British vs. American English: Avoid Awkward Misunderstandings

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Bench of Reconciliation

Sometimes it’s amazing how different two versions of the English language can be. Comparing American and British English shows how the closer two ways of speaking are the easier it is to be misunderstood.

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This is ‘AMERICAN’ English

Follow these simple steps to learn some of the differences and then put them to use! Whether you are a teacher, student, or language fanatic, these simple steps can help you see how funny the English language can be!

Step 1: Review some basic differences between American and British English by watching this video. It is quite long, so split it up into parts and review more than once!

FOR TEACHERS:

You can use this as a lead in to see what students know and get them thinking. Divide the class into two groups. Stop the video after each picture and have one group guess what the word is in American English and one in British English.

Step 2: Review some more basic differences with: 58 Differences Between British and American English that Still Confuse Everyone

FOR TEACHERS:

Write some of the more common words which have different meanings in British and American English on a small piece of paper and distribute one or two to each student. Have the students draw two pictures; one of what the word means in American English, and the second what the word refers to in British English. Assist the students in this task but encourage them to make some guesses. Give the students about 5 minutes to complete the task and then solicit answers in turn.

Model one of the words as an example.

Example Words:

CHIPS FOOTBALL BISCUIT PANTS
LINE TORCH RUBBER HOLIDAY
BOOT MAD PURSE NAPPY
BONNET CHECK BRACES DUMMY

Note: Make sure to keep a list of the most interesting differences on the board! All of the different meanings can get a bit tricky and confusing (even for native English speakers!) so try and make it as visual as possible.

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Step 3: If there is time, and you feel you are ready, write a skit with at least one American and one British character who find themselves in a confusing situation because of the small language differences.

Sample skit:

Andy (British) and Haley (American) are planning a trip across Russia this summer and working together to decide what to pack. They both currently live in Tartu, Estonia where they are studying at the university. Since they are studying Russian, they have decided to finally test out their language skills on the Trans Siberian Railroad. Both of them have traveled to Russia before, but only to Moscow and Saint Petersburg, so they are very excited for a new, exotic adventure; but first they have to book their tickets and pack their bags!

(One week before the trip)

Haley: Hi Andy, are you getting ready for our trip?

Andy: Yeah, I think so, but I’m not sure how to pack. Will we be able to wash things? The trip is going to be 10 days long and I’m just not sure how many clothes to take with

Haley: Oh I wouldn’t worry about it. We won’t be doing any physical activity that is too strenuous. So you can definitely just take one or two pares of pants and wear them more than once.

(Andy looks disgusted)

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