Do you need to know about the differences between British & American English?
The answer is yes … and no!
YES – we need to be AWARE of the differences if we want to be able to understand and communicate successfully with both Brits and Americans.
NO – we don’t need to become experts in both languages, but knowing about the KEY differences will help your overall English level and help you reach an advanced level of English.
The two major varieties of English: British English & American English
The two varieties of English most widely found in print and taught around the world are British and American – it is, therefore, helpful for learners to be aware of the major differences between the two.
Lexical differences are the easiest ones to notice. However, a knowledge of grammatical and phonological differences can be useful for the advanced learner.
Which is correct?
An important point to make is that different doesn’t mean wrong. Therefore British English and American English are equally correct. The truth is that no language or regional variety of language is inherently better or worse than another. They are just different.
Which should you learn?
It makes sense that you focus on one or another when you begin to learn English. Usually this will depend on your geographic position: it’s more convenient for people living closer to the UK to study British English and people living closer to North America to study American English.
However as your English level improves, it’s limiting to study only one or the other (think of all the cool stuff you could be missing out on!)
The important thing to consider is your use of English – when you produce English (spoken or written) choose one and be consistent.
You should also consider your personal needs. For instance, if you work primarily with Americans, it could be an idea to focus your attention on learning more American vocabulary.
Exams and essay writing
In most international exams, for example Cambridge English exams such as B2 First (formerly First Certificate) and C1 Advanced (formerly CAE), both varieties of English are accepted. However, while writing for an international exam (or writing in English generally) you should try to remain consistent. That means if you favour (or favor) British (or American) spelling and grammar, you should stick to your preference for the whole piece of writing.
Time for some fun! Try the quizzes below to test out your British English versus American English knowledge!
Listen to this short extract and then decide if the people speaking are American or British!
Finally, see if you can match the British English word with the American English equivalent with this game of memory.
What's your experience?
- How did you get on with the quizzes?
- What’s your personal experience with British English and American English?
- Have you always studied one or the other? Have you spoken to both Brits and Americans? What’s your experience?
- Share in the comments 👇
Want to be able to understand TV series, films and podcasts in both American and British English?
If you are you an upper intermediate or advanced English learner but you feel stuck or feel like you can’t make any more progress, I’d like to introduce to my new advanced English programme Proficiency Project.
For example month 5 is all about British English & American English. Click below to read the programme for course 5!
About course 5
This month we’re diving into the details in order to get to grips with the fundamental differences between American and British English. We’re going to reflect on our own experiences too.
We’re going to do a lot of comprehension practice (for both BrE and US English) and also learn how to improve our receptive listening skills.
We’ll then read an article together full of native-level rich vocabulary.
We end the module with a vocabulary builder.
What you will learn
– Main differences between British and American English (lexical, phonetic, grammar and spelling)
– How being aware of these differences can improve your comprehension
– Self study method: receptive listening
– New vocabulary from comprehension boost and article
What is the activation project?
I hope you’re ready for a challenge! You’ll have three tasks this month: a reading and speaking task, and two comprehension tasks (one British English and one American English).