American or British English?

So, American or British English? Which should you learn? I give you a rational and reasoned answer to choose the right dialect… then I give you advice on how to adopt the variety of English you need! You will also find answers to many questions such as Is it English or American?

Which variety of English to choose?

There are several elements that play into the choice of one English dialect over another. Let’s go around.

 

Cultural influence

Which variety of English has the greatest cultural influence  ?

Nowadays, the United States, through television, cinema, music, literature and, also, technology has, by far, the most important cultural influence in the world . Which means that American English has the most influence.

This is the variety of English you will hear most often . American English is also establishing itself as THE language of international exchange. We may not like it, of course, but there is no point in denying the reality.

By contrast, if British productions remain abundant, they do not cross borders – or clearly not in the same proportions.

The world lives under the influence of the United States, not the United Kingdom. This also means that, in terms of vocabulary, American English tends to dominate as well .

 

Demography

The population of the United States is almost five times greater than that of the United Kingdom. The United States is a demographic power. That’s all the more people to speak English with, whether in your leisure time or for work.

 

Amount of regional accents

There are of course regional accents in the United States but, globally, **the American accent is quite homogeneous: the differences between the standard American accent ( General American ) and the regional accents ( regional accents ) are not huge.

Conversely, although it may be famous, Received Pronunciation is only used in a limited area of the United Kingdom , by only a fraction of the population – because regional accents are legion and dominate the whole. of the country .

It’s sometimes hard to imagine when you live in France, where we have a wealth of mutually understandable accents (if the accent of Marseilles has a different music than that of Lille, that does not prevent people from both cities to understand each other perfectly).

On the contrary, different corners of the UK often struggle to understand each other . The typical example is that it is often difficult for an English person to understand a Scottish or an Irish person, even if English is everyone’s native language! But, on top of that , imagine that someone who lives just 60 miles south of Liverpool won’t necessarily understand people from Liverpool because they have a very strong regional accent (the Scouse accent ).

In short. Although the country is much smaller, understanding all the regional accents of the UK will take a lot more work than understanding all the accents of the USA .

 

Prestige

A final interesting point is the question of prestige . How will you be perceived by others speaking this or that dialect, with this or that accent?

At this level, speaking with the accent of the Queen of England can be interesting. You will be perceived as educated and many people will find this charming, especially abroad.

Let’s take a counter-example: the accents of the South of the United States may be warm and musical, but they are often associated with the less educated sections of the population. They are therefore not prestigious.

Finally, with a standard American accent (the General American ) the advantage is that you will be understood everywhere because it is the accent that the whole planet listens to.

 

Conclusion

If we summarize, it is therefore the English of the United States which wins the battle . The cultural influence of the United States will continue to grow, its population continues to grow faster than that of the United Kingdom, and the lesser variability of accents makes American English easier to adopt. When it comes to prestige, the two major dialects of English are tied .

If you don’t know which variety of English to learn, then study that of the United States.

If you want to learn British English for a given reason, adopt Received Pronunciation and you will be understood everywhere ( if not everyone).

A final interesting point is that an accent that some find charming may be perceived as irritating by others. Or even by yourself! Which brings us to talk about…

 

Personal choice and identity

Beyond the knowledge of intonation, accentuation and articulation, one of the elements that plays into the ease of adopting an accent is:

How much do you identify with people who speak this accent?

This is an interesting question because having negative assumptions about a language and its speakers prevents us from imitating them.

If you think Americans are dumb and uneducated (the opposite of the French cliché: smart and cultured), then that will put a brake on your learning .

To develop a native-like accent, you need to imitate . And we can’t imitate people we don’t respect enough. I would even say that to imitate well, you have to admire the people you are imitating – or at the very least appreciate the accent in question.

Some research on the subject suggests that children and adolescents more easily adopt an accent identical to that of natives because their identity is not yet fixed . In adulthood , our cerebral and muscular capacities to develop an accent identical to that of natives are still there. On the other hand, our identity tends to freeze .

To acquire a convincing accent in English, we will therefore want to be mentally flexible by being ready to redefine our identity . We will not cease to be Indian (or whatever our nationality of origin) but we will become a little more this other nationality, that of the country whose language or dialect we want to learn.

Are you flexible about your identity?
(René Magritte, The Son of Man , 1964)
René Magritte, The Son of Man (1964)

 

False dilemma

Note in passing that choosing between American and British English is a false dichotomy .

Not only is there not just one variety of American English or one variety of British English, there are also many other varieties, almost as many as there are countries and regions – be it Australian English , Irish English , South African English or dozens or even hundreds more.

It is one of the riches of English. For example, the accents of Australians ( Ozzies ) and New Zealanders ( Kiwis ) may sound the same to a foreigner, yet they are no less different. In English, you will always have new accents to discover.

This Wikipedia article lists the most common English dialects by region, on a global scale but also on the scale of each country.

