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American English and British English

250px-flag_-_great_britain.jpgWe often get emails from listeners asking us to talk about British English or to tell them the British English equivalent (the same thing in another language/dialect) in our podcasts. We would like to be able to do this, but there’s one major problem: We don’t speak British English!

It’s true that many Americans know some basic differences between these two dialects (forms of a language), but we are just as likely to use British English wrong as we are to use it correctly since we are not native speakers of it. It doesn’t make sense for us to try to teach you British English when we aren’t sure of it ourselves. It would be truly a case of the blind leading the blind (someone who doesn’t know what he/she is doing trying to lead others to do the same thing).

However, for those of you interested in the differences, there are some resources (useful things) available on the web. For a quick look at some of the differences in spelling, look here, and for vocabulary differences, take a look here.

Most of what is available shows spelling or vocabulary differences, though British and American English differ in many, many other ways. Rather than to memorize a list of words or spellings, however, we urge (encourage) those who want to learn British English to listen to it, as they do to ESL Podcast to learn American English. The BBC, British Broadcasting Corporation, for example, has an entire website devoted to teaching British English.

~ Lucy

16 Responses to “American English and British English”

  1. Ernesto Says:

    Is it true that American English looks more like Old British English than what present-day British English does? Or that in the past British films showed in the States used to subtitled because Americans found them hard to understand? Well, I hope you understand what I mean. Best wishes…

  2. Julio Says:

    Just on my level I don´t find any difference between both American English or British English. I think that in near future as maximun I will be able to understand quite a bit of both languages and, in reverse, I will be able to get anyone can understand me. If I could only achieve such a thing I would be very happy because that’s why I am learning English as a second language. I once manage to achieve that goal that I must recognize it is very difficult, anything else is a secondary item, at least for myself.
    So, as far as I’m concerned learning and practising English is what is actually important. I believe that British people and American people, both of them, will be able to understand me, although, of course, knowing that my English isn’t really very good…but I am a Spaniard.
    Best regards from Spain, Julio.-

  3. Andris Says:

    Some friends of mine think that British English for its usage for business matters is more useful than American English in Europe. In fact, British English is very common here in Latvia too. Most English teachers are using British English in their jobs. Thus children become familiar with British language. I remember that my English teacher told us very little about diferences between British and American English. Now, when I am older I know basic differences. Furthemore, I can find out whether someone speak British or American. However, sometimes it is difficult to distinguish which language is used mostly. In academic level and even in business people speak language where British and American English is used in mixed way. My English tutor like call it European English.

  4. emiliano Says:

    Dear Lucy I am very pleased learning american english with your ESL and as a matter of fact I do actually like more american english than the british as for me is now easier to understand it from your Voice of America or other radio stations, and of course from you, than people from the BBC who always are so proud of speaking “quite a good English” from Cambrige or Eaton accent or similar.
    In the BBC speakers use to talk so fast, so proud, that is not very often that I listen to them.

    Years before I was in the wrong idea of thinking that the BBC acents was the best, than americans doen´t speak a good english, but now I have changed my mind completely, and I know the differents that doesn´t mean anything about good english or not. I think it depens of the person who speaks it.
    Some english or americans I do understand them perfectly, but others nothing at all………and this is very disapointed always.

    Books are other matter, as if I read some americans authors it should be more difficult to read them fast than to english authors.
    The last I have readed “The Appeal” from J.Grisham it has been so difficult that at the end I was very very tired. And it is because the author is very “american” and he use so many difficult idioms……puff. I have to give you and Jeff my thanks for your lessons that have been very useful to read them.

    Other book by the contrary that I like very much, now my daughter Fatima is reading it, has been “Twilight”….despite the book is for teenagers I don´t matter, I like the two first from the saga very very much. And again, thank you Jeff and Lucy for your lessons as when I was reading the books I remind you ESL teaching as being so useful to me …it has been incredible how many times I remind your lessons reading these books.

    An english author that I like very much is Ken Follet…..marvellous, I can read it very well, and fast. It is a pleasure to read his books and the way he use the lenguage and he is completely different from american´s, of course. Ken Follet is so english that it seems to me I am listenin to the BBC without their proud accent.

    Well, I think I am writting too much, and very bad of course. (not as Ken Follet / Stepheni Meyer/ Grisham…..), sorry.

  5. Elisângelo Says:

    oh yeah!!! there it`s something that really make sence, one thing it`s you try to write anything in english, and other one it`s you try to figure out what`s both american and british people are talking about. first of all you got to costum to the way that the vowels and consonants are pronouced,… al right! this is normal in most of the language acquisitions; yes but on secondhand you gotta figure out that in american english especially sometimes you gonna see certain words get pronouced very diferent than they`re written. for example: “medal” sounds the same thing like “metal” into conversation.
    Well, english has a lot of others pronouced trobbles like words totally diferents: meet , meat… heat, hit…. reach, rich , which, witch….. those words sounds like more hard to distinct for us foreign people whom can swear that there`s no diference between them than any native american speakers whom cannot understand how we get so confused by things that are pronouced sp diferent.

