What should you learn: British English or American English?
1 What is British or American English?
Very generally, American English is a term used to refer to the form of English used in the United States, including all the dialects there. And British English is the form of English used in the United Kingdom, as well as all its varieties.
2 What are the differences between British and American English?
In general, the two versions of English are very similar. There are some subtle differences, but these don’t usually interfere with communication or understanding. Some of these differences include…
a) …vocabulary: most words are the same, but there are some exceptions. For example, the British say “biscuit” and the Americans say “cookie”. However, people from both countries usually understand one another’s terms.
b) …grammar: most of the tenses and structures are the same, but there are some differences in usage. For example, a British person might say, “Have you had dinner?”, whereas an American would say, “Did you have dinner?”
c) …slang: there are several differences here. For example,: a British person might say, “Alright, mate?”, whereas an American would say, “OK, buddy?” And of course, there are also many, many varieties of slang within both the US and UK.
d) …spelling: most words are spelt the same, but some US terms are simplified. For example, the British write “colour” and “gynaecology”, whereas the American versions are “color” and “gynecology”.
d) …pronunciation: British people often use the schwa sound (/ ə /) with words ending in er (water, later, never). However, Americans pronounce the / r / sound more prominently.
3 Which version is easier to learn?
There’s no way of saying which version is the easiest. A lot depends on which version you’re more used to. Any British or American person who speaks reasonably clearly will be equally easy to understand. For example, if you listen to a BBC (British) presenter or a CNN (American) one, you probably won’t notice much difference in the accent. And of course you could find people in both countries who are difficult to understand.
4 Which version is official English?
There’s no official version of English. There is Standard English (the sort of English you see in newspapers, formal letters and legal documents), but this isn’t official English. And linguists classify Standard English as a dialect, so it’s on the same level as all other types of English such as Canadian English, New Zealand English, South African English, Australian English, British English, American English, Scottish English, Irish English…. So, no version of English is superior to another – they’re all equally valid.
5 So, which version of English should I choose?
In the end, it’s up to you which version of English you choose to learn. As the differences between the varieties of English are minimal, and there’s no official version, it doesn’t really matter. Of course, if you’re thinking of emigrating to the States, you’d be better off listening to more American English; and if you’re planning to go to Australia, you should probably focus on Australian English. However, if these things aren’t an issue, the best thing would be to listen to all sorts of English, including non-native versions, of this truly international language.
Copyright © 2014 by Hot English Publishing
■ a dialect n = a form of a language that is spoken in a particular area
■ subtle adj = something “subtle” isn’t easy to notice or see
■ usage n = the way in which words are used in particular contexts: in speech, in writing, etc.
■ (my) mate exp inform = my friend
■ (my) buddy exp inform = my friend
■ used to exp = if you’re “used to” something, you’re accustomed to that thing and it’s normal or natural for you
■ to classify vb = if you “classify” things, you divide them into groups or types so that things with similar characteristics are in the same group
■ to emigrate vb = if you “emigrate”, you leave your own country and go to live in another country
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