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Americans Don't Speak English

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I’ve probably mentioned it before, but a large part of the English-speaking Western world actually believes that Americans don’t speak English. So, what exactly do we Americans speak? American!

Look, I’ll give it to the Brits that perhaps their English is the more proper and correct version. They did, after all, father the language. We Americans then took it and simply made it… better. Ha, well, at least in my mind, we made it more efficient.

capsicumA big difference between American English and British English is the spelling of various words. I like to think that by leaving out unnecessary letters, we just make it easier. Think colour (British English) and color (American English). The u is simply an added chore to write or type.

Another difference is with the pronunciation of certain words, and I also like to think that we tend to sway on the efficiency side. Take the word mobile. In British English, it is pronounced like mo-by-ul, but in American English, it is commonly pronounced as mo-bull. The latter definitely takes a little less to say the same thing, right?

I’ve heard it all from the Brits, especially when some learned last year that I would be teaching American English in Ukraine. They always stated how stupid it was to only focus on American English, but the truth is that American English is generally thought of as the language of business. And, it even turned out that my short time spent virtual teaching Korean kids after first arriving in Australia involved American English as well. Yes, American English rocks, but since the Brits do have that whole “inventing the language thing”, I generally give their side of the argument a point from the start.

However, what I do have a problem with is when the friggin’ Aussies come around and try to say things like Australian English is better than American English because they happen to keep in all those crazy unnecessary letters and such.

What I’d like to know is if they have actually heard themselves talk because there is something silly going on down here in their lingo, and it makes it definitely different from the original. So, who are they to say their language is better, right?!

Fair dinkum, mate.

A Language Barrier

I always wondered what it would be like to date someone that spoke another language. It is quite interesting to see people in relationships with foreigners that barely speak a lick of English because I feel that so much of a relationship relies on the ability to communicate. If I couldn’t tell my partner exactly how I felt… I can’t even imagine! But, somehow, some people make it work.

Now, we may not speak completely different languages, my boyfriend and I, but you could say that we speak different dialects of English. You would be surprised how many times I find myself asking him the meaning of an Aussie word or phrase, or just to repeat himself because I couldn’t quite catch it the first time. Yep, we do have a language barrier between us. Here is one such instance:

When I moved into my new apartment, I needed to search out a mattress. We thought we would go to this foam shop he knew about because he heard they were quite comfortable for the price. To check out the exact address, we decided to do a quick web search and go from there.

I was manning the keyboard with Patrick by my side. He started by spitting out the store’s name, which sounded something like “Clock Robba”. Seriously, I had no freaking idea what he was saying. Dumbfounded, I looked at him in confusion as I tried to piece together whether “Clock Robba” could actually be the name for a foam shop.

My fingers couldn’t even begin to type because I honestly was so confused.

How do you spell that? C l o c k?” I asked.

No,” said Pat. “Clock like the name silly.

What the…?

C l a r k!” he spelled.

Oh. my. goodness. I really had no idea. We laughed and I typed in “Clark” as was necessary, and then was shocked again when I had to spell out “Robba”.

Long story short, I was so confused because it was actually a store called “Clark Rubber”, but we just had a failure to communicate. True story!

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29 Responses to Americans Don't Speak English

  1. Yevgenii Kondratiuk December 25, 2009 at 7:49 pm #

    Australian English Center. Why not? There`re some nice Australianisms.

  2. Laeticia Holley December 25, 2009 at 7:51 pm #

    I remember the blank looks I got when I went to Subway in the States and asked for Capsicum on my sandwich – who knew the rest of the English speaking world calls them Peppers!!

  3. Nomadic Matt December 26, 2009 at 7:50 pm #

    i totally agree!

  4. Bethany December 29, 2009 at 3:45 am #

    hey brooke! What up? Hope you are well. This article is funny. I just ran into something similar the other day. I had no idea what the person was saying but they were speaking English.

