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British or American English for the advanced English learner?

Kerin English Teacher
Post by Kerin

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.

Advanced English differences between American English and British English

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.

Test yourself!

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!

Click here to see who it was!

Jennifer Anniston & Jimmy Kimmel

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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 

 

Kerin English Teacher
Kerin English Teacher
Kerin
Your English teacher

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 Road to English Proficiency.

In the programme you get a brand new course each month where you’re going to cover a variety of different topics using authentic nativelevel English resources in order to boost your ability to understand native English speakers, all the while learning different techniques to improve your vocabulary.

For example month 5 is all about British English & American English. Click below to read the programme for module 5!

 
 

About this module

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).

FIND OUT MORE

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Responses

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  1. I´ve always studied British English and as I´ve sat for some Cambridge examinations I´ve had to focus on British spelling. However, as you gain experience you learn the American spelling as well as the pronunciation. If you go tu U.S. some of the words are pronounced differently so if you are not familiar with that you may not understand what´s being said.. Here´s the funny thing, though I´ve spent all my life listening and reading British English, I must confess that I understand Americans more than British people. I think it´s got to do with the fact that we see american films, or series and listen to American singer more often and may be that´s why I find English speakers a bit harder to follow. For instance take “Adele” she is so clear when she sings and yet every interview I see I can´t understand a word she says or just a few.
    I did pretty well in the quizzes but that´s because I´ve seen these words many times. What really irritates me, is people who don´t speak the language and they tell you, “I want to learn British / American English as it´s better”. What do they know??? It may take years to tell the difference. But that´s because I´m getting older and less patient with pupils. Ha!!

    1. Hello Carla! Very interesting, thanks for sharing your experiences. Isn’t that funny though?! You can study study study and then in real life – BOOM! Someone like Adele comes along!
      (You are going to love month 3 by the way – it’s all varieties of different accents in the UK.)
      ps. I know that feeling very well! We should start an old teachers club!

  2. Since Japanese English curriculum is predominately composed by American English, it wasn’t until my university class that I realized there are differences between Brits and American English. I went to Scotland in summer session course in my university and stayed with a host mother who spoke Scottish English (which is quite different from Brits English!). In the beginning, I had spent hard time to listen to what she was talking to me because the words usage and the accent were totally different from what I had learned in schools. However, as the time went, I could slightly understand and also get encouraged myself to use Scottish English. Consequently, I couldn’t be fully affected by Scottish English in my speaking though, I can catch Scottish words and the unique expressions which rooted from Gaelic. (Huggis, Ceilidh etc…)

    I am planning to apply for a course in graduate school in UK. So I hope the experience in Scotland would help to understand somehow the British English.

    1. I did wonder if you learned predominantly American English as I thought I detected a slight American accent in your speaking task. Nice! ps. Mao I didn’t know you spent time in Scotland! I am sending you a PM to find out more!

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