On my hobby horse


I’m on my hobbyhorse again and give fair warning that I am not attacking or carping at anyone but I sometimes wonder what speakers of English as a foreign language must think when they read something on the forum along the lines in American English we say this … Are they under the impression that American English and for example British English (whatever that means) are different languages? Why, even in this small island where I live and have my being people living a few hundred miles north of where I’m typing sometimes speak a variation on what I would say but I wouldn’t start calling it Northern English!

OK tell me I’m being neurotic or what? And if I am, I’ll dismount from my hobbyhorse. Promise.


We share the same hobbyhorse, though not the same view :slight_smile: !

Whether you like it or not, to many people (including me), linguistic differences are important, even if they aren’t so for everybody. Even (I’ll grudgingly grant you) if they shouldn’t be.

A whole bunch of people don’t even say ‘American English’ (I really don’t understand why it grates on your nerves), but call it straight out ‘American’. OK, we all know it’s the same language, EFL learners as well as the next person, yet probably all languages have variations in one or different countries (quite apart from dialects and other forms of language): there’s a Canadian French, a Swiss French, a Brazilian Portuguese, a Latin American Spanish, etc., etc.

How often have I not read on books: ‘Translated from the American by…’. If something is said differently in a country, are we supposed to ignore it? If students ask you about all the spelling or vocabulary differences between the US and the rest of the English speaking world, what do you answer? I’d be curious to know.

Now, I wouldn’t ask you to dismount from your hobbyhorse, Alan :slight_smile: . I’m sure it’s not only yours or mine, but also many other people’s hobbyhorse, which doesn’t mean we’re being neurotic. But then again, we all are to a certain extent. Or are we :? ?

Hi Conchita,

Thanks as usual for your balanced response. I’ll sit on my horse a bit longer but I’ll simply canter.


Re: neurotic
While AmE and BE are certainly both English and also far more similar than they are different, the fact remains that there are some differences in both vocabulary and usage. There are also clearly a few differences in pronunciation and spelling.

The recently mentioned usage of directly and immediately as conjunctions is just one glaring example of a difference in usage. In my opinion, characterizing this usage as “now respectable also in the US” is not only very misleading but is also extraordinarily bad advice. Particularly in light of the fact that a native speaker of “American English” had just advised against the usage.

Question: I noticed in one of your essay corrections that you “corrected” the writer’s use of “cell phone”. You gave the correct form as “mobile phone”. Why? As far as I could tell, the text was otherwise neither particularly “British” nor particularly “American”. But the term “cell phone” is standard usage in the US. So, why change it to some other “standard”? Isn’t your viewing “cell phone” as “wrong” confusing to a learner who has (correctly!) learned the American term?

Just how intelligent or unintelligent are learners of English? I think most learners of English realize that there are differences between “British English” and “American English”. They’re also intelligent enough to comprehend that the two versions of English are largely the same. Trying to hide the differences or pretending that none exist at all would be an insult to learners of English, in my opinion.

You can tell learners better than I can about English in the UK. I can tell them more about English in the US. We can both tell them a lot about English in general, but probably neither one of us can claim extensive knowledge of possible differences in e.g. “Australian English”. Shall we pretend there aren’t any?

If it is not permissable to mention “American English”, then I will be more than happy to shut up about that. I could either simply insist on American usage without ever giving “British English” a second thought. I could simply make corrections to British-syle misspellings, usages, etc. in all my posts. Or I could just stop posting atogether seeing as you seem to disapprove of “colonial English”. Do you prefer one of those options?

Alan, you obviously have no real idea whatsoever just how tired American English teachers get of having to “defend” their standard way of speaking. Why is it not just as legitimate as “British Englsih”? While I enjoy “British English” as well as other Englishes, I am certainly not prepared to say that “my English” is wrong. And I’m definitely not prepared to lie to my students and lead them to believe that English is exactly the same in the US and the UK. They’d see through that “in a New York minute”! (And, if you don’t know what “a New York minute” is, I’m sure Ms Google can help out. I have to ask Ms Google myself often enough about what the Brits are saying!)

(speaker of “Yankee English”!)

Hi Amy,

You said:

Why do you have to defend it? That is my whole point. I can’t recall saying that British English (and I don’t like that expression) is any more or less significant than any other English. What I was trying to say and clearly I failed in my attempt is why it is necessary to preface any comment with expressions like: in American English we say … when it’s simply a case of saying what you think

Anyhow I’d hate you to stop posting (Tom would never forgive me) and in the interests of peace and reconciliation, I’ll get off my horse.


I often say “in American English” in cases where I either know or at least suspect there is a difference. I think Tamara’s post about using “should” and “happen to” was a perfect example of that. The tendency toward should is more “British” (in the examples in her post).

Why defend American English? Because people who try to claim that all English is the same generally mean that people should only speak “British English”. That’s why.

