Should I learn British or American English?
As an English teacher, one question I often hear is “Should I learn British English or American English?” This question is very common, despite there being many other types of English that exist as well. In fact, there are more English speakers in India than in the UK, so should we start teaching Indian English instead?! In this article I will look at some reasons why this question exists, and what the answer could be.
I’m sure that language schools and teachers exaggerate the difference between British and American English. By far the main difference is accent. Almost all words are the same in the U.S. and the U.K. And even the words that are different will normally be understood because of their context. This is the main reason that I think that it isn’t so important which version people learn.
Comparison with Spanish
Perhaps people will disagree with me, but it is my personal opinion that the differences between British and American English are similar to the differences between different versions of Spanish around the world. For example, it is unlikely that an Argentinian and a Mexican will have problems in understanding each other.
Despite living in Argentina today, I use a mixture of different versions of Spanish. I don’t say the Argentinian ‘vos’ for ‘you’, for example. People instantly know that I am foreign, but they don’t know which type of Spanish I have learnt, and neither do I!
I learnt Spanish at school, and I don’t remember being told that the Spanish I was learning was from any particular country. In the same way, I think that teaching English without choosing British or American is certainly possible.
One thing that makes me even surer about this is the amount of people I have met that did not learn a specific version. Many Europeans today have a mixture of formal learning from school, where they probably learn U.K. English, and informal learning from television, the internet, and other media sources. The combination of the two versions of English they have learnt is not a problem at all, and is mostly not even noticeable.
So, what should I learn?
Just learn! There are very different ways to speak within the United States, and within Britain. Scottish people are British, for example, however, I wouldn’t recommend learning to speak with a strong Scottish accent, as you might be difficult to understand!
If you are sure that you will spend more time speaking to Americans or British people, then you can make a choice. However, my advice to English learners of the future is simply not to choose. Enjoy learning the few differences that there are, and build your own accent. It doesn’t matter if it’s a bit more American or a bit more British, what is important is that you learn.
There is one time when choosing either British or American is more important, and that is when you are writing. You should choose one version, and keep to it. Today, however, this is very easy, as you will probably be writing using a computer’s spell-checker that will tell you if you have written something wrong. As I am using a British spell-checker right now, if I write ‘color’ (instead of ‘colour’), it is underlined as a spelling mistake.
If you have any questions about learning British or American English, please let us know in the comments section below.