Common questions about English

Let’s face it, English is a necessity now. To be part of the global world you need to speak English but it can be a bit confusing so let’s look at some common questions about the English language.

The English language is the most learnt second language in the world. It is the business language, the language of the skies, the science language. In fact it is the lingua franca.

If you’re reading this, I’m assuming your English is already quite strong, and you’ve already had a lot of experience with the English language.

However lots of people have questions about English and these are some of the most common ones. I hope this helps you and if you have any other questions, just as in the comments below and we’ll try to address them for you.

Common questions about the English language

Why are British English and USA English different?

British English and English from the USA is the same language but with slight variations. An American has no problem understanding a British person (unless they have an incredibly strong accent), and a British person has no problem understanding an American person.

The reason these two accents are so different is that the USA became an independent country in 1776, and the accents that it has haven’t changed too much since then. Also the accent in the USA was influenced by Dutch Puritan settlers as well as British settlers which changed it from the accent in the UK at the time.

In addition to that, the English that we know today as Queen’s English didn’t become popularised until the Victorian era which began in 1837, meaning this accent wouldn’t have gained popularity in the USA as they were an independent country by that point.

Also both countries have had different group of immigrants that have come to their country that has changed and influenced the accents as well.

Why is American English easier to understand than British English?

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Another question non native speakers ask is why is American English easier to understand than British English. There are a few reasons for this.

  • Firstly Americans do just speak slower and louder. It may be a stereotype but it’s kind of true. If you’re in a restaurant with British people and Americans (and the Brits aren’t drunk), chances are you’ll be able to here the Americans over the Brits. The UK is a much smaller country and we’re all packed in together so you don’t have the luxury of speaking loudly.
  • Secondly it’s more likely that you’ll have been exposed to more American media than British media. Movies, TV and music from the USA are everywhere. It’s hard to miss them. Yes, shows like Sherlock are getting more popular and you’re all seen Harry Potter, but the vast majority of films and TV shows that are international are made with American actors so it’s their accents you’re used to hearing.
  • British people have incredibly strong accents for such a small island. In the USA they have different accents but the variation isn’t as great as in the UK. The difference between a London accent and a Glaswegian accent is astonishing for how short the distance is.

Which English is most internationally recognised?

World

This answer was kind of answered in the above question. Although both types of English are recognised, the most spoken kind seems to be from the USA. And I think that has something to do with the USA having the dominant culture in the world. More countries watch American media, it’s that simple, and the USA is a very powerful country.

Most international companies will use American spelling over British spelling, so it may be more useful to learn the American spelling depending on your reasons for learning English.

Though recently, in countries like China, there has been an increase in the popularity of British English schools, with many parents wanting their children to learn the British accent.

Which English should I learn?

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That really depends on you. To be honest, apart from the accent and a few words the two types of English really aren’t that different. I would just learn the words in both types of English like rubbish or trash and use them when I visited each country.

If you do want to focus on a specific type of English and learn the accent, then I would look at where you want to work and what your employer might prefer. Or which you think would be easier to learn. Or if you can visit one country for a period of time, which one is more realistic for you to go to.

Or even, just which one do you like the best? Do you think the USA accent is cool, do you think James Bond is sophisticated? There’s nothing wrong with basing your decision on things like that.

Why does Great Britain have so many different accents?

UK

Great Britain has different accents due to the people that settled in the different regions and the isolation of those regions for large portions of history. Let’s look at two distinct regions.

In the North East of England, there were a lot of Viking invasions during 700’s and 800’s. A lot of the viking settlements stayed in that area and not as many people moved into the area with subsequent invasions because of the geography of the country. The North East is one of the easiest places to get to from the Scandinavian countries, where the Vikings are from, but the French would have invaded at the South coast, making the north east quite far away. Therefore the north east of England kept a lot of these linguistic influences which you can still hear today. If you listen to the Geordie accent and a Norwegian person speaking, you will be able to hear some similarities.

Liverpool has been a port city for a long time, and their unique accent can be marked by the influx of people to that port. Many Irish people came in through the port and Welsh people moved north for work, making a strange blend between the two accents. Add that to immigrants from Europe coming through the port and it’s created an incredibly unique sounding accent.

Why are spellings so inconsistent?

Spelling

One of the complaints we hear the most about the English language is the inconsistency of spellings. And why are there so many silent letters?

People say that English is a germanic language but it has had influences from lots of different countries and this has given birth to our irregular spelling system. We’ve had the Romans invade, Germanic tribes, the Vikings and the Normans, all who brought great linguistic diversity to the UK and all who helped to change our writing systems.

If you think about a German word and how it’s pronounced, if a French person tried to pronounce that same word using their phonetic system it would sound completely different regardless of the same letters being used. This is more or less the situation that the UK found itself in. Which is why English is technically a Germanic language, but with a lot of romantic sounding words.

English also doesn’t have an academy to dictate how the language should develop, which isn’t so common with modern languages, so it tends to involve in it’s own way.

As the language has evolved, the spelling hasn’t always changed to reflect this. For example, there would have been a time when the ‘k’ in ‘knee’ wasn’t silent, but having two consonants next to each other isn’t comfortable to pronounce, so the k would have been gradually dropped but the spelling never changed. The same would be the case for words like knight and knot. And you would probably also find that at one point the ‘p’ in pneumonia was pronounced too.

Final thoughts

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I hope you’ve found these common questions about the English language useful!

English is an interesting language with a very diverse linguistic history. Invasions and settlers have helped to bring differences in spelling and pronunciation which makes it a more difficult language for people to learn, but a more interesting language at the same time.

If you’re interested in learning more specific differences between types of English then have a look at our American, British and Australian article here.

And if you have any other questions about the English language, please ask us in the comments below. We would love to answer your questions.

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