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British English vs. American English

Find out the main differences and which is better

You’ve probably heard a fair amount of people say that they want to learn English, but have you ever heard people say that they want to learn American English or British English, in particular. Perhaps not as often. Most people would agree that having a British accent is sexy. Jude Law and Prince William being the epitome of the British gentleman. However, American English is more often recognised because of the globalised American film industry. Many would probably recognise expressions like American “trunk of the car” instead of the British “boot” and use “cop” instead of policeman, but when people start learning English in a language school, things might take a different turn. Most English language schools in Europe teach British English. The British bore Shakespeare after all, so their English is the most original and correct, right? Americans would certainly not agree.

Although we are talking about the same language here, there are many visible differences between the English spoken in England and the English spoken in America. To begin with, the two countries are separated by approximately 5000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean and bear a huge cultural difference and distinctive costumes. Some students hear their teachers mention British and American English from a tender age, but do they really understand the difference? Let’s have a look.

Basically, the way some grammar is used and the way some words are written and pronounced differ depending on which country people are in. For starters, whichever words are written with a “Z” in America, are written with an “S” in Great Britain e.g. analyze (AmEn) vs. analyse (BrEng), recognize (AmEn) vs. recognise (BrEng). There are other obvious spelling differences such as color (AmEn) and colour (BrEng) or center (AmEn) and centre (BrEng). Many students who land in Europe to learn English get especially confused when reading and writing because of the different spellings. It’s possible to see a word that you’re familiar with when written in a different way, so it’s perfectly normal to doubt yourself and think you have simply been spelling the word wrong all your life. I’ve had students fight over which spelling is correct and taking to Google to solve the dispute only to find out that there are hundreds of pages with either of the spellings. The answer is simple, one spelling is British and the other is American and they are both correct.

The pivotal question is, which is better? It’s all a question of personal choice. If you work/live or study in America, you’ll probably want to speak American English. If you are more likely to deal with people in England and the rest of Europe, you’d probably be better off learning British English. More importantly, it’s beneficial to be aware of the differences and being consistent with the style you choose to you use. If you are writing an email using British English words don’t suddenly mix in American words and spellings. Stick to one type of English whether it is from the land of Shakespeare or from your favourite American films in Hollywood!

Have a look at the following table which shows some of the most common differences between American English and British English!

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