I had a friend. And my friend had a fix idea: to make up for lost time in his youth and finally learn English. But as he was in adulthood, his lack of knowledge of English was combined with a wide variety of knowledge about English and how it should be taught. For example, he believed that it was worth studying only individually and always with a good teacher, whom I periodically looked for him. And then one day I got closer to my goal. I was introduced to a teacher of the highest class: education – foreign language, absolutely correct English, teaching experience using traditional, communicative and combined methods, the ability and skill of individual “coaching” and setting the pronunciation. The latter – a real British accent, leaving no doubt that this is an Englishman – struck me completely. However, a savvy friend did not support my enthusiasm:
– Why do I need British English when the whole world speaks American? He must be taught.
This very widespread opinion is actually far from the truth. Although the assertion that it is necessary to study exclusively the British version is not indisputable. What kind of English is taught to foreigners in English-speaking and other countries, what English speaks “the whole world” and what language is worth learning – this is what our notes are about.
Variants and dialects There was only one variant of English 300 years ago. The one that was spoken in Britain. This language was brought by the British to new lands. America, Australia, New Zealand, India, Asia and Africa spoke English. In each of these places, the English language has developed in its own way, enriching and evolving. And, according to an inevitable pattern, he returned to his homeland – with emigrants, goods, technologies, communications.
So let’s start with the fact that the modern British language, firstly, is heterogeneous, and secondly, it is far from the classical English that existed 3 centuries ago. Within the British version, three language types are distinguished: conservative English (conservative – the language of the royal family and parliament), the accepted standard (received pronunciation, RP – the language of the media, also called BBC English) and advanced English (advanced – the language of youth). The last type is the most mobile, it is he who actively absorbs elements of other languages and cultures. Advanced English is most affected by the general trend towards simplification of the language. Changes occur primarily in the vocabulary, one of the most mobile parts of the language: new phenomena appear that must be named, and old ones acquire new names. New vocabulary comes into the British youth language and from other varieties of English, in particular American.
However, an even more variable part of the language is phonetics. Phonetic differences are ubiquitous, and it is they that determine in the first place this or that variant or dialect of the language. For example, the English call a store “shop”, and the Americans call it “shap”; love among the English is “love”, among the Irish it is “liv”, and among the Scots it is “luve”; the day is pronounced by the British as “day”, and the Australians – “di”. There are three main dialects in America: northern, central, and southern. Each of them, in turn, is subdivided into several subdialects. The most intense and characteristic is the southern dialect, especially Californian. This is the quintessence of what is commonly called American pronunciation: “racking,” savory chewing, voicing consonants, and shortening vowels. So, the word “bete” (“better”) turns into “bader”. Closer to classical English – the northern dialect, the language of the east coast, New England, where the first immigrants from Britain arrived at one time. In the UK itself, several regional dialects also stand out: northern, central, southwestern, southeastern, Scottish, Welsh and Irish.
One of these dialects – the language of the educated population of London and the southeast of England – has over time acquired the status of the national standard (RP). It is based on “correct English” – the language of the best private schools (Eton, Winchester, Harrow, Rugby) and universities (Oxford, Cambridge). This is that classic, literary English, which is taught, for example, in our foreign language and which is the basis of any English course in linguistic schools for foreigners.
Irish, Australian and New Zealand English are perhaps the closest to classic British. Due to their geographic isolation, these countries were not strongly influenced by other languages and cultures. The differences are mainly in phonetics – in particular, in melody. This is a smoother, “neutral” pronunciation, replacing “complex” sounds with simpler ones, for example, the interdental in the words that, think with the usual. The Irish, in addition, do not save sounds between consonants, add neutral ones: for example, film sounds like “filam”. Irish English is more musical, melodious – which comes from Celtic; the Australian is characterized by a slower rhythm and an even intonation scale.
But America has created an almost new language: changes have affected not only phonetics and vocabulary, but also the most stable part of the language – grammar. Therefore, it is only natural that the controversy is mainly about the two variants of the English language – British and American. American English is called a simplified language. And this is perhaps the most accurate definition that reflects the essence. Ordinary people from different countries, who went to America in search of happiness, needed the same simple and uncomplicated way of communication. The refined language of the English aristocracy was not at all suitable for these purposes. And few of the settlers owned it. The American version was based on colloquial English, the language of the merchants, the nascent bourgeoisie. But, as you know, not only the British and Irish mastered America. People from all over Europe were drawn there: the French, Spaniards, Scandinavians, Germans, Slavs, Italians. The new nation needed a unifying element to help bridge national differences. The transformed English language became such an element. It inevitably had to become easier in writing, pronunciation, grammar. And it is just as inevitable to absorb the elements of other languages. Unlike British English, American English is more flexible, open to change, and easier to understand. In particular, that is why it has become more widespread in the world. This is the language of a new generation without a specific nationality and place of residence, brought up on popular culture.
New computer technologies, a powerful entertainment industry, global business — all are “made in America” and work everywhere. The Americans themselves call their main achievement the ability to create models and export them. The entire history, culture and mentality of America fit into one concept – the “American Dream”. And with this example to follow, this dream, the Americans infected the whole world. The fact that the whole world is studying English is also a merit of the Americans. However, as in many other cases, they only gave impetus, and development went its own way.