    On my own understand, I think that written english wether american or british sounds likely the same thing; but if you compare spoken english, I would say that because british came out first than american….. american english would something likely english from country area.

    But even though, I prefer american english. Why?!!

    Let`s say that it sounds more friendly to my ears.

  6. blest Says:

    i dont know what i should say?

  7. ROmko Guru Says:

    First thing that came to my mind is spelling that makes British english distinguishable. it’s unique ascent and to recognize it is very easy. and frankly speaking, it’s pretty hard to understand, especially for English students due to fact that most students follow American english. at least, so do I.

  8. RAUL Says:

    Since I studied English at a teacher’s training school, and I had to study phonetics and differences between American English and British English I think that both of them are good ways of speaking. However, I prefer to use American English because I live in Tampico Tamaulipas Mexico and as you can see I am to the south of the United States States and American English is preferred here. When I want to practice British English I listen to articles about British English. American English is understood everywhere and listening to eslpodcasts is the best way to learn the four skills that are needed to communicate around the world.But if you want to speak British English, what you have to do is to learn the diferences in spelling and in pronunciation and you can learn them by studyng phonetics. There are many courses out there that can help you pronounce british English very well.By the way, Lucy, thanks a lot for the links that you gave us about british spelling. It is very good for any person who wants to learn about the differences about american spelling and british spelling. This blog is getting better and better every day that is passing by. Thanks to you and your staff for all of this that you do every day. I always think that when you like to do what you do ( let’s call it a hobby ) everything turn out well.

  9. emiliano Says:

    Going on with this matter that seems to me very interesting, I may say that along my life I had have several oportunities to speak English with people from all over the world as I was working in a bank in the very centre of Madrid, and of course, Spain is one of the first countries receiving tourist from everywhere.
    So many tourist came in the bank to ask for someone who may understand them, and nine from ten speaking English. They wanted everything, change money, asking for a place and the way to go such place. El Prado museum, Retiro park, and so on.

    That time I loved British dialect whichever moment I listened to it, and of course it is quite different from american´s. But american dialect is also very different if you listen
    to some one coming from the south, from the west, or from the old states at the side of the Atlantic ocean. I love the lenguage from Massachuset, or New England, or Rhode Island, in general the way that old people speak in general from that first states of USA.
    Sometimes when I look for a radio station to listen to I choose one from that side of the United States, but now I include also Minesotta and I understand this official radio of Saint Paul very good, may be I am accustomed to listen to Jeff and is easier to me understanding them.

    As a matter of fact Itunes radio is a very good way to listen to the radio stations, and Minesotta has one of classic musics that is genial, and very easy of follows.
    And talking about this matter I have to say Lucy, that at the begining I understand Jeff better than you, and it was because you are so from the South and your accent
    is so american that it cost me an extra effort. Now I love you accent and your voice, that’s true, and it has been a good thing when you and Jeff speak fast, to follow you
    has been an extra lure, thanks Lucy for your Arizona’s accent that is so charming now for me.
    Just Fatima, my daughter, told me the same may be she was accustomed to listen the British one.

    Finally I think that some people from the states of Atlantic Ocean, Boston, Philadelphia, and so on…they do speak the best English of the world, at least to me. But may be I am wrong again.
    With my lenguage Spanish occurs the same, now some countries from Latino America speak better Spanish than here. For instance Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico, Argentina, and so on…..they speak better than us. And frecuently I am amazed the way they use my own lenguage, too long much better than we use it here, what a pity to us who transmitted the Spanish to them.

  10. Elisângelo Says:

    Yes….! Emiliano, you got point in it , and I surely sign off underneth of your comment.

    That’s the “k” point, both english whether american or british when they’re spoken…. what really matters is how those speakers pronounce it. I as well have ever experienced it before and yes, there really are some british hosts that in fact speak a friendly english for those to whom are used to listen in american english as well as a lot of american speakers that even they are speaking in a low rate of speech, I simply can not understand a merely single word,…. would that be because I got a low level of english? Maybe, but why for example am I able to understand the special serie (” HOW IPODS WILL CHANGE LANGUAGE TEACHING”) on second language acquisiton podcast at 2007 by Jeff? He doesn`t even explain those words which ones he run in his speech…., that`s because he`s speaking a little slow and of course, his proonounciation is wonderfully clear besides a easier vocabulary.

