British english vs. American EnglishTo have a bath or take a bath...that is the question.
The differences between British and American english can be baffling to students and a real point of contention for teachers. I have gone or I went...color or colour...to have or to take. In many cases grammar forms, spelling, and pronunciation differ. So how can a student bridge the Atlantic ocean and come to terms and understand and learn correct english? In the following article I will discuss a few of the differences to try to come up with an answer to that very question.
According to the University of Tampere, the use of American english has been growing since World War II due to the growing American influence worldwide. This influence can be attributed to the large American population, it’s political and economic position, the magnitude of the American media: television, film, print publishing, and the general appeal of American pop culture worldwide.
To have a bath, shower, a vacation, a swim, a walk, a stroll, a rest, etc. are all correct in British english, however an American will certainly have to think twice upon hearing this construction. In British english the preferred delexical verb (a verb that gets its meaning from the noun that it is collocated with) is TO HAVE. In American english the preferred way of constructing these expressions is to use the verb to take. For example, to take a shower, take a vacation, take a swim and take a walk.
I have found in my experience of teaching english in Italy and knowing some spanish
and french, for speakers of the romance languages it is easier to relate to the verb to take rather than to have. To take is a verb of action just as is fare, prendre and tomar in italian, french and spanish respectively. The fact that both to take and to do are active verbs makes the assimilation of these types of expressions more simple. To have is stative and is also our main auxillary verb and thus can cause confusion in students. There is no evidence that there is a grammatical correlation based in Latin, however, common sense gives that teaching our students to take a bath, to take a shower, to take a walk, to take a swim is a simplifying solution.
Another confusing issue is the use of the present perfect. In British english the past perfect is used to express an action in the recent past or when using just, already, and yet. In American english this use of the present perfect can be used or substituted with the simple past. For example in AE one can say, I have just taken a shower or I just took a shower. Either one is correct and for english students can be a lot easier to learn. According to wikipedia, this AE usage has developed in the past 20-30 years and is starting to diffuse in British english also, especially in advertising slogans and news headlines. My conclusion is that the past perfect use, is more correct and should be taught to and understood by intermediate and advanced students. However, for the sake of facilitating learning in beginners, teachers should simplify this usage and have students use the simple past as we Americans do in everyday conversation.
Verb morphology in the simple past and participle are also difficult for english learners to get a grasp of. One such example is the omnipresent to get. In American english the past participle is gotten and in British english it is simply got. The Compact Oxford english dictionary states, "The form gotten is not used in British english but is very common in North American english, though even there it is often regarded as nonstandard."
The AP Style book instead insists upon forms of the verbs dive, plead and sneak, as dove, pled and snuck, which are considered nonstandard in British english. In the case of teaching these verbs it is important to be consistent. Teachers must teach either the British forms or the American ones, and not mix them.
Without addressing the vocabulary differences, spelling differences and pronunciation differences which are infinite, one can conclude that the differences in British and American english constitute a real minefield for students of english. What is important is for teachers to be consistent at the beginner and intermediate levels, and allow for explanation and exploration of the differences at the advanced level.