School TEFL International

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E. M. - France said:
British english vs. American EnglishThe differences between British and American english run much deeper than the accent of their speakers. Although these differences do not usually pose a significant problem for native speakers of either dialect, they are numerous and confusing enough to present a challenge to both students and teachers in ESL/EFL settings. Potentially the most problematic difference between British english and American english lies in the use of different vocabulary. Many such differences are widely known to speakers of both varieties of english, such as “flat” vs. “apartment”, “biscuits” vs. “cookies”, and “truck” vs. “lorry”, but there are other distinctions that are not common knowledge. Some British terms may be unfamiliar to speakers of American english and vice versa, and these differences can even create misunderstandings between native speakers, especially in cases where the same word exists in both dialects but with different meanings. This is particularly true of slang words, which can often mean something innocuous in one variety of english but something offensive in the other! The other significant difference between British english and American english is variation in grammar, which can lead to confusion on the part of students and to students being corrected by teachers unaware of the rules of one or the other dialect. One example is that in British english it is generally considered incorrect to substitute the past simple for the present perfect in cases such as the sentence “I've already eaten,” whereas in American english this usage is acceptable (“I already ate.”). British english also uses irregular past tense forms of many verbs that are usually regular in American english (e.g., “dreamt” vs. “dreamed”). Another example, more about usage than grammatical rules, is that the “have got” construction for possession is much more common in British english than in American english, as are certain modal verbs such as “shall,” which is sometimes considered outdated by speakers of American english. Some other differences in usage include the use of different prepositions, as in “at the weekend” (British) vs. “on the weekend” (American) or “quarter of three” (American) vs. “quarter to three” (British), the practice of using plural verbs with collective nouns in British english but not in American english, and different ways of expressing dates and numbers. In American english the day comes before the month, while in British english dates are written the opposite way; also, it is common in American english to drop the “and” in large numbers (“four hundred and two” becomes “four hundred two”, for example). Such differences are fairly subtle, but can obviously complicate an already complicated language for ESL/EFL students and their teachers. Other notable differences between British english and American english lie mainly in spelling and pronunciation. Many words are pronounced the same but spelled differently (such as words that end in “-ize” or in “-or” in American english but in “-ise” or in “-our” in British english), some are spelled the same but pronounced differently (such as “advertisement”), and there are even some words that are similar but both spelled and pronounced differently (such as “aluminum” in American english vs. “aluminium” in British english). Clearly, there is plenty of opportunity for learners of english to become confused. However, the variety of differences between British and American english can also raise problems for teachers. Teachers may have to work with course materials that do not use the variety of english they speak, or may even be expected to teach a dialect other than their own. Where teachers have the choice of what and how to teach, they often face the question of whether to teach english only as they speak it or to try to include both British and American english, which is more complicated for students but also potentially beneficial, as they are likely to encounter both at some point. In any case, it is important for teachers to recognize that both varieties of english are equally valid, and to stress the importance of being consistent, particularly with spelling, within whichever english is being used. Sources: Beare, Kenneth. “Differences Between American and British english.” About.com: english as 2nd Language. http://esl.about.com/od/toeflieltscambridge/a/dif_ambrit.htm janiston. “American and British english: Differences in Grammar.” Teaching english. British Council. 27 July 2009. http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/blogs/janiston/american-british-english-differences-grammar Maxwell, Kerry, and Lindsay Clandfield. “Differences in American and British english grammar.” One Stop english. http://www.onestopenglish.com/grammar/grammar-reference/american-english-vs-british-english/differences-in-american-and-british-english-grammar-article/152820.article Smith, Zoe. “British and American english: How to teach english you don't speak.” Matador Abroad. 30 September 2009. http://matadornetwork.com/abroad/british-and-american-english-how-to-teach-english-you-dont-speak/

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