  5. Chris December 29, 2009 at 11:04 pm #

    haha I find its normally the accent that trips me up. I’ve spoken to my american friends and they swear black and blue I’m hard to understand yet I’ll say the same to them. We have a running joke that its not me with the accent but them and so forth.

    In the end it does give a great first talking point when your struggling to make conversation with a stranger. Always puts a smile on your face.

  6. Graham Phoenix January 3, 2010 at 11:58 am #

    As a Brit I have to say that not only did we invent the language but we also kept it subtle and interesting. ‘American English’ really is a different language as is ‘International English’. That one is the most difficult to follow for a Brit. It is spoken by all those people for whom English is a second language. Particularly in Europe they construct lots of words from their own language that they think are English but are incomprehensible to Brits. I know, my partner is Dutch and speaks great English but sometimes I look at her in amazement not understanding what she is saying… It can cause great hilarity.

    Thanks for the post and provoking me.

  7. Mark January 29, 2010 at 3:35 am #

    I completely disagree. I worry that logic like this will just keep dumbing down language to a point where people won’t even have to activate their brains to type anything out anymore. On the majority of websites and forums you’ll see posts and comments from people who can’t remember the difference between you’re and your, it’s and its, and are writing nonsense like ‘C U L8r, k?’ because hey, it’s just the internet.

    Subtleties in language are a part of culture, and therefor important to those who see it as a sense of identity. As a Canadian, I love listening to your quaint american accents and often can’t understand what’s being said in different parts of the country. I’ve laboured through southern drawls, California bro-brahs, farmer slurrs, Maine euphemisms, and much more. It’s all just part of what makes us unique.

    Also, everyone knows that Chinese is the new language of business.

  8. Kathlyn Clore February 4, 2010 at 5:23 pm #

    There are indeed loads of differences within the English language, as you point out.

    I find most maddening the English-language versus “American English” issue in the word “possible.”

    In America, “everything is possible.” We use the word to mean “physically doable.” Americans seem to never, ever say, “That’s not possible.” If they do – it’s to be taken as a challenge, an indication that a task will be difficult. And if something is really really unable to be done – say, mixing oil and water – we use the word “impossible.”

    Non-native speakers of English don’t use the word “possible” in this way. They use it to mean, “Um, no, I’m not going to do that right now.” or “Sorry, we’re not bending the rules for you.” When you’re asking, such as ‘Could you please do this for me?’ of a European, its easy to find yourself hearing, “That’s not possible.”

    I find this confounding – Am I being told that what I’m asking is physically or legally impossible, or am I being told that what I’m asking is simply too much to ask?

  9. Darcy March 20, 2010 at 3:44 pm #

    Ha! Most people in Australia don’t *actually* say things like “Fair Dinkum”, unless they come from the 50’s or their taking the piss.

    And in case you aren’t aware, things such as “Fair Dinkum” and “Taking the piss” are colloquialisms. IE: slang. Sort of like you efficient American’s saying “Ya’ll”.

    Now, secondly, only the most ridiculous, over-emphasized accent would lead you to misunderstand “Clark Rubber”, so unless your boyfriend is crocodile dundee, I think there’s probably a little over-exaggeration (or poor listening) going on here.

    Let’s look at “Mobile”. Okay, so you Americans seem to generally ignore the “e” and the associated rules. What about similar words. Like “textile”? or “Agile”? Or “Juvenile”? Would you say “Tex-til”, “Ag-il” or “Ju-ve-nil”? No. So why ignore the rules of pronunciation for “Mobile”? It’s just a different regional dialect which for some reason changes the rules of pronunciation for one individual word. Odd and inefficient, don’t you think?

    Which brings me to words like “Herbs”. In Australia (and Britain) we say “Herbs” because “Herbs” is “Herbs”. In America, you say “Erbs” because…Ummm. Well, I don’t know. Where’d the bloody H go?

