Unique differences between British English and American English

What makes English learners consider learning British or American English, is that both are similar but vary in culture, history and etiquette.

What makes English learners consider learning British or American English, is that both are similar but vary in culture, history and etiquette.

Why are the English language and people so different?

The reason I wanted to write about this subject is simple, I moved from Canada to the UK. At that time, I spoke and understood Canadian English but had trouble understanding people when I arrived in London, England. It was much harder for me to grasp the accents in the UK versus those in Canada. Nevertheless, the more time I spent in London, the more practice I gained at mimicking the Southern English accent – an activity which, unfortunately, I could not keep up with after returning to Japan.

Direct expressions of American English

In America, the majority of people are business-oriented. An aspect that is interjected into nearly every conversation. Instantly stating what’s on the table is underlined by direct, simple language and facial expressions, while hand gestures accompany detailed descriptions of every kind. The demand for speed is everywhere, and a sense of straightforwardness is deemed essential.

In their fast-paced society, people in major cities in the US tend to focus on effectivity and productivity. They are all capitalists in their own right and quite genius to have been able to renew their economy for over two centuries. Nevertheless, a typical American works more hours than the average Japanese does. In fact, the leading ethos of American culture could be: ‘money and personal experience are power’. This phenomenon has rapidly come up in their rather short history of independence. 

British English indicates the cultural- oriented society

As a more cultural-oriented person, what fascinates me most is British English. Not only does the British culture fit the Japanese culture much better than the American culture but also has every aspect of their language deeply rooted in culture. Sculpted by a long and mostly rich and traditional history, the fundamental underlying British culture may be that ‘knowledge and background are power’.

The British are mostly cultural-oriented. They prefer ‘tongue-in-cheek’ humour, including sarcastic jokes while withholding the punchline to the very end. Moreover, they tend to use adverbs and adjectives that colour the language to be more creative and polite.

Their language has been impacted by European cultures, especially the French. The word ‘loo’, for instance, comes from the French expression of ‘waterloo’ which means ‘aqua spot’. While some Brits may say ‘toilet’, just as the French say, ‘la toilette’ (the bathroom), the ever so casual English word toilet may be safely replaced by the posher word – ‘loo’. Many people even prefer to say bathroom, powder-room, ladies-room, mens-room or even ‘the gents’.

Learning the culture of the language is essential

These are some of the very reasons why I usually suggest Japanese students of English study the culture before the language.

As non-native English speakers, we can select which English dialect to speak and I strongly believe that knowing the differences would certainly be an extra benefit. I also suggest English learners select the version of the language they like and focus on it for a couple of years at least, otherwise, their subtleties may confuse them.

Should you prefer British culture and feel more comfortable with the language, you might wish to learn British English and speak a more indirect, sophisticated English. However, if you like America and feel closer to them, then you can study American English and handle more direct expressions.

British English could be more varied than American English as there are several social classes in the country as well as a differing accents every fifty miles or so, such as Multicultural London, Estuary, West Country, Geordie or Midlands English.

To sum up through my English culture study, which touches on the above subjects, you will rapidly improve your English skills.

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