Is it a bap/ barm/ bread roll/ bun/ bread cake/ cob/ muffin/ batch or a teacake?

Is this one a cuppa/ a brew/ builder’s tea or a simple cup of tea?  Do you have it at any time of the day or with your elevenses? Or with ‘afternoon tea’?  Oh, and while we’re about it, what’s a ‘cream tea’?

So which words do you use where you live?  I was born in South Africa and upon arrival in London with my husband, 23 years ago, the word ‘tea’ was the one we battled with most.  We had made new friends who had also moved recently to London from North England. We invited them over for tea one afternoon (a cup of tea and maybe a biscuit!) and when they arrived, they brought with them a gift of a bottle of wine. As the afternoon progressed into evening it slowly dawned on us that they were expecting dinner, especially when they asked if they could help us prepare the meal…. We had copious cups of tea but no tea!

Years later as our children were born and were growing up, they were invited on playdates.  I was confused again as they were invited home after school for ‘tea’ – I wondered what that meant! A cup of tea and cake?’ No, they got a spag bog!

Our eldest has recently gone to Glasgow for uni (which, by the way, South Africans call ‘varsity’) where, I discovered, they eat ‘scran’ (food) and everything is ‘a wee’ something or other.

My sister-in-law married a Northern Irishman and in their house they use ‘bog rolls’ in the bathroom and they cook with ‘scallions’ (onions), about which some would say ‘that’s boggin!’ (that’s bad!).  And rather than someone asking her to ‘remind me’ to do something I might forget to do otherwise, they say ‘remember me’.

Our Directors here at 2:19 have recently moved to Birmingham and despite obstacles that come with a move and building works, it is all ‘bostien’! They are hoping that builders won’t go ‘all around the wrekin’ when discussing what needs fixing!  The Brummies must get to the point! They also ‘borrow you’ things instead of ‘lending them’?!  And a colleague at 2:19 is based in Sheffield but thank goodness he is not a ‘mardy’ character!

What’s going on here?

Words like ‘dialect’, ‘pronunciation’ and ‘accent’ are bandied about in the ESL world but what are the actual differences?  A dialect is a language variety distinguished from other varieties by differences in grammar and vocabulary, e.g. a ‘bread cake’ is what people in Sheffield call what those in the south of England call ‘bread roll’ and ‘tea’ may be ‘dinner’ for some, depending in which region you live.  Some say ‘them cars’ instead of ‘those cars’…An accent on the other hand is when there are variations in pronunciation, e.g. southern and northern versions of the vowel sound in ‘castle’ or some Scottish versions of ‘house’.  What’s happening in all the above is local dialect and accent affecting both the terms we use and the way we pronounce them. And, this is only in UK, and doesn’t even include the rest of the English-speaking world and their dialects!

What about our students?

At a recent online webinar I attended organised by NATECLA[1], the bread roll offered up many variations amongst the attendees as it did for clothes dryers, trousers and trainers too!  It seems that learning English in the classroom does not always prepare one for what is heard in real life!  Learners can become disheartened when the English they hear on the street bears no resemblance to what they have been learning in the classroom.  Knowing the local dialect, especially transactional vocabulary, helps in social integration.

Jan Benz and Graeme Edwards, the speakers on the webinar, were both from the Liverpool area and clearly Scouse!  One day they took their learners out and about town and the learners began to ask a lot of questions about what they were hearing in the supermarket as they purchased meal deals, as well as when they were in the marketplace.  One learner asked, ‘why does everybody love me here teacher?’  (The word ‘love’ was being tagged on to the end of every sentence, irrespective of who was speaking or who was being spoken to; used as a common term of endearment).  What Jan and Graeme realised was that what was being taught in the classroom was not necessarily preparing their learners for real life situations.

There is not much research in the UK on teaching dialects in the ESL classroom but Jan and Graeme were determined to help their learners in their specific environment.   They decided they would prepare their learners better before an outing, and concentrate on the language they would be hearing. E.g, they pre-taught them the phrase, ’Is right la’. In the local Scouse dialect of Liverpool this means ‘Yes! Super! / I’m liking it!’ (La = Lad.)  This is what their learners were hearing every day around them.

There can be prejudices associated with various dialects so what do we teach our students?

