Why American English?

Did you know that the Direct English course teaches you American English?

by Louis Alexander


Why should this be so?

For historical reasons, the English language has been widely used in many parts of the world for at least a couple of hundred years. However, it is only in our own times that English has truly become a world language. It is the obvious (and in many cases the only) choice for international communication. It is now an inescapable fact that America, through its worldwide influence and massive entertainment industry is the mighty power-house that drives the English language. It follows that if you wish to use English worldwide, you will want a version that is acceptable in any context from Japan to Peru.


So what's the difference between American English and British English?

The main difference is phonological, that is in the way American is spoken. You can hear this difference immediately when you watch an American film, compared with a British film. Apart from sound, there are hardly any grammatical differences between American and British. There are just a few differences in spelling ('color' in AmE for 'colour' in BrE, for example). And there are just a few differences in usage ('trunk' of a car in AmE compared with 'boot' of a car in BrE, for example). The model of American English which we chose for the video and the CDs is Bostonian English. It is generally acknowledged that an excellent variety of English is spoken in Boston, so it's not an accident that all our storylines are set there.


Does this mean that if you have learned American English you're going to be at a disadvantage when dealing with people who have learned British or other native varieties of English?

Not in the slightest! When using English in an international context, we have to be able to understand not only native varieties like American, British, Australian, Scottish, Irish, Canadian, etc. but non-native varieties as well. This means we sometimes have to learn to cope with heavily accented non-native versions, whether we like it or not. In fact, if you are a Korean doing business in Turkey (or vice-versa) Korean and Turkish varieties of English will be much more important to you than any native varieties.


Will you ever be able to sound like a native speaker?

I'm sorry to say this is very unlikely, with the exception of a few highly-gifted language learners. The way we learn to speak our own languages has such a marked effect on us that we carry our accent over to English and there's little we can do about it. This means, depending on your background, you may be (with varying degrees of fluency) a speaker of Franglish, Italish, Japlish, Gringlish, Chinglish, etc. (This also works in reverse when native speakers of English try to learn your language and you can tell them a mile off.) So when learning English, your aim should be to train yourself to understand as many varieties as possible, while improving your own variety of English so that it is as comprehensible as possible to other speakers.

Remember, too, there is a difference between using English in your own country to deal with foreigners who are visiting you because you have to cope with predictable situations (entertaining in restaurants, showing people the sights, etc.) and using English when you are travelling to other countries, where the situations you face can be highly unpredictable and you may be unfamiliar with the local culture.

English was once exclusively the language of the English people, but they don't own it any more. English now belongs to the world and develops globally in its own ways without any reference to the culture which gave rise to it in the first place.

 

© LG & DE Limited 2006

 

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