Reasons Why Learning American English is More Common in Japan
British English (BrE) and American English (AmE) are two of the main varieties of the English language. There are other different varieties of English that exist such as Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, South Asian and African English.
Although English was introduced to America through the colonization period by the British, the two varieties of English have evolved to be quite different from each other in certain areas.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Shanique H. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
1. Vocabulary and Spelling
One of these areas is vocabulary, which is one of the most notable differences between the two varieties. For instance, British English – post, American English – mail.
According to the British Council (n.d.), spelling is also another main distinction between American and British English which was allegedly influenced by American lexicographer, Noah Webster, who altered the way in which some words were spelled as a way of displaying the colony’s cultural independence from its mother country. One example of spelling differences between the two is in British English, 'color' and 'labor' are spelled with an extra letter (u), while in American English u is omitted – 'color' and 'labor'.
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Notably, as well are the grammatical differences of American English when juxtaposed to British English. The British Council stated that, for instance, in British English formal speech/words such as 'shall' and 'needn’t' are more likely to be used meanwhile, more informal words such as 'will', 'should' and 'don’t need to' are the preferred choice in American English. Another instance which showcases grammatical differences between the two varieties is the use of collective nouns which are usually in the singular form in American English, for example: ‘The pride of lions is walking’ whereas in British English collective nouns are either singular or plural, however, the plural form is often used more, for example: ‘The pride of lions is walking’.
Collectively, the aforementioned differences, among other things, that exist between American English and British English could influence whether American English over British English is used in EFL classrooms or vice versa. In my experience as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) teaching in Japan, I have come to realize that American English is the preferred choice here. The use of American English in Japanese schools could have stemmed from the countries’ historical ties. Shimizu (n.d) pointed out that from as far back as the Meiji period, American missionaries taught English to the Japanese people and the American occupation in Japan after World War where English became more popular in the country have played a part in the country’s choice of using the American English form than the British one.
Another reason for this choice lies in the contemporary international relationship shared between the United States of America (USA) and Japan. Fukuda (2010) outlined that with the formidable diplomatic relation, which encompasses cultural, economic and political ties, between the two countries, it is almost inevitable that American English would be the variety that is incorporated in Japan's English education system. Therefore, it is in my estimation that the fact that the two countries collaborate heavily on international matters is an influential factor as it could be perceived by the Japanese people that in order to conduct business with America, it is only natural to learn their style of English.
According to Fukuda, another reason that the American English variety is used in Japan is that the country's widely popular teaching and cultural exchange program, the JET program, which employs native English speakers to teach in Japan, is largely comprised of American assistant language teacher recruits. Therefore, this has resulted in the country's English education being influenced by American English variety more than any other variety.
Although Japan has been making efforts to promote the use of English in its schools through increasing teaching hours for English classes and curriculum changes to further facilitate English education, it is my opinion that the country's English education system becomes more diverse. With the ongoing trend of globalization where Japan is aspiring to achieve overseas expansion as well as the country’s rising popularity as a tourist destination among English speaking visitors from various countries, it would benefit the country to expose its population with as much of the English varieties that exist so as to better communicate and cater to its diverse English speaking tourists and expatriates.
On the other hand, the exposure to other varieties of English can be helpful to Japanese students who may wish to study or work in English speaking countries, in that, it could promote their confidence in communicating with an English variety, other than the American version, while living in a native English country or a country where English is one of the dominant languages there.
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