Should English teachers be introducing local dialect or/the use of non-standard English in the classroom, or emphasise standard English? Standard English is defined by The Oxford English Dictionary as ‘the form of the English language widely accepted as the usual correct form’.  British linguist, David Crystal[2], says, “We need both street grammar and classroom grammar, if we want to handle all the situations that life throws at us.”

You as the teacher must decide what is relevant to your learners.  Obviously written and spoken English are different and Standard English is required for business and more formal environments. Local words are needed in everyday life though, and because some learners may be transient, they need to first understand standard English and then words from the local dialect in which they find themselves.

How do we teach dialects? 

There are no existing stand-alone courses on how to teach dialects so we must embed the local language into our teaching, introducing it alongside standard vocabulary.   Always think of the context and whether it is appropriate to teach another local version of a word.

Below are some examples of topics to cover where it might be helpful to teach your learners local dialect. My southern ‘bread roll’ seems quite dull in comparison, so have fun with them!

  • Common place names e.g. Cov for Coventry…
  • Greeting and taking leave e.g. hello/hiya/hi/bye/tara/cheerio/see ya/see you later
  • Family names e.g. my mum/our mum/our baby/babby/our lass/my bird…
  • Fillers e.g. like/um/uh…
  • Clothes e.g. clobber/gear/ shoes – trainers/webs/wheels/takkies/sneakers/kecks…
  • Food and Drink e.g. scran/ginger/tea/dinner/brekkie/sarnie…
  • Sport e.g. rugby/rugga/footie…
  • The Weather e.g. baltic/freezing/blowing a hooley…


Some fun activities to enjoy using dialects

  • Say and guess – Make learners aware of regional accents. Ask if their country has regional differences.  Say words in different dialects just for fun and let them guess the meanings.  This is not really helpful outside of those regions but fun all the same.
  • Use regional vocabulary to play Call My Bluff, in which learners listen to a word and have to guess which definition is correct out of three choices given. Learners find this very challenging but fun, as it is purely guesswork based on their instinct and knowledge of words.
  • A version of Describe it! – you give the students a local word and they have to describe it/say what it is in Standard English.
  • Play make sound/video clips of well-known people from your area who speak using the local dialect. There are some YouTube links below of fun dialect videos.  Get the learners to make their own video trying to explain what the local words mean in standard English like Korean Billy does.
  • Competitions always raise the spirits in a class. Put learners in pairs/small groups and see who knows the most words from different British dialects.
  • Take a walk with your learners to a local market and get them to listen to the words and phrases used by sellers and note them down. On your return leaners can role-play and use what they have just heard.  They will know how to make a purchase in the market the next time they go!
  • Listen for local – a colleague of mine asks his students in Sheffield who travel to college by tram to listen for specific local words or phrases and then they tell him if they hear them spoken on the tram! E.g. ‘that’s reet good’ or ‘love’! They could listen wherever they go in public.
  • Create a code – the teacher creates a way to remember new local words e.g. using a specific colour on the board or a shape drawn next to a word – anything that indicates it is a local version of a Standard English word. Every time a new local word comes up then it is written on the board with this code and learners know it is from the local dialect.
  • Songs for more advanced students – Songs are great fun and not necessarily easy! Create a gap fill exercise or get learners to put the song lyrics in the right order after listening to the song!  They can also listen to identify and write down local dialect words they hear and also identify local accent (where a standard English word is pronounced differently in the local dialect).  Here are some songs you  could use:


Cockney rhyming slang – ‘Rabbit, rabbit’ by Chaz and Dave – to introduce a bit of Cockney!

Scottish –‘I’m on my way’ by the Proclaimers

Yorskshire- ‘Mardy Bum’ by Arctic Monkeys

Scouse – Gerry and the Pacemakers ‘Ferry across the Mersey’



British dialects & accents

British Library -British Accents and dialects sound recordings

Tour of British accents

Korean Billy – videos of different British dialects

The British Council’s Five Gentlemen, Episode 10

Ted Talks – Global English

Scouse Kahoot

Scouse – The Beatles on Their Fame, Humour, and Liverpool Accent (1963)

Cockney Rhyimg slang


Books and articles

English Accents & Dialects by Arthur Hughes, peter Trudgill and Dominc Watt 5th edition 2012 Hodder Education

Medea – Media E-learning Dialects of English for Actors, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland – articles on current attitudes towards British dialects

Article on Received Pronunciation

British Council



Written by Marina Swainston-Harrison

ESL Specialist at 2:19

08 March 2021