Have you ever questioned if it’s plausible to master American and British English concurrently? If you’re already proficient in one, would it be tough to grasp the other? It’s an interesting query, and the response could astonish some. To be frank, it’s achievable to learn both accents at the same time, but this mandates additional commitment and concentration. Let’s get started on this riveting journey of understanding how and why we should acquire American and British English jointly, and highlight the fundamental dissimilarities between the two.
Is it Possible to Acquire American and British English at the Same Time?
Indeed, you can master both the American and British versions of English concurrently.
The foundation in terms of grammar and the majority of the vocabulary is identical across both versions. The differences, however, lie mainly in the pronunciation, specific vocabulary terms, and spelling conventions. For instance, “colour” is used in British English whereas “color” is used in American English. Thus, a learner can study and comprehend these differences at the same time.
However, a possible challenge could be the inconsistency in using both dialects, generally in formal writing or speaking where consistency is needed. This implies while mastering both collectively, it could be beneficial to initially focus on becoming proficient in one before delving into the other. This is particularly relevant for beginners.
Significant Variations Between American and British English
Despite sharing a common foundation, British and American English have many differences particularly in terms of vocabulary, spelling, and pronunciation.
The vocabulary in British and American English varies, ranging from small, subtle deviations to more significant differences.
1. Everyday Items: Items like ‘torch’ in the UK becomes ‘flashlight’ in the US, ‘biscuit’ becomes ‘cookie’, and ‘chips’ are referred to as ‘fries’ in the US while ‘crisps’ match ‘chips’ in American English.
2. Transportation: Vocabulary for transportation also varies. For example, ‘truck’ in the US is known as ‘lorry’ in the UK, ‘parking lot’ is referred to as ‘car park’, and ‘subway’ is called ‘underground’ or ‘tube’.
3. Clothing: The term ‘sweater’ in American English translates to ‘jumper’ in the UK, and ‘panties’ and ‘pants’ are known as ‘knickers’ and ‘trousers’ respectively.
4. Construction/Buildings: In the UK, an ‘apartment’ is known as a ‘flat’, the ‘first floor’ translates to the ‘second floor’, and while Americans use ‘faucets’, the British use ‘taps’.
5. Kitchen/Cooking: ‘Coriander’ in the UK is called ‘cilantro’ in the US, ‘eggplant’ is referred to as ‘aubergine’, and ‘zucchini’ is referred to as ‘courgette’.
6. Education/School: In the US, students graduate from ‘high school’, in the UK, students graduate from ‘secondary school’. The terms ‘freshman’, ‘sophomore’, ‘junior’ and ‘senior’ are represented as ‘first-year’, ‘second-year’, etc. in British English.
The spelling in American and British English differs vastly as they have developed over the centuries due to varying influences and language development patterns.
1. Words ending in “-or” or “-our”: British English typically prefers “-our” such as “colour”, “behaviour”, “flavour”. In contrast, American English uses “-or” – “color”, “behavior”, “flavor”.
2. Words ending in “-re” or “-er”: British English prefers endings like “-re” as in “centre”, “theatre”, but these words end with “-er” in American English – “center”, “theater”.
3. Words ending in “-ise” or “-ize”: British English prefers “-ise” like “realise”, “recognise”, although the Oxford English Dictionary leans towards “-ize”. American English opts for “-ize” – “realize”, “recognize”.
4. Words ending in “-yse” or “-yze”: British English uses “-yse” as in “analyse”, “paralyse”, while these words in American English are spelled with “-yze” – “analyze”, “paralyze”.
5. Words with double ‘l’ or singular ‘l’: In British English, a vowel suffix is added to a word ending in ‘l’, the ‘ll’ is typically doubled such as “travelling”, “fuelled”, “quarrelling”. In contrast, American English typically uses a singular ‘l’ – “traveling”, “fueled”, “quarreling”.
6. Use of “ae” or “oe”: Certain words in British English retain a Latin or Greek influenced “ae” or “oe”, such as “anaemia”, “oestrogen”, “manoeuvre”, “haemoglobin”. In American English this transforms into “e” – “anemia”, “estrogen”, “maneuver”, “hemoglobin”.
7. Different spellings: Some words are spelled distinctly different such as “grey” vs. “gray”, “tyre” vs. “tire”, “mould” vs. “mold”, “plough” vs. “plow”, “sceptical” vs. “skeptical”.
