BrE vs. AmE



I've been teaching English as a foreign language for over 20 years now and I still have doubts quite often, though I've certainly learnt a lot throughout the years.

I'd like to know your opinion about one issue: should I penalise my students for using AmE instead of BrE in written tests, for example?

Basically the course refers to BrE but the students here ( both the Portuguese and the Chinese ) watch most programmes or films in AmE so I don't usually penalise them, though I call their attention for the differences. Am I right? Even when they use both AmE and BrE?

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Posted 05 January 2002


Here in Hong Kong we encounter the same problem. I wouldn't punish them but tell your students to be consistent in the use of either AmE or BrE.



I so admire anyone who can communicate in English as their second language that to me minor variations in AmE vs. BrE don't matter a bit. I'll note them for the students in the margin and leave it at that, but certainly not penalize students for using one or the other when both work just as well for communication. If for some reason a writer will be looked down upon or taken less seriously for mixing AmE and BrE, that should be discussed with the student, who can then decide how important it is to him to learn the distinctions and abide by them in his own usage. But I do not believe students should be penalized in the language classroom for using one instead of the other. Informed yes, penalized no.

When I was a young and inexperienced teacher, I marked Britishisms as errors ?only because I didn't know any better. When I learned that these "errors" were simply British English, I immediately stopped penalizing students for them and took it as my role to be knowledgeable of the distinctions so that I could inform my students. Ever since, I've tried to footnote grammatical differences between AmE and BrE in my texts (which are AmE) ?simply as a point of information, not as a warning about "errors" in usage. The grammar and spelling differences between AmE and BrE are so minor that they do not generally ever interfere with communication.

Betty Azar