It drives me crazy that so many Brits question my specifically mentioning “American English” - as though it were something better hidden under a rock. When I specifically mention AmE, that is simply my acknowledgement of a difference or possible difference and not a judgment of right or wrong, better or worse. That is my acknowledgement and acceptance that a “British version” also exists.

If one of my students is being sent on an extended job assignment to the US, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t advise him or her, for example, to say “hood” rather than “bonnet”.


Hi Amy,

You said;

I’m not sure how to interpret that but I hope that isn’t an oblique reference to me because never in a million years would I support such a claim. Apart from that I can’t see how that comment stacks up. Who are these people and what makes you think this is their inference? For crying out loud it is the same language! Your reference to confusion between hood and bonnet is hardly linguistically show-stopping, about as mindbending as elevator and sidewalk. Anyhow before the invention of the motor car, hood and bonnet were both only referring to headgear. So what?


If you’d bothered to pay any attention whatsoever to what I’ve already written (on more than one occasion and including here), you’d have noticed by now that I’ve already said the same thing.

As you correctly surmised, I was not referring to headgear. There are in fact quite a number of differences. Some small, some considerably larger. But, I have no intention of wasting my time further here. You don’t want to acknowledge or mention any differences? Fine. Don’t. Go right ahead and keep it under wraps.

Hi Amy,

There is a young lady called Yankee
Who claims that my views are quite mankee
She reckons I hate all Am- e
But that’s not true at all Am-ee
Now me left in tears with a hankee


:lol: :frowning: :lol:

What about writing a limerick about the teamwork that is being shown in the correction of the 30/30 Challenge reports? And who is supposed to be doing them anyway?

Amy… Alan…

If you want my honest (learner) opinion…
Reading the thread makes me feel exactly like a 4-year-old kid when Dad and Mum are quarrelling in his sight, and for the child it’s absolutely doesn’t matter what the true subject is…

For me as-an-adult-learner: the phrase ‘n AmE we normally use’ has absolutely the same meaning as ‘American people (usually) use/say’, and the difference places only in a linguistic sphere :slight_smile:

My old good English vocabulary in use, Cambridge University Press, 1994, freely uses such terms as ‘US English’ (“English in the USA differs considerably from British English”) and ‘Other English[color=red]es (!!!) (Scottish, Australian, Indian, etc…), but for all that, insists that “US or American English is not the only special variety of English. Each area of the English-speaking world has developed its own special characteristics.”

And I (still) trust it (him :)), as it (he :)) didn’t let me down - not once - for the last dozen of years.


Hi Tamara

I’ve decided you’ll be better off without my input regarding your questions. Your questions are getting much too detailed with regard to what is typical usage in British English. And I can’t give you any input at all about slang British usage.

It’s absolutely nothing personal. Since you’re living in the UK, you’re better off with British input.

But I will say, keep up the good work! I think you’re doing an amazing job!



Hi Tamara,

Sorry you felt as if you were in the crossfire. I’ve no wish to flog a dead hobbyhorse. I simply expressed an opinion, which is what Torsten and I set up the forums for in the first place. Look forward to your future questions/responses, comments.


Personally, i think differences between BrE and AmE are not so important . Most of them are about pronounciations and spellings. When i check new words with my Oxford Advanced Learner’s English-Chinese Dictionary(Fourth Edition) i 'd like to spend some time noticing those differences. It is helpful , but if you put much into that you may feel tired. In fact, students won’t be encouraged to pay much attention to that in classes . They can develop some interests after classes. It is interesting.
I have read something in Torsten 's articles about this topic. Yeah, it is true that we do find these differences. Specially, Bristish people speak english very clearly (better for imitation ) , which is different from the american accent(better for listening) :smiley: Anyway, i still enjoy this second foreign language, whatever British english, American english , Australian english and Canadian english :stuck_out_tongue:

OK, Alan.

I’d just like to add that I’m not so much utilitarian and firm-of-purpose learner to focus myself narrowly and become completely uninterested to ‘American version’ of the language.
I’d like to meet it here, as well as British one.
Together, not in divorce.

Look forward to your responses and comments.

Well, let’s take a look at what we have achieved: we have a growing community of people who share one common interest – the English language. We all can learn from each other and I think Amy is absolutely right in saying that although both American and British English are very similar there are still some minor differences between them. And it’s these differences that make learning English even more attractive and rewarding. One of the strength of the Americans is their ability to create diverse environments and make the best of it.

Did you know that a lot of internationally operating corporations (the vast majority of which are US based) have a diversity department and a diversity policy in place? CNN uses a diverse range of speakers who all have different accents.

If Amy refers to the fact that she is American and therefore speaks American English it makes learners aware of the existence of different versions of English. This is exactly what we want. Raising awareness of our differences and combining them into something new.[YSaerTTEW443543]

TOEFL listening lectures: Which aspect of bee behavior does the professor mainly discuss?[YSaerTTEW443543]