Language Differences Between the US and the UK

When coming to the UK from the US it’s easy to think that there won’t be any language barriers since both countries speak English, but that isn’t true.  There are a few differences between the way that Americans and Brits speak and write that can lead to a lot of miscommunications if you aren’t careful.  But don’t worry, here’s a quick guide so you can learn those differences and use British English like a pro!

Date

Question: If someone has written 06/08/2015 does that mean June 8th, 2015 or 6th August, 2015?

If you answered 6th August you are correct!!! In the UK they always write the day before the month, so don’t let that confuse you when it comes to due dates or upcoming events, and make sure that you write that way as well.  Once you’ve written the date this way a few times you won’t even have to think about it, until you’re back in the US that is!

Spelling 

word chart

Common Word Differences Between the UK and US

If you have to write any essays while studying in the UK you’ll need to use British spelling.  This means that for words like “labor” or “color” spell them as “labour” and “colour” instead; it’s not “organize” it’s “organise;” and rather than “theater” it’s “theatre.”  If you’re worried about remembering all these changes you can switch the language on your spellcheck to UK spelling.  On Microsoft Word you can change it by clicking the Language button under your Review tab and click “set proofing language” or go into spellcheck, click options, click language, and then make UK English your default.  This will save you a lot of stress when you’re hurrying to turn a paper in on time.

Words

You might already know that in the UK it’s called a “lift,” not an “elevator,” or “chips” rather than “French fries,” but did you know that they call a sidewalk “pavement”?  Or a vacuum a “hoover”? And the letter “z” isn’t pronounced as “zee” but as “zed.” An important one to know is that they call medicines with acetaminophen in them (like Tylenol, etc.) paracetamol, so if you ever need any be sure to ask for paracetamol or people might not know what you’re talking about. They also call flashlights torches, so if someone tells you to bring a torch, don’t bring actual fire.  And in the UK trousers means pants and pants means underwear, so be careful when complementing a friend on a new pair of jeans! Your British friends will probably have a lot of fun teaching you the “correct” words and you’ll find that you’re fluent in no time!

Student Jon Akkawi has also made a handy chart about American-British Lingo.