As an American who has lived overseas in ireland
for four years, I am well acquainted with the many and varied differences between the British and American versions of english
. In this essay I hope to expound on them to some extent. I will cover two main distinctions – accent and vocabulary. I will show that they can differ dramatically by giving concrete examples and I will seek to offer
a solution to this conundrum. Winston Churchill, that great British statesman, said with his usual wit and with good reason “the Americans and the British are two peoples separated by a common language.”
First of all, let us discuss the vast realm of accents. At first hearing, native speakers of english
can vary so greatly in their accents that they can be difficult to understand even to other native speakers much less speakers of english
as a second language. Have you ever heard a British ‘Cockney' accent? I have and I couldn't understand a word of it! A certain town in the north of ireland
, Ballymena, has an accent even other irish
in nearby Belfast can't understand. Why in the British Isles alone you have the irish
, the Welsh, the Scottish and the British!
In America, it's no different! Accents vary greatly from the north to the south to the Midwest to California
. As one who was born in Connecticut
, which makes me an official “Connecticut
Yankee”, but who has lived a large portion of his life in the south, I can assure you a typical southern drawl can be very difficult to understand. I sometimes can't understand a word my father-in-law says! And who can communicate with a California
valley girl? Without a practiced ear, without spending lots of time with each accent, it's tough to understand them.
Let's now move on to vocabulary. For one thing, many english
words mean something entirely different depending on which side of the pond you're on. For another, some english
words are spelled differently in American and in Britain. For instance, favor (American) and favour (British). Sometimes there are entirely different words for the same thing! The differences can be astounding. If one isn't careful, one can get mightily embarrassed. One day, shortly after I and my family had moved to lovely county Kerry, ireland
, my daughter Tiffany, seven years old at the time, came home and asked me if she could get a ‘rubber' to bring to school tomorrow! Imagine our surprise upon hearing this! In ireland
, a rubber is eraser for pencils, but in America it is slang for a condom! There are many other examples of the differences British and American vocabulary. In America, a large four wheeled vehicle is a ‘truck' whereas in england
it's called a ‘lorry'. In America, the rear cargo area of a car is called a ‘trunk' but in england
it's called a ‘boot'. In America, a boot is something cowboys wear on their feet! In America a cigarette is a cigarette but in england
they're called ‘fags'. A ‘fag' in America is slang for a homosexual.
No wonder Winston Churchill said what he did. In conclusion, I will leave you with a few suggestions. Native speakers of english
who teach english
to students as a second language should do their best to tone down their accents if they are hard to understand and if possible, speak with as neutral an accent as possible. As for the problem of vocabulary differences, I suggest you go to the internet where lists can be found that show the many words that are different and perhaps do a special lesson on the subject with your class sometime, if their level is appropriate enough.