British vs. American English | Holly Goes Abroad

When I first told my friends and family that I wanted to spend a year abroad in England, many of them tried to reassure me by saying, “Well, at least they don’t speak a different language!” Little did they know that sometimes it feels as though it actually is a different language. There is a surprising number of words that I’ve heard and have had to ask what they mean or how they should be used in regular conversation. Usually I forget to use them and end up resorting to the American version… but it’s the thought that counts, right?

Here are some British vs. American English comparisons that have taken some getting used to:

“Porridge” vs. “Oatmeal”

Before coming to England I had this vague idea in my head that porridge was a different kind of oatmeal. I stand corrected: they’re literally the same thing. Now I just feel like Goldilocks and the three bears when I eat breakfast every morning.

“Are you alright?” vs. “How are you?”

This one really throws me off. How do you respond to this? Am I supposed to say “Yes, are you alright?” Usually I just end up smiling and then mumbling something incoherent before hurriedly asking them how they are. Really, really smooth.

“Football” vs. “Soccer”

This example encompasses countless differences regarding sports. Here they say “boots” instead of “cleats,” “pitch” instead of “field,” “match” instead of “game”…. the list goes on and on!

“Timetable” vs. “Schedule”

Every time someone says “timetable” my mind immediately thinks of Hermione’s Time-Turner in Harry Potter. Maybe they really are wizards here…

“Tutor” vs. “Professor”

Every week I attend tutorials led by my tutor, which is just a different word for professor. This brings up an interesting question: What do I call them? It’s normal back home to say “Professor Snape” but I don’t think it would be right to say “Tutor Snape”…. so maybe “Dr. Snape” is better?

“Bop” vs. “Dance”

When I first learned that there would be a bop at the end of Fresher’s Week visions of High School Musical’s “Bop to the Top” raced through my mind. It turns out that a bop is actually just a school dance, though different from back home in that they serve alcohol. They are also themed, which makes it even more hilarious and cheesy.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little foray into the linguistic challenges I’ve encountered thus far! It makes me grateful that I’m not studying somewhere with a completely different language. Adjusting to a new culture is difficult enough, but an entirely different language adds a huge wrinkle into the mess!

Click here to check out other posts in my Holly Goes Abroad series!

What other differences have you encountered between the same language spoken in different countries or areas of the world? Have you had any experiences like this? Which one of these differences surprises you most? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

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28 thoughts on “British vs. American English | Holly Goes Abroad

  1. Haha I would imagine you would be struggling a little with the language differences. I also call my professors “tutor” and we will usually just refer to them by their first name. I’m from Australia though so I don’t know if it’s the same in the UK. Hope you’re enjoying your year at Oxford! 🙂

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  2. I noticed the same things when I went to Australia! Same language but just different enough to trip you up. Then there’s the differences between north and south, London and everywhere else…

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    1. I definitely didn’t expect the range of differences within England itself to be so huge! Everyone has a completely different accent/vocab depending where they’re from, even though England seems to small.

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  3. Generally speaking you can refer to your tutors by their first name in my experience, but if you’re unsure Dr is probably the safe alternative (or Mr/Ms if they don’t have a doctorate).

    As for a bop that’s an Oxford thing I think, we would usually call it a party, or a ball if it’s fancy.

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  4. I definitely thought for sure that porridge was different from oatmeal. I think I thought it was less thick? Although there’s definitely nothing specific to make me think that, it was just an assumption I made, oops.

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  5. This was fun to read! I love learning all the differences between American and British English. My friend and I have started collecting a list of all the Britishisms she says that make me go “huh?!” The differences are even more noticeable when it comes to Scottish English. 😂

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    1. You’re so right! I have a friend from Scotland here and half the time I have no idea what she’s saying. But I’ve also noticed that I’m starting to use some of the phrases she says all the time…. what is happening?!?!? 🙂 Thanks, Maraia!

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  6. The “are you alright” always got me when I was there. At first I thought people were genuinely concerned about me and was like “yes?? I’m fine??” And then I realized it was just a greeting like how are you, lol.

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  7. I’m a very confused human, slang-wise, because I grew up in New Zealand and India and went to an American school. So, I say ‘soccer’, ‘porridge’, both ‘timetable’ and ‘schedule’, ‘how are you/what’t up’, and ‘dance’ (pronounced dahnce though). What I find really interesting, though, is the tutor/professor thing. I actually haven’t started university yet, but in New Zealand, you’re a professor if you’re the head of department at the university, and a lecturer if you have a doctorate and teach but aren’t the head. Fun fact 🙂 I love reading these posts ❤

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    1. Oooh so interesting!! That’s a little of all the slang haha 🙂 Though I think a big test is what you call the bathroom: back home I say bathroom or restroom, but here they say toilet.

      Thanks so much, Shar! ❤

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