    Let’s not start on the word “Through” or “Thru”. Far out that’s just ridiculous.

    Sorry to sound so negative, I really do like most of your blog, it’s just that (like mark says) logic like this will keep dumbing down language (read: making it “efficient”).

    The written language doesn’t have these problems and that’s why I love it.

    …unless you write “thru”…grrr.

    • Brooke March 20, 2010 at 6:38 pm #

      Darcy, Your response is classic 🙂 I did write this post to provoke people. In my daily life here, I am the outnumbered one always getting shot down with my English 😉 As for my bf’s accent, no he doesn’t sound like Crocodile Dundee in the least, but since I come from a place that pronounces hard R’s, his lack of them was just confusing!

      • Darcy March 21, 2010 at 12:45 pm #

        Haha I’m so glad you didn’t use “thru” in your response. But as a lit/writing major you learn to despise American English…

      • Erica June 3, 2010 at 1:12 pm #

        But we DO say Ag-il!

  10. Keith April 24, 2010 at 4:16 pm #

    The author of this article is clearly American, furthermore clearly doesn’t know English. American English, is more efficient then the British English. What a laugh! Those letters you so commonly say are not necessary are necessary if you knew English. Every time you Americans sound out words such as “Organized” you’re forcing yourselves to make a sound that recreates the letter “Z.” If you would pay close attention, there is no “Z” because the proper spelling and sound it with a “S” like so, Organise. Learn the language, get an Oxford dictionary to start.

    • Brooke April 24, 2010 at 5:26 pm #

      Well obviously you haven’t looked around my blog very much because, YES, I AM American, so thanks for re-iterating that fact with your first sentence 😉 I have yet to hear anyone say organi-sing, really… find me someone who doesn’t say it more like a “z”.

  11. Christine June 1, 2010 at 8:26 pm #

    I work in an Irish pub in France with English guys and Australians. They’re constantly giving me a hard time, saying that I certainly don’t speak “English.” It’s hard enough understanding the French when they order cocktails, but it’s even worse when I can’t understand what the English/Irish are ordering! I’ve realized that if I have no idea what they’re saying, they probably can’t understand me either–so I’ve slowed down my speaking in English as well as my French. It’s always crazy to think that they think that I have the accent–it’s obviously them!
    Great post 🙂

  12. Erica June 3, 2010 at 1:13 pm #

    The only time I really ran into this was when we were in Barbados. It was Brit English with Caribbean English mixed together. I already have hearing issues with accents but it definitely made for some very confused looks from hubby and I.

  13. Andrew July 19, 2010 at 3:43 am #

    The various forms of English was one of the first things that hit me when I started spending time with English speaking expats here in Germany. There are so many and some of them are harder to understand than others. I personally find the Australian the most difficult. I have an English teacher friend with a mostly Australian accent and we are constantly talking at odds to each other. Heck even inside of the US we don’t all speak the same. There are accents there that I have a very hard time understanding. The language is going to develop as it is going to develop. There is no One English, nor should there be.

    English is in the end a living language. It changes, it moves and alters based on it’s usage. The language itself is a goofy mix of old high German and noble French anyway. If by creating, you mean the Anglo-Saxons/British bastardized two languages into one, then yes they created it. American English was heavily influenced by the Italian immigrants and later by the Jewish immigrants. Our language has developed based on our people.

    There is an awful lot of culture and identity tied up in language. This seems to be the root of why all the various accent groups bicker with each other. It is what makes us unique. The accusation of American English as ‘dumbing down the whole language’ is part of this too. The superiority of one accent over another is side-round argument for nations and peoples over each other. I say, speak what you want, but don’t force that on someone else y’all.

  14. e November 11, 2010 at 6:20 am #

    A big difference between American English and British English is the spelling of various words.

    You do realise that no-one outside the United States recognises the term ‘British English’ don’t you? It is called standard English. English. Not American English; American English is bastardised English, like Mexican Spanish is bastardised Spanish. Deal with it. The UK wins this one. Why can’t you just accept that?

