Phony and real differences between American and British English?

In this thread Jamie mentioned that there are phony lists of phony differences between British and American English. What most people including myself would be interested in are the real differences between British and American English. Also, it would be great to find an answer to the question how significant those real differences are and if American and British are drifting more apart than they are becoming similar.

As I see it, thanks to modern mass media almost any learner or speaker of English has access to both – American and British English. If an ESL learner learns American English in the US, they might learn a few British words and expressions later when they meet a Brit or listen to audio books that were recorded by British speakers.

How serious do you think are the communication problems when a British employees have an American boss and vice versa? How long would it take for both sides to learn other other’s brand of English?

I don’t have any numbers but I would imagine that quite a few Brits go to the US on vacation or business and vice versa. Are both nationalities able to communicate with each other without any significant problems or do they need a language course before their journey? I used to think that the differences between US and UK English are rather small and that it doesn’t matter which of the two brands you speak but I might be wrong. I also used to think that British people watch American movies and TV shows in the original version and that they don’t have any problems whatsoever understanding those.

Here in Germany you can learn English at private language schools. The vast majority of those schools employ native speakers of English as trainers. There are trainers from Australia, Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, the US, New Zealand and some might even be from South Africa. Now, if the differences between those versions of English were so significant, a student or client would have to decide for just one of them. Instead they are taught by a team of native speakers from different countries and I’m pretty sure that even those trainers don’t know all the little and minor differences of their coworkers’/colleagues’ “Englishes”.

But does the English taught by such people have any real resemblance to that spoken by the citizens of: Australia, Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, the US, New Zealand and South Africa? Don’t those teacher just teach EFLese*?

As the for the question and doubts about differences, do you disagree with the information on these sites? … ifferences … itish.html

Absolutely not. EFLese, as you call it, is merely taught by non-native speakers who have an insufficient command of the language. I’m pretty sure that an EnglishUser like yourself does better.

We don’t learn to speak each other’s English, because it is for the most part mutually intelligible, and people on both sides of the Atlantic grow up with each other’s media. I don’t remember anybody distinguishing between the two types of English when reading books as I was growing up. We just read and didn’t stop and think, “That’s British! Oh! That’s British too!” So in general our heads are already filled with a mix of many varieties, usually one for active use and many for passive comprehension.

I didn’t have any trouble communicating in London. I, and everybody who spoke to me, simply spoke naturally, without feeling any need to adapt, and without any real worries about being misunderstood. The whole thing was no different from going to a different part of North America: In the South, I’d have to stay aware that a “coke” is any kind of carbonated drink, not just Coca-Cola. A New Yorker coming to my area would have to know that here a liquor store is called a party store, that what they call “soda” is “pop” to us, and that when we ask for a soda we’re asking for a carbonated beverage poured on top of ice cream. When I cross the national border 15 minutes away from my house, it is helpful, but not necessary, to know that the people across the strait menstruate onto a napkin and wipe their mouths on a serviette. On my side, people wipe their mouths on a napkin and menstruate onto a menstrual pad.

Beyond that, the biggest problems in communication really involve discourse style. In the US, when a boss tells an employee, “Well done!” it means he did his work well. It can mean the same thing in the UK, but, depending on when and how it’s said, it can also mean that the boss isn’t pleased with the work. The British often express things more obliquely than Americans, and Americans might miss the point, not because of vocabulary problems, but because of the style chosen to express the idea.

They don’t need to study the language at all. It’s just like going to another part of our own country.

However, I will say that during World War II, American troops were instructed in some British slang that had nothing to do with sex but that could have been mistaken by an American for a sexual invitation.

To be proficient in English, it’s not enough to understand just one variety. As for “choosing” a variety, it doesn’t really make any sense, because native English varieties are all mixed and influenced by one another. It’s best to speak clear, internationally intelligible English, and not bother choosing a variety until your feet are planted on the soil of some Anglophone country.

I think if you consult Mario Rinvolucri, you’ll find that it is normally the native-speaker machine which produces most of the EFLese taught world over.

EnglishUser, I mean Molly, stop turning every thread to the same subject.