View Full Version : American vs British English

November 21st, 2006, 01:41 PM
On the evening, Swedish radio has those programs where listeners can call (or e-mail/SMS) and talk about different things. Sometimes there is a theme, sometimes it is free for all. Tonight was one of the latter evenings.

One listener called in and complained about the lack of Swedish - American dictionaries. He claimed he had looked, but found zero. Furthermore, he claimed that 80% of the words used in American English are different or non-existant in British English, so a "regular" English dictionary didn't help him. Only by watching US movies, he was able to pick up some of the language, and if he ever encountered a word that was not used in those movies, he had no idea what was its meaning.

He also had heard that US people going to the UK generally don't understand a word that is said, and that is more true for young people; an American in England will be alone in a bubble because he doesn't understand the language.

A while later, a few other listeners called and mailed that there really are a couple of dedicated Swedish - American dictionaries, including special slang lexicons. Considering how large the USA is - not counting Canada, if the language spoken over there can be considered American - I would think the general vocabulary can differ almost as much from coast to coast as on the other side of the pond?

Personally, I would think that the difference between American and British English is more like 25-40% rather than 80%. What do you reckon, did this caller talk gibberish or was he just "linguistically challenged"? ;)

(Please try to keep this discussion sane and no elite speak that causes the mods to lock it immediately, even though I realize it is tempting.)

November 21st, 2006, 01:56 PM
I really don't think the difference is that huge!

"Everyday" words in British and American English can be quite different from each other, although they are nearly all words known to both languages. I've never had a problem with understanding American English personally, and American friends I know in the UK don't have a problem either.

The main differences tend to lie in slang words, or "localisms".

I am fascinated with languages, and the way "everyday" English differs between the main English speaking countries is extremely interesting!

November 21st, 2006, 02:10 PM
(Please try to keep this discussion sane and no elite speak that causes the mods to lock it immediately, even though I realize it is tempting.)

Anyway, I talk to my British friend nearly everyday and I only noticed a few things like 2 maybe 3 times. Otherwise I couldn't really tell any difference what so ever. He travels all over the world for business and I never notice much if any difference at all unless he makes a local specfic reference, like getting the UK version of a game console. Otherwise its like I'm talking to someone on the street here in the US.


Terry Yager
November 21st, 2006, 04:36 PM
Agreed! The difference is nowhere near 80% of the 'standard' words. Spelling aside, there is very little difference. I do have a little trouble with very thick accents sometimes, (including some 'American' dialects) but the written word is not too difficult to follow.


November 21st, 2006, 06:29 PM
Actually you'll find that the coastal differences (accent and dialect) in America aren't nearly as bad as the north and south. West Coast American English is the de-facto standard based on Hollywood input. Some of the stuff you hear in the middle is downright funny in comparison. The East Coast tends to use the same colloquialisms as the west, they just pronounce them differently.

That said, I can understand all of it, including the "English" from across the pond.

BTW, I have noticed that there is a significant difference in how the East and West coast gives the bird, but that's a topic for another post. . . ;)

November 21st, 2006, 06:33 PM
Hey, I'm good now that I know what "polys" and "sleeves" are :cool:

November 22nd, 2006, 05:39 AM
Don't really see much difference here in Maine:o ...Yet.. But there is an increasing amount of :satisfie: (flatlander)phraseing that is starting to appear. Here , anyone from away, is a flatlander. But we do have TV shows from England and I can understand almost all of what they say. Love those British Comedies on PBS.:p Sorry, but none from Sweden.:confused: The old coastal verbage of,, the fewer words spoken the better, (AYAH !!! ) Can mean as little as yes, or when said with the right change of pitch a multi page editorial on a lifetime. When I was younger I Beaned the neighbors kid with a rock..simple right !!! But when his mother caught me it was "Why for you pick up da ground,and throw on my boy. he do you no body..." She was Franco-American, Now say that with your best French accent...
Really: I think SMILIES should be the the English lanquage, they work well everywhere...

