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Dialects vs Accents: what's the difference?

We often hear the terms "accent" and "dialect" used interchangeably. Is this accurate? What's the difference?


A dialect is a native variant to the language, meaning it's a specific way of speaking the language characteristic for native speakers. This means that dialects such as Cockney, American Southern, Boston, Irish, etc. would fall under this category. In some cases, dialects can even have their own grammar & vocabulary. Under this definition, "Neutral" or "General" American would also be counted as a dialect since it's just a native variant of English.

You'll have to familiarize yourself with the nuances of rhythm and even vocabulary, but while a dialect can seem wildly different than what we're used to, it'll follow a pattern and thus make it predictable.


An accent is really just a term to describe a feature of a dialect/language in regards to pronunciation. So it's technically more of an umbrella term. However, this is not usually how the word is used.

Dialect/Accent coaches typically use the word "accent" to refer to foreign-language accents (e.g. French, German, Chinese, Brazilian, etc.). This means native speakers speak their dialect but non-native speakers speak English in their accent.

Since "accent" typically refers to non-native speakers, an accent will usually involve mispronunciations, over-corrections and mistakes in grammar, vocabulary and rhythm.

Closing Thoughts

At the end of the day, these definitions don't really matter for our purposes. Whether you want to sound "neutral" or you want to adopt a specific dialect/accent, the process remains the same. You need to identify the sounds that are different than your current speech and work to practice & implement them. Finally, we want to be as accurate as possible to be respectful to the people that speak with the dialect/accent.

Again, coaches will use "dialect" for native variants of the language and "accent" for how non-native speakers speak a (to them) foreign language.

Any questions? Don't hesitate to reach out!


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