When thinking about the difference between American and British, the difference in accent and pronunciation I think is the most well-known of all. Other differences include spelling or vocabulary, and they are found more often in basic vocabulary than in advanced vocabulary.
Difference in vocabulary
- line (US), queue (UK)
- elevator (US), lift (UK)
- movie (US), film (UK)
- movie theater (US), cinema (UK)
- bathroom (US), toilet (UK)
- soda (US), fizzy drink (UK)
- day-off (US), holiday (UK)
- truck (US), lorry (UK)
- dinner (US), supper (UK)
- faucet (US), tap (UK)
- the first floor (US), the ground floor (UK)
- appetizer, entrée (US), starter, main course (UK)
- shrimp (US), prawn (UK)
- subway (US), underground (UK)
- check (US), bill (UK)
- sidewalk (US), pavement (UK)
- store (US), shop (UK)
The differences may be more distinct in informal – slung English, which i won’t go into details here. But British people and Americans have different ways of greeting or addressing people casually and they have their own ways to swear at things that upset them.
Difference in spelling
Main spelling differences are as follows:
- center (US) – centre (UK)
- color (US) – colour (UK)
- favorite (US) – favourite (UK)
- organize (US) – organise(UK)
Americans call your bottom garment pants and British say trousers.
When asked what ‘trousers’ sound to him, my American friend answered ‘dated.’
He said it sounded old-fashioned. He knew the word but because it was not party of his parents vocabulary he didn’t pick it up.
That made a lot of sense to me.
Maybe it’s that the vocabulary that British ancestors brought to America has changed over time and some have fell off from everyday life.
Even though they speak “the same” English, he doesn’t seem to know all the British variations and there were times he corrected me when I used British vocabulary unknowingly!
On the other hand, some of my British friends claimed that Americans might not know British English, British people know and understand the American version 100%!
So, which accent should I have?
This is a question that I’m often asked by my students.
And I’d say it is a matter of their personal preference.
In terms of the difference in vocabulary and spelling, it is always useful for an English learner to know both variations and that there are differences between the counties.
Whereas, accent is a funny thing.
It has a lot more to do with your identification with a particular country or culture. Like how do you want to sound?
And for that matter, we, non-natives, get to choose!
A practical choice
Sometimes it is a practical choice.
You choose depending on how you intend to use English or where and with whom you use it. For example, If you are going to study in England, it makes sense to learn British English. If you are working with American people, there is no doubt you should learn American English.
A natural result
Sometimes, it happens naturally. For example, you study in America, and as a result you pick up American accent.
But this is not always the case. I’ve had a personal experience. I studied in England and although my vocabulary and expressions are based on British English, I don’t have a strong British accent.
That’s hugely because of the people I was spending time with. I had many international friends from different countries who spoke English well but not particularly with British accent. I ended up picking up a mix of different dialects.
At some point, British people were telling me that I had American accent and Americans were telling me that I sounded British.
Accent is not fixed
It is also true that your accent gets influenced by the environment, even when you are at an advanced stage of learning.
I have caught myself many times picking up the accent of the person I had been spending a lot of time with. I think this is partly because I’m not British nor American so my pronunciation is not completely fixed with who I am.
But it can easily happen with our first language too. For instance, when you move from Tokyo to Osaka or when you make friends with people from different regions, you somehow start picking up their peculiar way of talking.
‘Proper’ is not always good?!
Another thing to consider is that a strong ‘proper’ accent can sometimes get in the way of communication.
When I lived in Brazil, I remember purposefully getting rid of distinctively British accent and making my English ‘neutral’ so to say so that I became more comprehensible to Brazilian people.
Develop your own accent
All in all, there are hundreds of variations of English accent in the world, not to mention different dialects within the UK and American states.
There are Canadian, Australian, New Zealander, Indian, Nigerian, Caribbean countries, Singaporean, Malaysian, Spanish variations to name a few. American and British accents are no longer the only way to speak.
I believe the best choice you can make is to develop your own accent.
I mean why not?
I think it is totally okay to speak English like a Japanese person and we should be proud of it, Because at the end of the day, accent is your identity.[日本語訳へ]