November 22nd, 2006, 10:20 AM
LOL, there have been a few times when I'm watching a Monty Python film with someone, or watching Romeo & Juliet in class, & I'd be the ONLY ONE who can understand them talking!

November 22nd, 2006, 10:53 AM
Hey, I'm good now that I know what "polys" and "sleeves" are :cool:*ashamed*

American spelling was hard for me to understand at first, I thought "It can't be that simple, can it?" I have come to realise it is the other way round: British can't be that hard, can it? British-English spelling is odd, steeped in ye olde quoths and mythes, verily fayre shrewe!

I often find American interpretations of English accents very funny, and they always involve tea. I suppose it's in the same way that a Swede may find Bork funny (Or inherently offensive:)).

Terry Yager
November 22nd, 2006, 01:12 PM
The latest accent/dialect I've had to 'learn' is that spoken in/around New Orleans, which has been described as 'Brooklynese on crank'. It requires careful listening to converse with a native of NOLA.


November 22nd, 2006, 03:11 PM
When I heard the guy on radio, I wondered if he ever had looked for an Australian - Swedish dictionary etc. When it comes to vocabulary, I suppose the language might differ at least as much in Australia as it does in the USA compared to United Kingdom. Which part of the UK by the way? I think a thick Scottish accent or why not Cockney (!) would be more difficult to understand in spoken, and perhaps written form, than many US people. Or how about the English as spoken in India or other former British colonies? If one is unsure about the language variations, soon you have a whole shelf full of dictionaries just to look up every word.

November 22nd, 2006, 03:34 PM
Yeah, there's not a whole lot of difference between the English and us "Colonials". http://img254.imageshack.us/img254/4091/iconcool5lw.gif

Of course, when I was stationed in Scotland and a local offered to "knock me up", the first time I was a bit agog! http://imagehost.biz/ims/pictes/203677.gif

I will say this tho, she was quite attractive and ...http://www.palomides.net/images/smiles/monkes.gif


November 22nd, 2006, 03:36 PM
BTW, any US citizen traveling to the UK should remember stuff like this: 'Knock you up' = 'Wake you up', & 'Dick' is a type of food.

November 22nd, 2006, 06:47 PM
The "American" characters in British tv and movies always make me laugh. The accent is literally all over the map.

I'm sure, also, that the "British" characters in American movies and tv are good for a chuckle for the UK folks.

One of the best American accents I've heard is done by Robert Llewellyn (as Kryten) in Red Dwarf. Until I heard him speak naturally, I thought he *was* American.


November 23rd, 2006, 01:39 AM
"British" characters played by an American are always amusing. Very well spoken, speaking Queen's English, and there is ALWAYS a mention of a cup of tea :lol:

Regional accents can be tricky, especially if someone speaks a broad Scottish accent. I can barely understand some words! :oops:

nige the hippy
November 23rd, 2006, 04:10 AM
I originate from about the centre of the british isles (in fact according to google maps, that's Crewe bus station, about half a mile from my birthplace) I shared a house with a girl from Glasgow (southern Scotland), it was about 3 months before I understood a single sentence. I bet "Rab C. Nesbitt" (set in Glasgow) hasn't made it onto american TV yet!

Someone I know worked with an american called "Mrs Wanker", perfectly respectable in the US, however in the UK it provoked a lot of tea-spitting when she introduced herself. She ended up having to resort to her maiden name to be taken seriously.

touching someones "fanny" over here is more likely to get you a prison sentence than a slap.

and Atari2600a, dick is still a man's "appendage" but "spotted dick" is a really heavy-duty steamed suet sponge pudding with currants, served with custard, yummy!

signing off for another cup of tea. :wink:

November 23rd, 2006, 09:31 AM
Of course, if words like dick, fanny and wanker consist of 90% of your total vocabulary, it is possible that 80% of the words you use won't be understood by speakers of other variants of English. ;-)