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A Brit in the World of American English

Last updated on May 17th, 2021 at 01:44 pm

Diving into the World of American English

I came a long way from home to the United States of America. I left  my family and friends to pursue my dream to go to college here. I finally made it. However, communication wasn’t as easy as I thought it was going to be. Although the American people speak English, they use different words and some words have different meanings. Their culture and the way they view situations are also different. Instead of speaking English like I was used to, I now had to think about what I was saying to suit the audience I was talking to. I had to localize what I said to American English. 

Localizing Common Greetings

Alright?”- this used to be my normal greeting back in England. In the USA, this greeting comes with a confused look and intrigue as to why I asked such a question. In England it is an informal hello. Here in the US it means “are you ok?” implying you don’t look well. This was a surprise to me. It was a natural reflex to say “alright” when I saw someone I knew, however it was not an appropriate use in the American Language. I had to change “alright” to “how are you?” to avoid the awkwardness. 

Localizing Simple Questions

In my early days in the US I would ask questions such as, “Where is the petrol station?” (Gas station)  “Is there a cash point around here?” (ATM) or “where is the loo?” (Toilet) These were all simple questions, but when I asked them to an American, it was like I was speaking another language. I had to localize what I had said so it could be understood in American English.

While I was at college, I had an exam with a friend.  After we finished it I asked “how did you find the test?” There were two things he wasn’t familiar with. The first was the word “test”, however he worked out easily I was talking about the exam.  The phrase, “how did you find” really confused him. In the US it means to literally find something, such as “how did you find the house?”, “I used a map”. I meant “what did you think of the test, was it easy or hard?” It was as if I had spoken another language. I felt like I needed an interpreter to interpret what I had said. 

“Are You Taking The Mick?”

There was one English phrase which would always put any American on the back foot. Commonly used in the UK, “Are you taking the piss?” which means are you making fun. However when I used it here, an American would scrunch up their face and repeat the question back “taking the piss?” I would then try an equivalent saying, “Are you taking the mick” which was again met with the same confused look. British English and American English are completely different from each other.

Constant Localization

I could go on and on about words and phrases such a trousers (pants), boot (trunk of a car), bonnet (hood of a car), half past six (six thirty). There are many more. I had never thought there would be so many differences in the words and phrases because I thought the language was exactly the same, but it isn’t.  As I write this, I am thinking, have I used the correct American English language, or shall I have an American read over and localize it? Meaning can be lost extremely easily when communicating from England to the US.

Sergio Ruffolo
Sergio Ruffolo
Sergio has more than 25 years of multinational experience providing consulting services and leading IT organizations in Africa, Asia and America, which has given him plenty interesting and insightful lessons to teach about global business. He is fluent in Spanish and English, in addition to conversational Portuguese. He has lived in more than 12 cities around the world, moving around and working in different cultures has left him with a real global perspective. Sergio is a real citizen of the world.