The pronunciation in American and British English differs in multiple ways:
1. Vowel Sounds: Especially in vowel pronunciation, significant differences can be found. Words like “dance”, “bath”, “can’t” in British English are pronounced with a short ‘a’, as opposed to American English pronunciation.
2. Rhotic vs. Non-rhotic: American English is pronounced rhotically, meaning ‘r’ is pronounced at the end of words such as “hard” or “favor”. In contrast, most British accents are non-rhotic, and the ‘r’ is often silent unless it follows a vowel.
3. Pronunciation of Certain Words: Some words are pronounced distinctly differently. For example, ‘schedule’ is pronounced as ‘shed-yool’ in British English whereas it’s pronounced as ‘sked-yool’ in American English.
4. Diphthongs: There’s a noticeable difference between diphthongs, which are combinations of two vowel sounds, in the American and British pronunciation of the word “ride”. The ‘i’ in American English sounds like ‘ah-ee’, and the British pronunciation sounds more like ‘ee’.
5. Pronunciation of T sounds: The American T often pronounced as a quick ‘d’ or a tapped ‘r’ in words like ‘water’, ‘better’, whereas the T is more defined in British English.
6. Syllable Stress: American and British English sometimes apply stress to different syllables in the same word. For example, in American English ‘advertisement’ stresses the second syllable (ad-VER-tis-ment), and in British English, the third syllable is emphasized (AD-ver-TISE-ment).
7. Pronunciation of Certain Vowels: The last ‘a’ in words like ‘banana’ in American English is pronounced ‘æ’, as in ‘man’, whereas it sounds more like ‘uh’ in British English.
8. Use of the Schwa: The schwa sound (/ə/) is common in English and is frequently used in American English. Lastly, the ending vowels of ‘media’ and ‘papaya’ are generally replaced with the schwa in American English but are fully pronounced in British English.
9. Pronunciation of past verbs: With regular verbs ending in –ed, American English tends to pronounce the –ed as a separate syllable, whereas it’s generally silent in British English.
Guide to Learning British English for American English Speakers and Vice Versa
When looking to grasp the particular English dialect that you’re not currently comfortable with, it would be more beneficial to concentrate on the variances of vocabulary and pronunciation as opposed to grammar and sentence structure. The following procedure will guide you on mastering the English accent from across the Atlantic:
1. Recognize the deviations: Start by getting a grip on the disparities in pronunciation, vocab, spelling, and colloquialisms. Doing an internet comparison between the two English forms would prove beneficial.
2. Word and Spelling: Get to know the disparities in terms and spelling amongst American and British English, as highlighted previously. Jot down the differences in a notebook for easy reference; you could arrange it in a way where an American term or spelling is on one side and the corresponding British term or spelling is on the other.
3. Articulation: Benefit from YouTube tutorials, podcasts, or language fostering apps that prioritize the accent you’re striving to master to comprehend pronunciation disparities. Consistent practice will refine your speaking abilities.
4. Engage in movies/TV shows: A relaxed technique for grasping the accent, understanding cultural context, and word application would be through compelling British shows like ‘Sherlock’ or popular American comedies like ‘Friends’.
5. Leverage Language Exchange Platforms: Platforms that enable interaction with native speakers present a practical approach to apply learned skills.
6. Explore literature: Reading often acquaints one with vocabulary, spelling, and style. For British English, read books by British authors, newspapers, and magazines and vice versa for American English.
7. Enhance Speaking skills: Practice prompts perfection. Attempt articulating in the desired accent, record yourself, and listen for possible corrections.
8. Utilization of Tech Tools: Avail of apps, software, or web courses that offer language training tailored specifically to either American or British English.
In summary, learning American and British English simultaneously is achievable, provided the learner has attained at least an intermediate level in English. Beginners should focus on one version to prevent confusion. The patience coupled with a deep comprehension of the distinct differences in these dialects, including vocabulary, pronunciation, spelling and cultural relevance, are crucial in effectively mastering both accents.
Richard Zhang, M.Ed., is an educator and a software developer with a Masters degree in education from University of Toronto and an immense passion for education and learning. Until the pandemic, Richard owned an award-winning learning centre in Toronto. For 15 years, he has taught and mentored hundreds of elementary, middle school, and high school students succeed in academics. He is also an app developer specializing in web and mobile application in educational and business sectors.