    That`s my complement on emiliano`s comment.

    ELS Team, what a nice blog this is turning into, isn`t it?

    my best regards
    to all you members and leaders.

  11. emiliano Says:

    No, sure you have a good level of english Elisangelo, and I can tell you that for two or three years I have been living in Torrevieja (Alicante), and next to our flat there was a couple of british living also. As we are so alone in winter we touch with them closely along that time. She was english born and speaks a clearly english that to me was a big
    pleasure to talk with her along months. We got close friends as she and her husband didn´t speaks a word of Spanish and Cuca, my wife, and me started to teach her
    some Spanish, enough to be understand when she was living there, shoping etc.
    But, he was Irish born, and I didn´t understand him nearly a word. He always speaks with his mouth closed and it was very difficult to understand……, and it was really
    very funny as he think that for me was easy to follows his speech as I talk with her quite a lot.
    That´s the matter, two people speaking the same lenguage and I only understand quite well only one, the other nearly nothing. With the woman we have been in touch for
    thre or four years, meanwhile we were living there, he passed away after two years and it was very sad and she have Cuca and me as close friends. Being in touch with her
    I could see that english people are also very warm that´s for sure.

  12. Elisângelo Says:

    wowww! I have taken a tour on the links that you guys provided in this blog right above only to make sure and find out what’s going on over there and… danm! I really didn’t know that there were so many differences between american and british english as much as I checked out. I confess I’ve been a little bit discouraged with so many differences, thinking about learning english…

    Well, as a matter of fact the smartest thing to do is focus in american english as a first step and so on. I’ve realized that the difference between both english way go so far beyond pronunciation.

    thanks a lot for provide us a chance to get know more about the english’s world.

  13. Robert Vienna/Austria Says:

    The differences between AE and BE are a big issue for people preparing for international Cambridge Exams (e.g. CAE, BEC higher, CPE, IELTS), because there are certain requirements that students have to know ALL the differences because they have to chose either American English or British English for the examination. Mixing the variations during the examination is considered to be a serious weakness and can lead to a bad outcome. Beside differences in spelling, vocabulary and even grammar (e.g. use of perfect tenses), the main issue is the pronunciation also because Standard British English is a non-rhotic language and Standard American English is rhotic (beside some local exceptions).
    Most learners prefer AE because it sounds more natural (especially for people from Europe) and is easier to understand because of its “clearer pronunciation”. (look up rhotic on wikipedia)
    Most English teachers abroad in Europe are from GB and they teach their British English. Local national teacher who lecture in English as foreign language in regular schools only studied BE as foreign language.

    People who learn or improve their English as second or foreign language by using web resources will find that most of “the good stuff” is in AE.
    Most of the flicks and TV shows are made in the US and even most of the books are written in AE.

    So, nobody should wonder why most of the people learning English(outside English speaking countries) tend to prefer AE rather then “posh BE” with its strange pronunciation and weird rules .

    So what did I do ?

    I eventually cancelled my CAE (Cambridge Advanced Certificate) course, although I´d paid it in advance and lost a lot of money. The differences on advanced level between AE and BE are so many – it was really bewildering and there was really no point in continuing my efforts.

    So I stick with AE, I´ll do the TOEFL instead of the British examinations and I will never specifically learn British English again.

  14. emiliano Says:

    Thank you Robert, I like your note that is clear and with a high level of English.
    I have the First Certificate of Cambrige since the year 1969 when I made and exam for two days at the University of Madrid, but I have forgotten nearly everything, too much
    grammar, pronunciation, reading, orthography roules, composition, etc. but it is now when I can understand English talking much better than ever before.
    So I think you are doing a good election with AE instead of BE, which I did forty years ago and had not a good result after so big efort. Regards.

  15. Tong, Bai sui Says:

    Well, I never realize that what the difference between these two local pronounce, in my eyes, i think they are same, cause both of two are hard for me to hear what it said, as a Chinese, it’s really hard to understand what they say, but it’s very easy to understand what they write, it’s very common in China to the English learners, after so much practicing, i even can’t make a progress, and even want to give up, God, pls give a help!
    Shanghai ,China

  16. Inna Says:

    I’ve been learning for British variant of English for many years because most educational agencies and centers in my country (Russia) as well as in most Europian countries suggest British English teaching only. Now I have to prepare for american TOEFL test and a little bit confused. I’m not used to American rhotic pronunciation and get tired very quickly while attempting to listen to american speech and – first of all – speak AE – it’s almost impossible for me as a Russian native speaker to pronounce such words as “order” or “corner” with two rs one by one. But due to ESL Podcasts my comprehension of speaking AE is getting much better. This method of learning a language really works. So thanks to Jeff and Lucy and all ESL team for great assistance!