8 confusing differences for those teaching American English vs British English
Posted on 10-10-2019 by Joseph Francis
It’s normal for schools to request you teach a certain brand of language in their classrooms. In Europe, it might be British English that’s preferred, while it’s common in Asia to find teaching American English in the mainstream. That’s why we’ve strung together this helpful factsheet of some of the major differences between the two strands of lingo. It should help anyone needing to flit between them in their classroom year on year.
All those Zs
From magazines to realizations, needing to apologize to needing to organize, you’ll catch so many instances of the use of Z in American! You’ll need to resist the temptation to use the usual soft-sounding Ss of British English and move to those more definite sounds. It’s all about re-learning the words you’re so used to, and getting to know which ones make the switch.
It’s not just the written language that US folks like to alter and change. When it comes to speaking, there are plenty of words that might not even be recognized by UK natives. So, next time you’re sharing a beer or sitting at a dinner table with someone from across the pond, by sure to listen to the way they say Caribbean, tomato, potato, cache, almond, caramel – the list goes on and on.
Perhaps the most glaring change from GB writing to teaching American English is the focus that’s put on totally different spelling conventions. There are quite a few you’ll need to get used to if you’re making the hop across the Atlantic Ocean. We’ve already seen the love of Zs in the stars and stripes. But what about the move away from y in tire? What about the dropping of that u in color? What about the lack of ls in traveler?
Sometimes the word is ever so slightly altered
One irritating aspect of switching from teaching British English to teaching American English is often the slight change in word formation. Yes, there are US words that are entirely different in sound and spelling (more on those later). However, we’re talking about the take-you-by-surprise alterations in words you probably thought you knew already – think windshield instead of windscreen, takeout instead of takeaway.
If you’re teaching American English in a casual setting, with students keen to learn on-the-street lingo that’ll help them sound like a real native, it’s important to do a few sessions on slang. Unfortunately, this can be one of the trickiest aspects for tutors switching over from speaking the King’s. In the US, there are all sorts of alternative words used in the vernacular jargon. From bucks (for dollars) to zonked (for tired) and beyond, it’s endless. Oh, and don’t forget that this can all change by hopping over a state line or entering a new city. It’s that fickle.
Anyone teaching American English should be certain to delve into the wonderful world of prepositions before they get a-rolling. It’s even important to get you to the classroom on time: Brits will usually use ‘at’ to signify what hour you need to be somewhere (as in, ‘at 12pm’); in American English it’s a quarter after the hour, not a quarter past. These little changes are so minute you might not even notice them, but they can make all the difference in a professional setting so are worth getting to grips with.
Anyone who’s ever travelled the UK will know that there are more regional accents than you can shake a bag of fish and chips at! They go from the thick, guttural Yorkshire tongue to the mellifluous and soft-flowing Welsh sounds, all the way to the hardy, serrated growls of the Scottish Highlanders. Of course, the same does go for America, what with the Deep South rolling into the Irish-infused Atlantic Northeast. However, you’re likely to find that accents are spread over a greater geographical area with US speakers, meaning it might not have such a profound affect on the way English is used.
The lingo for food and all sorts more
Careful – a bag of chips in New York isn’t the fluffy potato dish with salt and vinegar you’re used to! Don’t worry – if someone says they like your pants in LA, it’s not because you forgot to pull your trousers on this morning! Such are the sorts of nuances in word usage across the states. It’s something that both entertains and – more often than not – confuses speakers of UK English. And that means it’s something you’ll need to know all about if you’re planning to start teaching American English somewhere around the globe.
If you’ve encountered anymore interesting differences between teaching American English and teaching British English, we’d love to hear about them in the comments below. Alternatively, if you think it’s time you got qualified and traveling the world with TEFL, be sure to head over to our courses page for more information.