UK English vs US English: History and how to get to grips with your chosen variation
Whether you’re looking to learn English, brush up on your skills, or are a speaker who’s curious about its origins, you’ve probably wondered about the differences between US English and British English. In fact, there is a bit of light-hearted rivalry between linguists on each continent over which variety is superior or ‘proper’. We are not here to settle that score, but rather we hope to explain the core differences and advise you on how best to pursue mastering your chosen variety.
Of course, before you start it’s always wise to understand where you are ability-wise. Are you a beginner or more of an intermediate? Ascertaining this will help you with the choices you make and the path you take, be it British or US English!
How to get to grips with them
When you start to learn English, you should decide whether you will learn British English or US English. Furthermore, you need to understand your purpose. A writer or journalist, for example, may wish to learn them both, allowing them to switch between the two depending on what they are writing about. A business English student should have an idea of where their clients or partners are based. But someone wishing to study in the UK should be clear that British English is what is expected. Thankfully, there are lots of ways to learn English, the most popular of which is online.
There are plenty of experienced English tutors that can provide tuition for either or both variations of English and tailored to your purpose. You can also read testimonies from other students, see if they specialize in a certain topic like legal English or business English, and how much experience they have. By communicating your exact needs to your tutor, you can create a flexible, supportive, and convenient program. There are also plenty of other resources online that can help you, alongside your lessons, improve your spoken and written English.
British English is the standard variation of the English language. In the UK, most people speak some kind of dialect, depending on where they live. For example, the different regions across the countries have significant differences in dialects.
In terms of origin, British English is a West Germanic language with Anglo-Frisian influence. It was brought from what is today Germany and the Netherlands to the British Isles in antiquity. At the time, Brits were speaking Brittonic, a variety of Celtic. Old English emerged and included aspects of Anglo-Saxon, Late West Saxon, Old Norman, and Ango-Norman. Over the years, the language developed and took on French and Latin influences and words from other Romance languages.
Otherwise known as American English, this refers to the variety of British English native to the United States. In terms of speakers, it’s the most widely spoken variety worldwide. The variation continues to evolve, as do various dialects hailing from specific areas.
The development of US English started when the British colonized America. This took place in the 17th century, followed by other waves of immigration in the 18th and 19th centuries. Dialects from different regions, plus the immigration of non-English speakers from Africa, Europe, and even Asia, added into the mix. This melting pot of languages and dialects resulted in the US English we know today. However, some linguists believe that US English actually preserved some features that British English has today lost.
US spellings typically use a ‘z’ instead of an ‘s’ in words like emphasize and minimize. Sometimes, different words are also used, for example, fall instead of autumn, oatmeal instead of porridge, and diaper instead of nappy.
As for the differences between the two languages, they include phonology, grammar, vocabulary, and phonetics. Despite this, Americans and Brits can generally understand each other.
Both UK and US English are correct, and they demonstrate the richness of language and how it changes depending on culture and society. Learning English opens up the world to you regarding business, education, travel, and socializing. Understanding the difference between variations and picking the right one for you, then finding an experienced tutor to guide you is the best way to go about mastering it.