American English vs. British English: Are You Ready For Foreign Work?
Some freelance job ads require British English skills and some specify American English skills. Having one may lead you to assume that you have the other, or at least, that you can wing it enough to get the job done, but pretending may not be as easy as you think.
British English and American English have a lot of similarities. But there are also more differences than people realize. Some are obvious, but others are subtle.
Not knowing what the differences are could be an immediate giveaway that prevents you from getting some freelance jobs. And if you do get a job, and you’re just pretending to know American English or British English, you could end up with a disaster on your hands.
You’re probably aware some words are different in British English versus American English. What you probably don’t know is how long that list is, or how drastic some of the differences are. Here are 10 examples:
- Apartment (US) Flat (UK)
- Gas(US) Petrol (UK)
- Truck (US) Lorry (UK)
- Flashlight (US) Torch (UK)
- Elevator (US) Lift (UK)
- Diaper (US) Nappy (UK)
- Cookie(US) Biscuit (UK)
- Eggplant (US) Aubergine (UK)
- Vacation (US) Holiday (UK)
- Lawyer (US) Solicitor (UK)
And the list goes on and on and on. (See The Infographic At The Bottom For More Examples.)
Slang isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think about work. But for some projects, such as scriptwriting, you may need a strong grasp of slang.
Informal language is also worked into mainstream more and more often. For example, the unorthodox presidency of Donald Trump and the marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markel could make slang a very relevant issue for freelance news writers or freelance celebrity bloggers in the US and Britain.
Then, there’s also the issue that you may use an everyday word in your native version of English which means something else in the other version.
Want some examples?
- In the US, fanny is an innocent word for butt. In the UK, it’s a rude way to say female genatalia.
- In the UK, bum is the innocent word for butt. In the US, it’s a rude word title for the homeless, or sometimes a lazy person.
- In the US, spunk refers to a bold, brave quality. In the UK, it’s slang for semen.
- In the UK, nicked is getting locked up or having something stolen. In the US, it’s getting a minor cut.
- In the US, a rubber is slang for a condom. In the UK, it’s just an eraser.
- In the UK, a tramp is a hobo. In the US, it’s an insulting way to call someone sleazy.
Even when words sound the same and have the same meaning, they will often have different spelling in the US and UK. Here’s what I mean:
- Color (US) Colour (UK)
- Humor Humour
- Labor Labour
- Liter Litre
- Fiber Fibre
- Burned Burnt
- Learned Learnt
- Patronize Patronise
- Paralyze Palayse
- Tire Tyre
The list of words that are spelled different also runs on.
Other differences between UK and US English include the Brits’ fondness of perfect present tense while Americans may use either that tense or the simple past the. And the way we use prepositions, articles and verbs with collective nouns differs on each side of the water.
If you know little or none of what I’ve outlined above, I would be very cautious about taking on jobs requiring language skills I don’t have. At least not until I invested some time in sharpening those skills.