they were in quiet surroundings,” says Sarah Hargus Ferguson, Ph.D., CCC-A, senior author of the study and an associate professor of communication science and disorders in the College of Health.

“They had a lot more trouble understanding both accents with background noise, but the British was harder to understand than the American.”

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“When young, normal-hearing listeners were in quiet, they did just as well with British English as with American English,” she adds. “When they had background noise, they had more trouble understanding both.”

These findings suggest that older Americans with some hearing loss should identify whether their hearing challenges are enough to require intervention.

Young, normal-hearing individuals can usually understand both British and American accents in a quiet environment, but background noise makes it more difficult, especially for those with hearing loss.

This makes it more challenging to interpret the subtleties of the British accent.

Interesting Fact About Accents

At the 171st meeting of the Acoustical Society of America, Ferguson and her team presented their findings on the effects of talker characteristics on speech perception.

They concluded that:

  • Older Americans who are hard of hearing have difficulty understanding British accents
  • Clear speech is preferred when the listener is hearing-impaired
  • Older people perceive less anger than younger people

Still, this is not due to hearing loss.

Additionally, the team found that fast talking makes speech less intelligible, particularly when women are speaking quickly.

Ferguson suggested adjusting the volume when watching TV and eliminating background noise to understand speech better.

Do You Struggle With Accents?

At the end of the day, we all hear differently.

Partnering with our experts at Pacific Hearing, Inc. to examine your specific hearing habits and environments is the only guaranteed way to understand how well you hear and find a solution to your challenges.

Schedule a comprehensive hearing exam to get exact details about your hearing, so we can develop a long-term plan right away.

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Gregory Frazer, PhD, AuD, CCC-A, ABA, NBC-HIS

Adjunct Professor UCSD/San Diego State U Audiology Program Adjunct Professor University of Pacific Audiology Program Adjunct Professor AT Still University Audiology Program Adjunct Professor Pacific University Audiology Program Dr. Gregory Frazer entered private practice Audiology and Hearing Aid Dispensing in 1982. For 14 years he owned and operated Hearing Care Associates, which had 23 offices and was one of the largest audiology private practices in the U.S. Dr. Frazer is a well-known clinician and teacher and was the first audiologist to obtain dual doctorates in Audiology, both a PhD. in Audiology as well as the new Clinical Doctorate of Audiology, the AuD. He is Board Certified by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, American Academy of Audiology, and the National Certification in Hearing Instrument Sciences. Dr. Frazer specializes in the evaluation and treatment of vertigo, dizziness, and hearing and balance disorders. Dr. Frazer is experienced in working with infants, children, and adults. He is semi-fluent in Spanish and Sign Language.

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