English is a language of international exchange. It is useful for communicating and being able to work in English, and English is an asset for life .

Now, also keep in mind the social dimension of English . Learning a language should enable us to integrate into the environment in which we live .

If you are learning English as a language of international exchange, as long as you speak clearly , developing an authentic accent is not essential. It’s simply a plus and, perhaps, also a nice challenge to take up.

On the other hand, if you live in the country, you will want to integrate with the population and, in this context, developing the regional accent will make sense.

It doesn’t necessarily mean adopting a sharp accent that even native English speakers from other countries can’t understand you. No, no need to push the envelope that far.

But imitate the local accent a minimum to integrate better. By imitating you will integrate, and by integrating you will imitate better – and you will thus be truly immersed in English . Later, if you go to live in another country, you can adopt the local accent there too – you will have already developed the skills to do so.

In short, if you are going to live in a specific country, adopt this accent to integrate .

British English (London)

 

How to appropriate a dialect?

 

Definition

What is a dialect? It is the variety of a language specific to a region or a social group.

Each variety of English is distinguished by particularities in terms of phonetics, vocabulary and grammar .

To properly appropriate a dialect, we will therefore want to become aware of these particularities and adopt them.

 

Examples

There are an infinity of examples but here are some quite revealing.

  • Phonetic level:
    • The intonation of teenage girls in the San Fernando Valley, or Valley girls , in Southern California, is different from the majority of English accents. The intonation often rises over statements, making them sound like questions. (This is also a very present phenomenon in Australian English).
    • There are two main varieties of English accents: accents where the R sound is pronounced at the end of words, and accents where it is not pronounced . That is :
      • Rhotic accents – the R is pronounced at the end of words. This includes the majority of American, Canadian, Scottish and Irish accents.
      • Non -rhotic accents – the R is swallowed at the end of words. This includes the majority of English accents, African American accents, Australian, New Zealand and South African accents.
  • Vocabulary level:

    • Different regions use different terms to talk about simple things.
      • For example, pants means “trousers” in North America and many other regions, but “underpants” or “breeches” in most of the UK.
      • When you find yourself with English speakers from all over the world, ask them what the word vest means – you will get about as many answers as there are countries.
    • The spelling varies. Americans spell color where almost all other countries spell it color , while Canada is split between the two. (But American spelling is still 4 to 5 times more present than English!).
  • Grammar level: grammar is, fortunately, much more homogeneous than English phonetics or grammar, but it can also vary.
    • The English use have got much more frequently than the Americans. A Brit will say Have you got the time? where an American will say Do you have the time?
    • Question tags are used in both dialects but are arguably more common in British English (arguably a reflection of British politeness ) and are often used differently. Where a Brit will say You understand, don’t you? an American will also be able to say it but will be just as likely to say instead You understand, right?

These differences may seem anecdotal but they have an impact. Depending on whether you are used to it or not, you may or may not understand spoken English . The same thing, often, for the natives themselves – the more an English speaker is exposed to different dialects, the easier it is for them to communicate with English speakers from other countries.

The description of each dialect can fill a book (or, preferably, a movie) so I won’t go into that further in this article. We’ll be digging into different features and dialects in the blog over future articles – with audio and Phonograph™ – to explore the richness of the English language.

 

Advice

On a more practical level, a simple piece of advice that I would like you to keep in mind is this:

Be consistent!
Choose a dialect and stick to it.

If you opt for an American accent, also use American vocabulary and spelling.
If you opt for a British accent, clarify which one and which dialect you adopt exactly.

It doesn’t matter whether you opt for British or American English, it’s the best way to work. It helps you focus.

Finally, it is better to mix them up and communicate than to be silent for fear of saying something stupid. So don’t aim for perfection, just aim to constantly learn and progress, practice, every day.

 

Questions

While preparing this article, I had the chance to see the many questions you may have about the differences between British and Americans. Some are fun. I tried to answer all of them in these tables:

 

Media, TV and cinema

QuestionEnglish or American?
CNNAmerican
time magazineAmerican

That said, I would rather encourage you to watch something other than the news.

 

Brands _ _

QuestionEnglish or American?
FordAmerican
new lookEnglish (Taunton)
New BalanceAmerican (Boston)
ReebokCreated in England,
acquired by Adidas (Germany),
headquarters in the United States
 

Celebrities ( Celebrities )

To find out if an actor is English or American , check IMDB.com or En.Wikipedia.org . Many actors have very strong accents and I’m preparing a small selection on the subject.

To find out if a singer, band, or sportsman is English or American, see En.Wikipedia.org there too .

 

Food _ _

QuestionEnglish or American?
cupcakeAmerican
muffinAmerican
 

Culture

QuestionEnglish or American?
HalloweenAmerican
Harry PotterEnglish hero, English author
james bondBritish hero
Burger KingAmerican
RockOriginally from the United States
Rolling StonesEnglish

…which therefore explains why James Bond does not eat at Burger King.