    And please stop putting the United States flag next to ‘English’ on websites. You do not speak English!

    • Elizabeth November 11, 2010 at 1:25 pm #

      This is incorrect. I lived in China and Korea for a several years, and they most certainly knew the terms “British English” and “American English” there.

  15. jack December 25, 2010 at 9:20 am #

    oh come on people, Lighten Up…..Its All The Same Language..there are some differences here and there, but 90% is the same…Im American, and i can understand English people, Australian, Canadian, etc…there is no better or worse, there are just different dialects, and accents, and i enjoy hearing them all…no need to get all worked up about it…we all (English Speakers) Speak The Same Language we got from England..we just Do It Slightly Differently….

  16. Some British guy May 22, 2011 at 10:01 am #

    However, what I do have a problem with is wen the frigin Auss cum around and try to say things like Australian English is beter than American English because they hapen to kep in al those crazy unecesary leters and such.

    Musl, iland, nife, nees, anser, receet, choclat.

  17. Bernardus October 5, 2011 at 2:24 pm #

    I found myself some time ago chatting with an american about accents in US. I’m venezuelan, my native tongue is spanish, and I couldn’t believe in such a large country people virtually had no accents, or at least so few.

    Venezuela is less than one tenth of the size of US, and believe me, I’ve really had hard time trying to understand what people say in some places here in my own country when traveling. Not to say most latinamericans prefer watching subtitled movies rather than dubbed in iberic spanish.

    All I wanted to say with this was that you guys are lucky english is not that different around the globe.

  18. PennineLady December 8, 2011 at 3:31 am #

    It’s a good article but I still prefer “colour” to “color”…it looks better.

    As an American said in the BBC documentary Stephen Fry In America,
    many Americans do seem to want to simplify things too much.
    Many things in life are complex and are that way for good reasons!

    I’ve visited the USA a few times and I always cringe at the way some Americans
    think they can just alter or make up words because they “sound cool”.
    “Winningest” was one of the worst examples…

    It’s not “all the same language” it’s branches of the same language! It came from the British Isles, not “England”. England is firmly attached to Scotland and Wales.

    Whenever I visit the USA, I usually get people assuming I’m Australian…it doesn’t happen in Canada…strange!

  19. bob May 10, 2012 at 6:15 pm #

    Ever though that may be you come across rather ignorant and slightly racist? Is that the American spelling of racist, or do ou spell it “raysist”, I guess not everything is spelt phonetically, or is that “fonetikly”?

    • Brooke May 11, 2012 at 3:59 am #

      Nope, not racist at all.

  20. John Hill June 11, 2012 at 4:05 pm #

    It’s so sweet that Americans think they’re speaking English when what they are actually speaking is English from the 16th/17th century, (hence the short As in words like grass, glass, bath, etc., and the “simplified” spellings like thru and color, neighbor and organize). In the latter (not later!) part of the 17th century the metropolitan English adopted the French pronunciation of certain words and wordforms as being more refined and left the original ways of speaking to the lower classes, especially those from the north of the country. The first English immigrants to the Americas tended to come from rural and agricultural areas of England and these areas tended to be in the north and southwest where one can still hear the short vowel sounds that typify American English to this day. While it is true that most Americans speak a form of English that would be more familiar to William Shakespeare than, for instance, Dickens, Trollope or Wilde, this is no excuse for a, calling it English or b, refusing to acknowledge the warp and weft of modern English idioms. As the world’s one remaining superpower, it behooves you to not only learn and use your native language properly, but also to propagate it throughout the world by means of your immense cultural hegemony.

  21. John March 16, 2015 at 9:00 pm #

    You said ‘mobile’ is pronounced ‘mobull’ in America. I know your article is humorous but if I were to say it was bile would I have to say it is bull?

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