Monday, November 26, 2018

The Dispute between British English and American English by Eugene Eaton

Have you ever heard people arguing passionately about the smallest details such as auxiliary verbs or prepositions? How many times have you seen one person warning another for not using a proper grammar norm or pronunciation?

I bet it happens to you all the time! As a matter of fact, I believe this happens to everyone.

It seems like there are millions of language puritans all around who can’t stand people taking a single step away from the Oxford English Dictionary. They're the true followers of “genuine” English. They are the people who adore textbook rules and correct speech. Such folks enjoy making objections and reminding everyone to speak flawlessly.

What do they consider to be the proper English and what is the so-called correct version of English language?

My answer is  that there's is no such thing as correct English and that it’s just an imaginary construct that serves as the general outline for language learners.

Correct English Is an Imaginary Concept


I’ve seen so many people who live in the US who don’t understand the colloquialisms and local expressions. It’s just way too different from things they used to learn in school so they start complaining and saying that Americans can’t speak English properly. Rest assured this is mostly an excuse for individuals who are having a hard time improving English proficiency.

ESL expert James Hatfield says that the vast majority of students believe Oxford English is the single most important learning model:

“This is why they neglect the importance of all those other accents and dialects. I’m not saying that I don’t understand their problem. After all, it’s much easier to follow the textbook rules and expect everyone to speak the same way, but it’s simply not the reality.”

For instance, followers of the correct English movement object when you say: “I’m gonna grab a drink.”

They don’t recognise it as the textbook example so they automatically have a problem with what they believe is an unusual phrase. In other words, they label it wrong. There are tons of similar examples, but you get the idea

Grammar is not the only issue here. On the contrary, language puritans also pay attention to your pronunciation, and they're more than willing to make comments about it.

For example, they'll say something like this: “I went to Dublin last week and couldn’t understand a word they were saying! It’s not English! It's a completely different language!”

You don’t have to be a language expert to disprove their claims. All it takes is logical thinking to explain how things work in this field. Regardless of your mother tongue, I'm sure you can think of many regions or counties where people speak differently. It’s a matter of natural diversity, and that’s exactly what makes languages so beautiful.

For example, you can find maps online showing how Americans alone have 24 different English dialects - not to mention in the UK, Australia, or Ireland for that matter!

The illusion of correct English is probably the result of the mass media influence. People all around the world watch the same movies and listen to the same music so they start believing there are only two good options when speaking English – British English or American English.

Don’t Think about Correctness – Think about Usefulness


The reality, however, is totally different. Language learners should stop thinking about the correct version of English and begin focusing on how useful it is for them. The best solution is to practice conversational English in a real-life environment.

If you are about to spend the next five years in Ireland, why would you stick to Oxford English?

It would be both impractical and time-wasting. The same goes for individuals residing in the States, England, or Australia.


  • Spelling: colour (British) vs color (American)
  • Vocabulary: trainers vs sneakers
  • Grammar: at the weekend vs on the weekend
  • Past perfect/past simple: I’ve been to the vs I went to the…


As you can see, all these (and many other) differences are so minor that they really don’t make much of a difference to your everyday lives so you might as well pick the one that works for you.

The Bottom Line


Keep in mind that English – just like all other languages – is a means of communication. It's supposed to help you establish new friendships and professional relationships

So why would you use the kind of language that makes this process longer and more difficult?

If you want to start a new life abroad in the English-speaking country, you better prepare for it properly.

Ask yourself one question:

Will I look like a weirdo walking around with the Oxford English dictionary and speaking words no one understands?

Unless you are going to enrol in a prestigious prep school, the answer is probably "yes". Therefore, be ready to learn real everyday English. Pick a dialect that suits your needs the most and allows you to build a career in the local environment.

When you look for the studying materials online, don’t type in inquiries such as: Should I learn British or American English?

Instead, try to find resources that can teach you how to use the local dialect and understand the local accent.

You could even forget about all these differences and learn English as it's spoken where you are, picking up all the fascinating colloquialisms along the way. After all, it’s not a rocket science and not everything has to be by the book so feel free to learn your own way.

Eugene is an Australian-based blogger for UK Careers Booster who's into stand-up comedy. His favorite comedians are Louis CK and George Carlin. A good laugh in the morning is what keeps Eugene upbeat and motivated throughout the day.