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The Most Distinct Differences between American and British English

The Most Distinct Differences between American and British English | ITTT | TEFL Blog

When it comes to learning English, non-native speakers can feel quite torn on whether they should learn British English or American English. They have their similarities, but can contrast each other strongly. The differences can be confusing for English speakers as well. The diversity in spelling, pronunciation, and vocabulary can really throw you off. In this article, I will be focusing on these three topics. Let’s explore spelling, shall we?

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Tabitha C.

Important Spelling Differences

Growing up in the USA, I learned to spell in a simplified form. American English focuses on how the words are pronounced, therefore the words are spelled according to their sounds. Kələr in the British is spelled “colour” while in the USA it is spelled “color”. The USA had dropped the ‘u’ which gives an elongated sound to the word. The same has been done with the British “cancelled” and the British “organise”. In the USA, it is spelled “canceled” and “organize”. These changes in spelling are due to Noah Webster, the curator of Webster’s dictionary. He believed that while gaining independence in a political form, we should also gain independence through our spelling and vocabulary. This brought around the dropping and changing of letters in the American English language.

Also read: Great Ideas for Teaching Writing Skills in the ESL Classroom

Differences in Word Choice

American’s vocabulary differs from their British counterparts as well. You will never hear an American mother tell her children to “hoover-up the carpet” or to “put the groceries in the boot”. This is due to the word choice. Hoover is a vacuum cleaner company widely used in the British. The company is so popular that the British has substituted the word “carpet cleaner” for “hoover”. Which, if I said such a long winded word, I would change it to “hoover” as well. Moving onto the boot. In the British, they aren’t referring to something you wear on your foot. They mean their cars. In the USA, we say “trunk” whereas the British calls their trunks a boot. Quite confusing for an American! In the British, they also call their trash cans “dustbins”, which could possibly make an American child think that a disposal bin is only for dust!

Same Word - Different Pronunciation

Americans fight with British natives about the pronunciation of words all of the time. One of the most popular pronunciations to fight over is the USA “to-MAY-toe” vs the British “to-MAH-toe” for the word tomato. Another popular pronunciation fight is over the word vitamin. Do you prefer the USA “VAIT-ah-min” or the British “VIT-ah-min”? One of the least fought over pronunciations would be the USA “PRAI-vah-see” and the British “PRIV-ah-see” for the word privacy. What do you think? Are these pronunciation differences worth fighting over?

Also read: 8 Traveling Power Couples Teaching English Abroad You Should Follow Right Now

Other Things to Consider

As you can see, there are some varieties to English. Many parts of the world use British English, due to the vast empire Great Britain once had. Though, American English is slowly taking the place of British English in parts of Asia and South America due to the widespread popularity of American Celebrities. Which English style do you prefer? The “posh English” of Great Britain? Or the “neutral tone” of American English? Growing up, I thought British English sounded so fancy! Now, as an adult, I like my American English! I’m a firm believer that it is not the accent you have when speaking, it is how you articulate and convey emotion in your voice. Feel free to experiment with the differences and see which speech works best for you!

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