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British English versus American English, is one better than the other? (Part 2)

Teaching implications and classroom problems

Some may see this article as frivolous, some may not. Regardless of this, the differences between American and British English can raise issues in the classroom that the teacher must resolve. Some will take the form of a personal attack.

“You can’t spell properly.”, “You can’t pronounce properly.” or “You don’t know how to say things in English.” are some of the criticisms that will be aimed at the teacher.

These problems may surface after a change of teacher, specifically from one speaker to the other, British to American and vice versa.

“Color/Colour”, “iodine/iodine”, “elevator/lift” are three simple examples that highlight where the problems come from. The differences in spelling, pronunciation and vocabulary may raise doubts in the ELLS minds about the new teacher’s knowledge of English. Your students are not joined at the hip with English like we are. It’s something new to them. The nuances and subtleties of English are light-years away from their comprehension. They are as far away from understanding these differences as we would be when faced with learning a new language that we know nothing about.

They will certainly know that Americans and British have different accents but they will not understand the aforementioned differences unless they are taught.

The teacher must explain that the two flavors of English are different and whenever necessary highlight where these differences are. The teacher must also be consistent within the rules of the English flavor they are teaching: spelling, vocabulary, pronunciation, etc.

To avoid disputes over meaning and spelling, always have either a Merriam-Webster or Oxford pocket dictionary on hand. Both dictionaries will show the different spellings and meanings of words. Dictionaries solve many classroom problems as they are independent arbiters of disputes regarding spelling and meaning. If you also understand the phonetic code, they resolve pronunciation issues as well.


So which one is better? My viewpoint is neither. They both serve a purpose and they are both consistent within their rules. They can raise classroom issues but these can be dealt with as described in the previous section.

Is one set of rules superior to the other? I don’t think so. Both have their own consistencies and inconsistencies.

Is one easier to use than the other? Now it gets interesting. American is slightly easier to spell thanks to Mr. Webster’s spelling rationalization. British and American pronunciation styles both have their inconsistencies. For example: both have odd pronunciations for place names like Leicester (Lester) Square in London or Conetoe (Caneeta) in North Carolina.

Is one easier to listen to than the other? Yes and no. There are people who prefer one over the other and people who don’t care. Enunciation when speaking can be good or bad, it depends on the speaker not on what flavor of English they speak.

The only conclusion I can get to is that the British versus American English competition is pretty much the same as the Coca Cola versus Pespi competition. There will be people who’ll drink either because they like cola drinks and those who prefer one over the other.

Neither one is better. They’re the same but different .

“Vive la diference” as all we English speakers would say, but make sure that your students are aware of the differences as well.

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