American English vs British English: which should I learn? Is there a difference?

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So you want to learn English: does it matter whether you go for US or UK English? Students sometimes wonder if American or British English might be better for their jobs, or help them in some other way. Lots of people have a preference just because they think one type of English just sounds better: they like one accent more than another.

And of course there are some spelling differences between the two types of English. US English has -ize endings instead of the British English -ise. The British “colour” and “humour” become “color” and “humor” in the US. And so on. 

Here at English UK we prefer UK English - because all of our 480 fully-accredited centres are in the UK.

The UK is the home of the English language. We think: why would you want to learn English anywhere else?

But, we know some people like the idea of learning American English. So we asked somebody who could see both sides of the argument. Laura Mould, who works at English UK member The Excel School of English in London, is Canadian and has taught British English to students at a school in Italy.

Do you think students prefer one kind of English or another?

I’ve never come across students having that preference. If they do have any kind of preference it’s often because there’s a link to their own country. Sometimes people obsess about American English because that culture is always in your face. Sometimes people think one kind or the other just sounds better, often people say British English sounds more refined.

Do you need to have high-level English to recognise the difference between the accents?

I don’t think so - a fairly low level, maybe intermediate? I think sometimes students find it easier to understand an American accent - something to do with the hard R. Also, I suppose people are used to hearing pop songs sung in US English. 

Is there any advantage in knowing British or American English?

I don’t think so: you have to be at a fairly high level of English to be able to speak with an accent which isn’t that of your own language. I guess once you start getting better you will take on the accent of your teachers.

Whether you want great teaching, great nightlife, or to enjoy British culture, we think there are so many reasons you should come to the UK to learn English.

Our members offer thousands of courses in hundreds of places, so you can create your perfect experience. Wherever you choose, you’ll be improving your skills inside the classroom and out. Your hardest job is to choose which one to go to and using our Coursefinder can help.


By Susan Young, English UK communications consultant