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February 27, 2009

British VS American English

Learning a new language is always a daunting challenge. The English language is difficult enough to learn even without the usual differences in accents and regional variations. And then there is the never clear, and always confusing set of differences between British and American….

usage. George Bernard Shaw is reputed to be the first to make the observation that America and Britain are “divided by a common language”. Let’s look at a few of these differences for two reasons. The first is that learners of English might be quite confused – especially regarding what might be correct usage in any given situation, and, second, those of us who speak (or write) in either “brand” of English might be a little more flexible in our tolerance for regional differences.
Articles (a, an,the) for example, are particularly confusing for Asian students of English. It might be a little consoling to realize that we native speakers of English are not as consistent as one might think.
In American English, for example, we put an article (a, an,the) before virtually every noun; the cat, a house, an elephant (I’ll develop the distinction between a and an in a later post – it can be quite confusing ). In America, we might say, “He went to the hospital”. In Britain, the proper usage would be, “He went to hospital”.
I must admit that I am not fully clear on the British use of articles. It seems to me that, in British English, articles are used for common nouns, but not for institutions. (If any of our readers has any clear summary of this principle, please send it to us.)
A learner of English needs to decide which (American or British) style of English they wish to focus on – or they could do what Canadians and Australians do – and master both and use them as needed.
I love the English language – but even I find it infuriating and inconsistent – at least it doesn’t have multiple tones like some languages.

Sometimes, in my more philosophical moments, it seems to me that true mastery of any language is beyond possibility - even among native speakers. Consider how differently, for example, men women use language.

I take comfort in the fact that we are all learning and no one is perfect.

Join me in the struggle to communicate.

My best to you,


Listen, read and speak. Make your new language your own.

About the author of this entry:

Morf has a B.A.from the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington and an MAT (Master's in Teaching English) from the University of Washington (Seattle). Morf spent about six years working for a Native American Tribal College, a few years teaching various humanities, English, writing and ESL courses with the community college system in Washington State (including one year as part of a faculty exchange program with The Beijing Foreign Language University). While in China, Morf was briefly a radio host for CRI (China Radio International) and did recordings for the "English can be enjoyable" book and tape series. Morf currently teaches English and writing for a local technical/vocational college with many international students. Morf prefers international and independent films, foods he can't pronounce, music no one else likes and riding his bicycle in unlikely and ridiculous situations.

Morf is also quietly anticipating that unexpected, but lucrative job offer.

Posted by mmorf at February 27, 2009 10:20 AM

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