fbpx

10 Americanisms you didn’t know you were using… and are they a problem?

It is often said that the US and Britain are two countries separated by a common language, and this separation can cause confusion for young learners in English speaking nations.

American English and British English differ in several ways and these differences can prove difficult for young learners struggling to master the art of writing. In Singapore, British English is the standard but problems are caused by the enormous cultural influence of the United States. Every time a child watches ‘Frozen’ or ‘The Avengers’ they are exposed to American English. This can lead to difficulty with spelling, grammar and even vocabulary as the British and the Americans disagree on the names of many everyday objects.

Sometimes the Americans call something one thing and the British call it something else. Often the American name for things is more familiar as it is the one that people hear more often on television and in movies. However, since British English is the standard adopted here, Singaporean students need to be aware of the British nouns and to use them wherever possible.

Below is a list of some of the more common Americanisms used in Singapore and their British English counterparts.

Diaper

In British English the cloth wrapped between a baby’s legs is called a nappy.

Math

Both American and British English agree that the abstract science of number, quantity and space is called mathematics. However, in American English it is shortened to math while in British English it’s shortened to maths.

Line

The British do not wait in a line, they wait in a queue. Queue can also be used as a verb. For example, ‘I had to queue all day but I secured front row seats.’

Potato Chips

Delicious, thinly sliced fried potatoes are called crisps in Britain. You can buy these in packets at the supermarket, and are distinct from chips, which are known in America – and most parts of Singapore – as fries.

Mom/Mommy

At the end of a long day at school, British children go home to their mum while their younger siblings cry out for their mummy.

Cookie

In Britain, a cookie is a particular type of biscuit, i.e. a sweet biscuit having a fairly soft, chewy texture and typically containing pieces of chocolate or fruit. All cookies are biscuits, but not all biscuits are cookies.

Flashlight

When the lights go out in the United Kingdom, people reach for a torch – not a torchlight. That’s something else again! Torchlight is the light of a torch or torches.

Vacation

In British English a vacation is called a holiday. ‘Vacation’ does appear in the Oxford English Dictionary, however, it is listed as a noun and defined as ‘A fixed holiday period between terms in universities and law courts’.

Soccer

In Britain lots of people enjoy playing football with a round, black-and-white ball.

Check

At the end of a meal in Britain, diners at restaurants ask for the bill.

Both countries have specially printed forms written on to order a bank to pay a stated sum from the drawer’s account. In America, this is a check (as above) whereas in Britain it is a cheque – same pronunciation but different spelling.

Speaking of spelling, that’s a whole other topic! We’ll save that for another article.

Learn the Differences

Technically, MOE permits students to use American English. However, this is only on the condition that its use is totally consistent, which means no British English. This effectively reverses the problem, and presents an even greater challenge for students.

Students should, therefore, strive to use British English wherever possible when speaking and writing. While the occasional use of certain American words may go unnoticed by examiners, errors in spelling and grammar will be penalised – even if the spelling is correct in American English. It is a good idea for students to have some British influence in the media they consume as this will sharpen their focus and help them to differentiate between British and American English.

James Patterson has been working as an educator in Singapore since 2014 and teaches at LCentral’s Bukit Timah. He has a sound understanding of phonics, and over the years he has helped many children on their journey to becoming independent readers. James understands the pressures and difficulties of the MOE English syllabus and strives to inspire each of his students to reach their potential. He is passionate about the importance of regular reading and the role it can play in the development of young learners’ vocabulary, grammar and writing skills.