Which is Better? British English or American English?

I hear it all the time:  I mean the question.  Students will ask me which one is better; British English or American English.  Well, it depends.

To best answer the question, I will ask a question.  What is the purpose of language?  Language is a means of communicating, a way of a messenger sending a message to a receiver.  If we have conveyed the message clearly and the recipient understands the message, then our language usage has done its job.  It has given a message which was understood by the receiver.

To answer the question, which English is better, it all depends on a number of things.

The English language used in a particular location

For example, if I am in England and I speak with an American English accent, will I be understood by the Brits that I am trying to communicate with?  If I am not understood by my audience, then the particular brand of the English language I am using is not better, it is worse.  On the other hand, if I am in the US and speak with a British accent, will the Americans understand me?  Probably not!  Therefore the British English, in this situation is not better, but worse.

Which dialect of the English language is the best?

This opens up a whole Pandora’s Box of English dialects.  I speak with a Canadian accent.  Then there is Australian English, New Zealand English and even in the US the English accent comes in different flavours – the Southern drawl, Black American English, and etc.  If you go to England the British English also comes in different English flavours.  There is the Cockney accent, the Scottish and Irish accent, and etc.  So which one is the best of them all?

Idioms and Words

If I use British English I might call the hood of a car a bonnet.  No one in the US will understand me.  If I am in England and I use American English and call a gun a piece, will anyone there understand me?  Maybe not!  Or let’s take some other words that don’t necessarily cross borders:  How about a lorry, a semi or a dench?  What am I talking about?  All these words refer to a large-haul truck or a semi-trailer truck.  If you use the British term for eraser (rubber) in North America, you will get your face slapped.  When I first came to Pakistan, every time I wanted a tissue I asked for a Kleenex.  No one understood what I wanted.  Kleenex is a tissue brand name in North America.  So my North American word usage was not better but wrong because no one understood what I wanted.

Spelling and Grammar Differences

There are some variations between American and British English in how words are spelled.  For example honour vs. honor, or analyze vs. analyse and etc.  Which is correct or which is better?  It is dependant more on where you are and what is expected.  If you understand me when I write honour or honor, it probably doesn’t matter at all, especially if you live in neither the US nor Great Britain.

Also grammar differences are not significant either.  There are some differences in pronoun usage.  For example in Britain you will hear “If one becomes angry, one should apologise.”  But in America you might hear, “If one becomes angry, he should apologize.”  These differences are really insignificant and immaterial.

So there is no real better English language, but what does matter is how clearly you speak and write in the English language.  In Spoken English, no matter the accent or dialect, it is very important to not mumble, but to open up your mouth and enunciate.  Speak each word clearly so your audience will hear and understand.  In both written and oral communication it is very important to use correct vocabulary and grammar.  There is no way around these things; if you want to be understood and get your message across to an audience.

And as for Canadian English, well it is an interesting fusion of American and British English.  So for Canadians, we might think that neither the British nor American English languages are better, but that Canadian English is the best.

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