British vs. American Oh how I could waffle on about this


Oh how I could waffle on about this subject. Waffle' Who’s serving up tasty breakfast foods'

Some people wonder how it all started, how come Brits and Americans spell so many things differently and have so many differences in their word usage. The technical answer lies in the founding fathers of America and the first Webster’s Dictionary. Noah Webster believed that if America was to be truly independent from England it needed to separate itself not only politically but culturally and linguistically. He advocated a break from the King’s English and encouraged the development of a distinct American English with its own spellings, idioms and style. In 1806 he published the first American dictionary and cousins across the pond have been misunderstanding each other ever since .

Students will realize soon after learning English that the dialects and accents in different English speaking countries do vary. As native speakers we know our own dialect but often the language spoken by our cousins on other continents can leave us dumbfounded. Unless you have first hand experience living in both America and the UK something will come up in a classroom which will leave you stumped. Be honest, explain to students that there are many words which have different meanings in the different countries. A lesson dedicated to the differences in American and British English is often great fun for both the teacher and the students. A great online resource for planning this type is the British-American Lexicon . There are also many books which address this issue and can make for humorous reading as well as give insight for future lesson plans .

For lower level students inconsistencies in spelling can be confusing and difficult to understand and thus, it is a good idea when planning a course to ensure that spellings in all coursework are consistent. American English is becoming more and more standard worldwide and thus would be suggested. There are always exceptions however such as teaching an ESL course in England where British spellings would be logical.

For higher level student slang is often taught, any American or British slang terms used in lessons however, should labeled as such and teachers should try to find out the equivalent terms. If possible it is often a fun idea to try and have two instructors for a lesson, one Brit and one American. Lists can be made before the lesson with British and American slang terms and students can try to match them up. Students are often thrilled at hearing a different accent from their instructors as it presents new challenges for them. If you can’t find a teacher of a different nationality there are many books on the subject of slang and the online lexicon mentioned earlier is priceless when planning these lessons!

EFL students are often fascinated by the differences in the way their American and British teachers communicate. Often they will want to learn one accent and way of speech over the other. This is fine unless you are an American with a student who wants to learn British or visa versa. Assure students that despite the differences whether they learn British or American English native speakers can understand both! The best advice, however, is stick to teaching your native speech!

Further Reading

Bartsch-Parker, Elizabeth, Stephen Burger, Roiberard O’Maolalaigh “British (Lonely Planet Phrasebook)” Lonely Planet Publications, 1999

Bickerton, Amanda “American-English, English-American: A Two-way Glossary of Words in Daily Use on Both Sides of the Atlantic.” Abson Books London, 1985.

Davies, Christopher “Divided by a Common Language: A guide to British and American English.” Houghton Mifflin, 2005.

Smith, Jeremy “Bum Bags and Fanny Packs: A British-American American- British Dictionary.” Carrol & Graf 2006

Walmsley, Jane “Brit-Think, Ameri-Think: A Transatlantic