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Episode 14: American Or British English?

Episode 14: American or British English?

Should you be learning American or British English?

Find out in this episode of the Business English Community Podcast:

Here is the full transcript:

Should you learn American or British English?

Hi, there, I’m Paul Urwin and welcome to the Business English Community podcast, where the world of business meets the English language. We discuss culture, strategies, techniques, vocabulary, grammar, and much, much more. Find out more at

Hi, there, Paul here, and welcome to episode 14 of the Business English Community podcast. I hope you’re doing fantastically well, and in today’s episode I’m going to be talking about American and British and American or British English. Which one should you be learning? Well, first of all, a quick reminder that there is a completely free, completely free, training, on the website. If you haven’t downloaded it already, I really suggest that you go and check it out. It’s at In fact, there is a whole bunch of great stuff on the website. So, when you’re not listening to the podcast, well worth checking it out.

Okay, well, for today’s topic I wanted to talk about American and British English, because this is a question that I really get quite a lot. Which one should I learn? Should I be learning American English, or should I be learning British English? Well, first of all, what’s the difference anyway? What is the difference between these two versions of English? I think the first thing that I would say is, that seems to be quite surprising to a number of people, is that the difference is actually not that great. We are not talking about two different languages at all. We are talking about the same English language, that has a few differences.

There are some differences in spelling. For example, in American English, the word color is spelled C-O-L-O-R, C-O-L-O-R, whereas in British English it would be C-O-L-O-U-R, C-O-L-O-U-R. So, that spelling, that small spelling difference happens with words such as color, flavor, and a number of others. And there are also some differences in vocabulary. For example, in American English you would normally refer to going “on vacation.” “I’m going to go on vacation.” Whereas, in British English you would say “on holiday.” “Where are you going on holiday next year?” “Where are you going on holiday next year?” So, some small vocabulary differences, as well.

And also, some differences in sentence structure. For example, in British English, we tend to use a lot of tag questions. “You are going to help out at the conference, aren’t you?” “You have seen the report, haven’t you?” “You have seen the report, haven’t you?” So, in British English, the use of tag questions tends to be a little bit greater. And, there are some other differences, but in general, we are talking about the same language. The differences are not quite as great as you might imagine when you read things online that talk about American and British English.

Well, as you can probably tell from my accent, or for those of you who know me already, I am of course from England. I am of course from the UK. And therefore, you might expect me to suggest that you should learn British English. Well, I’m not going to do that at all. And, I’m not going to suggest that you learn American English, either. So, what am I going to suggest? Well, let’s go through a few facts and a few numbers before we get into my recommendation.

American English is the most spoken form of English, just in terms of numbers. There are many more American English speakers than British English speakers. Britain, or Great Britain, is of course a relatively small island on global terms with some 50 million or 60 million speakers of English. The population of the United States is much greater, closer to 300 million, many of whom are native speakers of English. So, American English is the most spoken. Some learners also have a preference for British or American English, but really when you talk to people about this, the preference comes down to accent. So, it’s not actually a preference in terms of structure, in terms of grammar, in terms of vocabulary, on many occasions. It’s actually a preference in terms of accent. So, some people will say, “Hey, I really love the American accent,” or, “I really love the British accent.” “I would like to talk just like that.”

Okay, well in terms of numbers, there are around 7.5 billion of us on this planet, and around 1.5 billion speak English. So, of those 1.5 billion, most are not native speakers, and people do, of course, speak English to different levels. Some people have a basic working knowledge. Others are fluent in the language and others still are native speakers. So, of that 1.5 billion, around 400 million are native speakers of the language, from countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, Barbados, Jamaica, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, and others. So, that’s a lot of people, 400 million native speakers, but it’s not as many as the remainder of the 1.5 billion who speak English to some level. So, if we take the 400 million off, then, of that 1.5 billion, we would be left with 1.1 billion people who speak English to some level but who are not native speakers.

Now, what does all of this mean? What do those numbers actually mean? Well, they show us that there are far more speakers of English who are not native speakers compared with those of us who are native speakers. So, the non-native speakers make up a larger group. And that means on a statistical level or on a numerical level, when you are speaking to someone in English, it’s actually more likely that you are going to be speaking to someone from Germany, from Japan, from China, or from another country. In English, it’s more likely that you’re going to be speaking to someone from one of those countries, rather than speaking to a native speaker of English, in English.

There are also many international or global scenarios if you like. If you can imagine a business meeting, nowadays it’s very likely that we’re going to have a business meeting with people of different nationalities, both native speakers and non-native speakers. And, what do you think the language used in that meeting is going to be? Well, the language is probably going to be English, but what type of English is it going to be? Well, it’s not going to be British English and it’s not going to be American English. It’s going to be some kind of international English.

And that brings us on to my recommendation. I recommend that you don’t learn British English, and that you don’t learn American English, either, but rather you do learn international English. A sort of English that is going to allow you to communicate effectively. A type of English where your accent or your particular brand of English, if you like, is not important. What is important is your ability to communicate effectively with people from different parts of the world. And that is where international English comes in.

Now, within the realm of, or when talking about international English, what do I mean exactly? I mean, a type of English where perhaps there are not too many idioms or too many phrases, because that can be confusing to different people. It’s nice to use a few idioms. It certainly makes your English sound more natural, but there’s no need to use too many because that can become overcomplicated and become confusing. So, in conclusion, I’m really suggesting that you go for this international English and I’m suggesting that you analyze the importance of learning either British or American English. It really isn’t that important in my opinion.

Of course, you can learn English from an American English book, or you can learn British English from a British English textbook, but that doesn’t mean that the English that you speak needs to be British or American English. It doesn’t mean that your colleagues need to identify your English as British or American. Wouldn’t it be better to speak international English to a very high level?

So, I’ll leave you with that thought and I have a question for you to wrap this up. What areas of English do you find the most difficult? What areas of English do you find the most difficult? Contact me via email, Or via the website, So, thank you so much for listening today.

And finally, if you of enjoyed today’s episode, I invite you to check out our online learning platform and community The Business English community is the essential resource for intermediate and advanced learners looking to take their business English to the next level. We offer an extensive audio and video library packed with great information. Together, with an active community, where you can get answers to all of your business English questions. So, what are you waiting for? I’ll see you on the inside.

That’s it from me for this week. All the best, and until next time …

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