With over 370 million native speakers, English is the third most spoken language in terms of native speakers (https://www.statista.com/statistics/266808/the-most-spoken-languages-worldwide/). Unfortunately for all the learners of English as a second language (but fortunately for all of us linguists in the world!), these millions of people are spread across the entire world, and separation tends to lead to a great degree of difference in language. So let’s get down to analyzing the list of most difficult accents in the English language, which will double as a blacklist for tourism if you want to go to a travel to a destination where you can actually understand anything!
- New Zealand
We’ll start with the most obvious one: the Kiwis! In terms of geography, they are quite removed from the rest of the world, and their unique accent is definitely a reflection of that. The New Zealand vowel system has undergone what linguists consider a “shift” in pronunciation. This means that a letter, such as “e”, no longer has the same pronunciation that the rest of the English world uses. For example:
“Test” in New Zealand is pronounced as “Tist” = /e/ has become /i/.
“Fist” is pronounced as “Fust” = /i/ has become /u/.
Aside from a completely different vowel system, there are also many differences in vocabulary in New Zealand. Here are some examples of Kiwi English vs Standard English:
Dunny = Toilet
Puckerood = Broken
Handle = Glass of beer
If you understand more than 30% of this video, you win a prize!
- Boston, USA
That’s wicked pissah!
For such a small city (just the 21stlargest in the USA alone), it has an enormous representation in the media and around the world. Just think about academy-award winning films like Good Will Hunting, The Departed, The Town, The Fighter and many other Hollywood blockbusters that have graced the silver screen in recent years. Perhaps because of this, the Boston accent is a little more recognizable to foreigners, but this doesn’t make it any easier!
The accent itself has strong ties to British English (where a final “r” sound tends to be ignored) and it has developed into its own uniquely intelligible language.
If you can understand even 10% of this video then you deserve a prize!
- Newcastle, UK
Am gan hyem!
Famously known as the “Geordie”, we can already begin to grasp the difficulty of this dialect by their nickname: Nobody even knows where the name came from (https://www.theguardian.com/notesandqueries/query/0,5753,-1479,00.html)!
Apart from this little detail, people from the Newcastle region have a plethora of terms that don’t exist in any other parts of the world, whether it be their prized brown ale (known as “broon” in Geordie) or expressions of joy (“belta!” or “why aye”)
Being all the way “down under” on the other side of the world, Australia, similar to New Zealand, has isolated itself and developed its own slang and vocabulary that is much different than the rest of the world. Considering it’s size and extremely international population (as well as local Aborigines), the country’s language has a mix of internal and external influences that have set it apart from the rest of the English dialects around the world. It is also noted above all for its very peculiar pronunciation which is a sort of middle ground between British and American.
Some examples of Australian English differences:
A bludger: a person who procrastinates, doesn’t want to work, is lazy.
Manchester: linens for your home
Aggro: a person who is aggressive or feiry
Pony: a small glass of beer (not to be confused with the small horse)
You’re a hoser, how aboot you lace up those runners and scram!
Canadians aren’t terribly difficult to understand, as they tend to speak slow and annunciate longer and clearer than most other countries. However, being a country that’s absolutely mad about hockey, the sport has had a serious impact on the language, too. Here are a few terms that you’ll hear quite often if you venture across Canadian borders:
Hoser: The worst insult of all! A hockey player who sits on the bench all day, he/she doesn’t even get to play! Modern day translation: loser!
Kerfuffle: commotion, a big fuss or controversy. What’s with all the kerfuffle, can’t you hosers just get along?
Perhaps the most famous of all Canadians in show business, Robin Sherbatsky from How I Met Your Mother lets loose every once in a while:
And that’s it for Scrambled Eggs’ list of most difficult accents to decipher. But don’t worry! Our native English teachers won’t force you to learn their local dialect (unless you’re in for a challenge, we reckon!).
How about you readers out there? What’s your least favorite accent or hardest to understand? Have you ever had any experiences where you just couldn’t get even a piece of what a native English speaker was saying?