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14. Learning foreign languages, British and American English

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Titulek: 14. Learning foreign languages, British and American English
Datum vložení: 10.4.2007


Studying foreign languages is important for everybody. People learn foreign languages from various reasons. They want to travel abroad a lot, they want to read foreign materials (books, newspaper, magazines..). Many people need knowledge of foreign languages for their work, for example translators, interprets airport staff, shop assistants, waiters etc. People working in so called tourist industry or in export section of a firm can’t work without knowing foreign languages. The students make the largest group of people who learn foreign languages.

Most students in the world study English. It is one of the compulsory subjects at school all over the world. English is the most widely spread language. It’s the mother tongue for people in the English speaking countries. It means in Great Britain, the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It is the second language in former British colonies (India, Pakistan, African countries…).

English is working language of many international organizations and events. And if somebody wants to take place in a world congress or to be successful in business he must master 4 skills in every language. 4 skills mean reading, speaking, writing and understanding. I think that all four skills are necessary but speaking is the most important.

English belong together with European languages to a large family of Indo-European languages. This family has seven branches. English is one of Germanic languages. It is coming form three languages – from Old German, Old Norse and French. These three languages merged.

Nowadays about 420 million people use English which means that English is the most widespread language in the world. It is used not only as a native language but also for practical purposes – in administrative, business, technology, education, sport etc. English become so important only in the 17th century with the first settlements outside Europe.
The English language is of Germanic origin. Old English had many inflections to show various grammar forms (e.g. singular, plural, tense, person). The pronunciation was different as well. But over centuries words have been simplified and in fact have very few inflections now, but pronunciation and spelling become more difficult. English borrowed words from many other languages – French, Spanish, even Czech.
There ate five main types of English which differ in pronunciation, spelling and vocabulary but the differences are not so crucial. There are: British English, American English, Australian English, Indian English and African English.
Now we will meet with some differences between British (so called “King’s “) English and American English. American English has been the language of American continent for more that three centuries. These two versions of English are the results of the different historical development of England and America.
There is number of similar differences in vocabulary, there are also differences in spelling, grammar, intonation and pronunciation.

1. Spelling: reading American books without having been told about peculiarities of American spelling, we might regard as a misprint what is in fact correct American spelling. E.g. the endings “–our”, “-re”, are written “–or”, “-er” (color, labor, center, theater). The “l” isn’t doubled in such word as traveller, travelling etc. The Americans have also adopted a simplified way of spelling certain words as program, catalog, check, thru, tho instead of programm, catalogue, cheque, through, though.

2. Grammar: the differences in grammar are also so few. E.g. most American say: „Do you have? I don’t have” where an Englishman would say:“ Have you got? I haven’t got”.

3. Vocabulary: there are the great differences in vocabulary. These differences are important, because our ignoring them may lead to unpleasant misunderstanding. There are many differences in the names of foodstuffs, shop and clothing.
In the USA in Great Britain
a billion is called a thousand million
a trillion is called a billion
first floor is called ground floor
check is called bill
bill is called banknote
gasoline (or “gas”) is called petrol
pants is called trousers
store is called shop
general store is called department store

4. Pronunciation: the American pronunciation has preserved a feature of the language in its earlier stages of development while the British pronunciation of these days appears to be more developed in comparison with it. The American speak somewhat more slowly than the English.
A. The /-r/ sound is also pronounced when final (e.g. far, four, were) or when followed by a consonant (farm, force, work)
B. The /-o/ sound is so open that is sometimes seems to us as if the Americans pronounced /-a/ instead (e.g. on, not, dollar).
C. The /-a:/ sound in such words as class, past half, after, can’t dance, example is pronounced something like “a” is bad.

5. Intonation: intonation is “melody” of speech. In comparison with the lively British intonation, the American intonation seems to be somehow monotonous. The melody of the speech is simpler as there are not rises and falls of the speech and that is why American English is easier to understand than British English.

We must not begin to mix the two, but to concentrate on learning either British or American English.

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