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The Competence Between British English and American English

The Competence Between British English and American English | ITTT | TEFL Blog

Many people who speak English are aware of the fact that American English and British English are similar yet different. There have been many debates about which one is better or correct. Some ways of speaking might be different if one would be speaking British English compared to American English.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Camilla R. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.

Spelling Rules

British English has used its way of spelling words adopted from the French spelling, such as ‘color’ and ‘humor’. While in American English, the spelling has been simplified to become ‘color’ and ‘humor’. There are many more examples of the American simplifying British words; ‘flavor’ becoming ‘flavor’, ‘labor’ into ‘labor’ and as well as ‘neighbor’ to ‘neighbor’.

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British and American English also have different names for the same objects, such as a pair of trainers in British and a pair of sneakers in American. Again with a jumper/pullover in American English is a sweater. There has also been a big misunderstanding when one speaks of chips and the other of fries. In British English, chips suggest potatoes cut into strips and fried, as the American way of calling it, fries. For Americans, chips are Lays, or packet chips, a potato sliced into very thin slices and fried to become crispy and can be kept for a longer time than fries. It is not only with food but also with naming different places such a chemist in British English and a drugstore in American English.


British English mostly has deep vowels, so the saying of the word ‘bath’ is longer and deeper, (like in the exclamation “ah!”). When speaking American English the ‘a’ in the word ‘bath’ is shorter and higher, and sounds like a German “ä”. I have experienced this when I took a trip to the United States. I was talking about the thermal baths near where I used to live but the people didn’t understand me as I was using the British way of saying bath. Once I showed them a picture of what I was talking about, they finally understood what I meant. It also depends on whether people from American English and British English are aware of the way words are pronounced in each other’s English. I knew that in American English the pronunciation of ‘bath’ was different but went on and said it the way I was taught and only later did I realize that they clearly didn’t understand. After a few weeks, I had adopted some of their pronunciation of certain words as I was the foreigner and the minority amongst all of them.

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Knowing the Differences

Nowadays more and more people are aware of the differences between American English and British English thanks to movies and television. This makes traveling easier when asking directions to a specifically named location such as a ‘drugstore’ or a ‘chemist’. Now knowing what it is called in each other’s way of speaking English allows us to understand each other better. Neither one or the other is better or correct, it just depends on what the person finds easiest and which one they were exposed to.

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British English and American English might have a lot of differences but they are still both English. Maybe one day they will merge to just become simple English, were everywhere in the world, there will be the same spelling and pronunciation, making it easier to teach, learn and understand it.

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