One of the most common questions I get as a teacher is whether or not your child should learn British English or American English. Should they know what a lift, boot and crisp is? Or should they be using the words elevator, trunk and chip instead?
Not surprisingly, the answer depends on each child and his or her circumstances as there are several things to consider. First, do you want your student to have the chance to study abroad in university? If so, great! Now’s the time to start considering which country your child might be studying in. That country’s version of English the one your child should study towards. And the different varieties aren’t just about pronunciation, there are spelling differences even for words that are pronounced the same, i.e., colour (British) and color (American). There’s also variations in grammar as well. Americans use ‘Do you have a pen?’ more than ‘Have you got a pen?’ which is more common in Britain. Generally speaking, these kinds of differences aren’t significant but most universities have strict rules about what’s considered appropriate writing. Therefore, sooner your child can become accustomed to the local variety of English, the easier it will be for your child to write their term papers without getting marked down for poor spelling or grammar.
Alternatively, what kind of job or industry is your child interested in? This can go two ways. Some jobs are naturally more globally oriented than others, such working for an airline or a hotel. With these international jobs its actually better to be exposed to as much variety of English as possible rather than limit your child to only one variety. And it’s even better to include non-native speakers of English as well. The more they get exposed to different accents the easier it will be for your child to understand what people are saying around them. On the other hand, if your child wants to be a scientist or a philosopher then it might be wise to do some research into which variety of English is predominant in that field. Please note that as the world become more global even this is distinction is fading. Nevertheless, if you feel a need to teach your child a variety of English for their job, consider which variety the famous people in that industry are using. For example, if your child has ambitions to study physics and wants to read Stephen Hawking, American English might be better. If your child wants to study computer science and read about Alan Turing, then British English is the one to choose.
Another major consideration: what are your child’s personal preferences? Consider what kind of TV shows, books, movies, etc. that your child likes to watch or read. If he or she is more interested in Wallace and Gromit than Garfield, then you should encourage your child to study British English. And while this may seem like something that can be skipped over because it won’t necessarily help them with their studies or their career, focusing on your child’s preferences can help them in the long run. Motivation plays a huge rule in learning something and the more personal that motivation is the more likely it is that your child will continue to study the topic even after outside influences, like needing to pass a university entrance exam, have passed. So take the time to figure out which TV show (British or American) your child likes to watch and encourage it.
Despite these points there is one last issue to consider:
What resources are available in your area? By resources, I mean TV channels, newspapers, books, even the teachers and schools in your neighborhood. As much as you may want to have your child learn a specific variety of English this often isn’t very feasible. For example, most of Europe uses British English because Britain is closer (geographically, politically, economically) to most European countries than America. But the same happens in other parts of the world as well, many countries in the South Pacific use either Australian or New Zealand English, simply due to the close economic and political ties. So despite a desire to have your child learn American English, if you live in Indonesia, the main variety of English your child will likely be exposed to is either British or Australian English.
But in the end, it’s not about the variety of English that’s used. It’s the ability to communicate using the variety that you have. While there might some cultural jokes or idioms that as an American, I don’t understand when I watch British TV or talk to a Brit, there’s enough similarity between the different varieties that I can simply ask what my friends or colleagues are talking about.
‘What’s a lift?’
‘You don’t know what a lift is? Americans with their weird English. It’s that thing that moves up and down in a building so that you don’t have to take the stairs.’
‘Oh! An elevator.’
Luckily for your child as a non-native speaker, most people will naturally be a bit more accommodating, especially other non-native speakers. And despite what you might see on TV most native speakers only really poke fun at the other native speakers for differences in their English. So, if you can, have your child learn both, then they’ll be able to understand all the jokes.
Mrs. Tiffany Wingert
Education: M.A. in Applied Linguistics for English Language Teaching, University of York, UK.
Tiffany currently works for EF Education First as our Course Content Editor in Shanghai, China. Prior to this job, Tiffany had extensive ESL teaching experience in many countries in the world, including Japan, U.S.A, Samoa and China over the past decade in both online and offline classrooms. She holds a CertTESOL certification from University of Birmingham and a number of other English Learning related certifications to equip herself as a top-level qualified ESL teacher.
She’s an enthusiastic ESL educator and loves working abroad to teach ESL learners with her passion and dedication, meanwhile participating in various ESL voluntary projects in her free time. Tiffany is keen on her career development in ESL and hopes to help all ESL learners and parents find better direction in learning English through her writings and teachings.
Please click Tiffany’s LinkedIn profile to learn more about her!