British vs American EnglishThis topic interests me as with the aim of teaching ESOL, is there a better english to use or does it not matter, and a blend of both should be taught?
Having travelled and taught in both the United Kingdom and north america, I am well versed in recognising the main differences in speech and spelling between the two regions.
As Oscar Wilde once wrote; “We really have really everything in common with America nowadays, except, of course, the language" (The Canterville Ghost, 1888).
The main differences that could present possible problems in teaching an ESOL class are basically the spelling, pronunciations, formatting and use of certain phrases or colloquialisms.
Spelling differences are numerous and one can find an extensive list on an internet search, but some examples of British vs. American words ending with ‘or’ and ‘our’ include: flavour and flavor, humour, humor, colour, color and so forth.
It is suggested by Paul Shoebottom, that American spelling is more phonetic based than British. (http://esl.fis.edu/grammar/easy/aebe.htm 2012 )
Phrasal differences are more varied, such as noughts and crosses, tic-tac-toe, petrol and gasoline, autumn and fall, roundabout and traffic circle, holiday and vacation, and so forth.
A more comprehensive list can be found at http://www.englishclub.com/vocabulary/british-american.htm
A native speaker will only need to consider learn some of these differences if for example, they are studying english as they will be communicating with American and UK clients, and wish to avoid embarrassment and misunderstandings.
One may ask, how these differences came about, as America was colonised predominantly by the British.
As Michel Erard suggests; “Any language is constantly evolving, so it's not surprising that english, transplanted to new soil, is bearing unusual fruit. Nor is it unique that a language, spread so far from its homelands, would begin to fracture.” (http://www.wired.com/culture/culturereviews/magazine/16-07/st_essay June 2008)
Consider the differences in english between Australia, South Africa, and Canada. There are differences and variations in native english speaking countries around the world.
To understand this, one must consider that the evolution of a language is linked to its geographical location, contributing factors such as immigration and integration of other cultures, the level and amount of education of the population within the setting, and adaptations and inventions to identify and describe new entities.
An example of this that is applicable to today can be the use of measurement descriptions. America uses the imperial measurement system, while the UK uses the metric system. The UK adapted to Metric, while the usa
continued to use the imperial system, and now it is a concrete part of their identity and lifestyle. This would fall under differences in the formatting category.
While studies suggest there is no clear better language to use, two main suggestions are made to help ESOL learners.
Firstly, and obviously, pick a type to use for the duration of the course. If undecided, consider what is used in the school or in course textbook. Or use the variety that the teacher is comfortable with.
Secondly then, consistency is a key point and one that I have sometimes found it difficult to adhere to within my own teaching on occasion.
To help avoid confusion with ESOL students, the type of english taught should be used throughout the whole course. An example of this in use would be if computers are available and used in the course, a default language setting according to the type used for the programme should be applied.
Pronunciation and vocabulary used and taught in the course should be either American or British and maintained.
In advanced classes however, the two types could be taught, but in the beginner and intermediate stages, one form should be used.
Thus said though, it can be difficult in today’s technology multimedia world where resources and inputs come from a range of locations, to be standardised in the type of english used, but a key idea to finish on, is that at the base level, remember it is still english in general being taught and learnt by TEFL students, and that that should be the main consideration.
Oscar Wilde, The Canterville Ghost, 1888, Reproduced by the Electric Book Company, United Kingdom, 2001.
Paul Shoebottom, British and American english, Frankfurt International School, 2012
Michael Erard, Wired Magazine 16-07, Conde Nast, 2012.
english Club.com, British english/American english Vocabulary. http://www.englishclub.com/vocabulary/british-american.htm
ITTT TEFL Course notes.