BritishEnglish Vs AmericanEnglishWhen I was sixteen, I left my home in Yorkshire, england
and moved to a community in Northern British Columbia, Canada, which was settled primarily by Texans. One of the issues of culture shock was the language barrier. "What language barrier?” you might ask. "Don't we all speak english?" Yes, we do. However, when I was asked if I liked "garage saling" and was requested to "Comet the sink", I began to doubt this. (I discovered later that the garage sale is the North American equivalent to the British car boot sale and that Comet is a cleansing agent.) Winston Churchill stated that England and America are "two nations divided by a common language."
A major difference between American and British english is pronunciation. When english people mimic American english, they tend to emphasise the strong final "r" sounds. When American people mimic British english, they tend to exaggerate the silent final "r". However, one should not stereotype too strongly in this way. Both nations have a variety of dialects, which contain exceptions even to this common generalization. In England's West Country, local dialects involve the pronunciation of final "r's". In the Eastern united states
, some of the dialects involve a silent final "r".
Dr. Elliot Engel of North Carolina claims that some of the characteristics of Queen's english (notably the soft "r" and the long "a") were introduced to aristocratic society in the 18th century. A duchess felt that english at that time had an unpleasant sound, and so she made the more french-style sounds fashionable. Before these changes American and British english were similar.
The differences in pronunciation of individual words (such as "data", "tomato", "schedule") or the issue of "r" or "no r" are not such blocks to understanding for a foreigner, in my experience, as the difference in vowel-sound pronunciation. Of course, within both America and Britain there are many dialects and thus different ways to pronounce vowels (for example "bath" in Yorkshire and London). However, in general the english pronunciation of vowels tends to be simpler and more clipped. American vowels, although differing among the country's dialects, tend to be longer and looser. This difference can cause major comprehension issues for an ESL student hearing either one accent for the first time.
The spelling differences of these two nations are also an issue of contention. Many of the changes occurred in the 18th century, when Dr. Samuel Johnson wrote the first definitive dictionary of english and then Noah Webster wrote the first American dictionary. Before this time, spelling was not settled. Dr. Johnson was trying to systematize the language. Noah Webster was trying to make American english independent. Because of the elasticity of english, spellings have since flown both ways across the Atlantic, and neither system is more logical or consistent than the other.
When I teach spelling to foreign students, sometimes we encounter this disparity of spelling. I usually explain to them that American and British spellings differ. I teach them the canadian
spelling (since that is where I teach). Then I tell them either spelling is correct.
My final point on the differences between British and American english is the rich selection of idiom. There are books listing idioms from both countries. Sample phrases of British which I love are: "Bob's your Uncle", "codswallop", "gobsmacked". Some American phrases which I appreciate are: "conniption", "if God is willing and the Cree don't rise", "brown noser". Idiom is a massive issue to tackle as a teacher or a student of EFL. It is best to teach only the types of idiom the students are likely to encounter in the countries or in the materials they work with.
The study of the vagaries of english is a never-ending activity. Having lived in England and in Canada and among Americans, I have commonly encountered the arrogant attitude that "my way is right". english is such a swirling brew of unreason, that I believe nobody can claim to have it right. This makes the language a challenge for foreigners, but it also makes it a useful, exciting language to employ.