English, which is studied in language schools around the world by foreigners, is called Course Book English by native speakers. This is the basic standard English common to all variants of that language. It lacks flavor, color – what distinguishes native speakers from non-native speakers or from each other. Idioms, metaphors, jargon in each version of English are different. To comprehend them, as well as to master the local phonetics and melody, means to approach perfection, to move to another level – “English as a native”. The task is unattainable for most foreigners. But, on the other hand, few people put it in front of themselves. English in the modern world is just a means of communication. And not at all with the carriers (or rather, not so much with them), but people of different nationalities with each other. English these days is the new convenient Esperanto. However, unlike the “real” Esperanto, it is not stillborn.
According to the director of the Russian office of the British School Language Link, Robert Jensky, now we can talk about the emergence and consolidation of a kind of averaged universal English, which has absorbed the features of different languages. This – and not American, British and no other – option is the “language of international communication.” It is naturally easier to understand. Firstly, it is neutral in color, and secondly, foreigners speak English more slowly, pronounce sounds in isolation, and words clearly. In addition, it is more convenient: there is no need to strain trying to approach the “purely British” or “purely American” pronunciation.
The “international language of business” also solves the same problem. Another myth is that this is American English. It is true that business is an American invention (like the word itself), that business schools originated in America and that a large and best part of them are still located there. But as far as the language of business is concerned, it cannot be attributed to any variant of English. This is a professional language. Like the language of any profession, it has a certain, rather limited set of terms, cliches, which are used by representatives of this kind of activity. The language of business is mastered along with the profession (in the overwhelming majority of business schools in the world, teaching is conducted in English). It can also be studied in special English courses (Business English, Executive English). The basic content of these courses is the same in all English speaking countries. Therefore, it does not make much difference where to pass them: in the USA or Great Britain, Australia or Ireland, Canada or New Zealand.
What language to learn?
The answer to this question lies in the goal: why do you need English? If you are going to take TOEFL and study in America, American English is indispensable. Thinking of emigrating to Canada? It would be nice to get acquainted with the peculiarities of Canadian English. Etc. But you have to learn the right language. In the opinion of many Russian linguists and teachers, this language is the British version, more precisely, that part of it called the “accepted standard” (RP). By the way, correct basic English is also needed in order to understand other variants of the language, dialects and peculiarities. And to be able to master them. According to Natalia Kuznetsova, a teacher at the Moscow Linguistic Center, a person with good classical English will not disappear anywhere and, if necessary, will be able to restructure quite easily and get used to another modification of the language.
According to Natalia Kuznetsova, it is also necessary to start with the British version because it is the most complete and richest language. American grammar is noticeably simplified compared to British grammar. Americans recognize only simple tenses – the present, past and future of Simple – and almost never use Perfect. The general tendency for the American version to be simplified also applies to pronunciation. American English can be called a “sloppy” language. The British version is more particular, more scrupulous. There is a huge variety of intonation patterns in it, in contrast to the American one, where there is practically one: an even scale and a descending tone. This intonation pattern also determines the entire sound structure of the American version. In British English, there are many scales: descending and ascending, stepped and sliding. The same goes for tones. Sometimes the accent is betrayed not by the pronunciation of the sound, but by the temporal characteristics: as soon as the sound is tightened (or not stretched) a little, and a foreigner is recognized in you. The Americans themselves, by the way, treat British English with reverence. They are mortified by the sound of their language. Americans even host such parties: they invite an Englishman to visit, ask him to tell something, and they themselves listen to him speak. Americans call British English refined – they never had this language, just as, naturally, they did not have what is called “English traditions and culture.” Partly envious of the British, the Americans say that show off is showing off. The British themselves say that they are simply polite – polite.
Our teachers prefer the British version for another reason. Our school has always focused and continues to focus on classical English. In the best language universities (primarily in foreign languages), it was the British version that was traditionally taught, and mainly teachers from Britain were invited as foreign consultants and methodologists. We have practically no professional teachers of the American version. “Practically” – because teachers who speak “American” do meet. But there are very few professionals among them (according to general estimates, no more than 5%). In schools where professionals do exist (for example, Language Link, Polyglot), students try to explain the difference between different versions of English and teach exactly the version of English that the student needs. However, agreeing with our teachers, Robert Jensky (the American head of the British School of English) argues that this is all about advanced students. In the initial stages, there is only one English option for the student. And to learn it, you need to make a lot of effort and patience.
Intensive communication and various “quick” techniques are unlikely to help here. They are good for making the student “talk”, overcoming the language barrier, giving him a positive attitude, and convincing him that learning a language is pleasant. But alas, serious language learning is a must-drill: cramming, repetition of patterns, grammatical phenomena, and so on.
The best teaching method is, perhaps, a combined one: a combination of the traditional with the communicative. It gives the best result – on the one hand, a solid base, and on the other, conversational practice. Indeed, in fact, for whatever purpose a person is learning English, he always strives for one thing – confidence. That is, he wants to reach a level where communication in the language does not create tension. Confidence is a feeling of confidence, the ability to “switch” to another language and exist without problems in a new language space. Be at ease.