Kerry Maxwell and Lindsay Clandfield provide a selection of useful tips and ideas for recognizing grammatical differences between American and British English.

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Activity: Dirty Dan

Activities in published EFL/ESL materials often present lists of words which students must classify as either American or British. These will tend to focus on lexis and spelling. To take account of grammatical differences, and present a more comprehensive activity, teachers could compare larger pieces of text and decide where they came from. Look at this sample exercise:

Scotland Yard police are looking for a famous American bank robber called Dirty Dan. Dirty Dan robbed a bank in London last Friday night. They are interviewing three different people. All three have British accents, but the police know that Dirty Dan can imitate a British accent. Read parts of each of the transcript. Can you identify Dirty Dan from the language he uses?

  • Suspect 1
    I already said this. I didn’t do anything special on the weekend. Friday night I took a shower in my apartment and then went out to see a movie. It was a movie I had already seen, Matrix Revolutions. I really like action movies. I went with my girlfriend Samantha.
  • Suspect 2
    I wasn’t in town at the weekend, and I certainly wasn’t anywhere near the bank on Friday night. I was at a hotel in Paris with a special friend of mine. Shall I give you the hotel phone number? You needn’t bother asking me any more questions. You’ve got the wrong man.
  • Suspect 3
    I’ve already said this. On Friday night I went to see a film at the cinema. It was Matrix Revolutions. I don’t really like action films, but my friends really wanted to see it. It was rather boring. After that, I went home and had a nice hot bath. I went to bed around midnight.

Activity: Varieties and standard

When looking at varieties of English, it might be useful to discuss different varieties of the students’ own language. Here are some discussion questions you could set which raise different issues about varieties and standard language:

  1. What is your native language? Where do people speak this language? What other countries use the same language that you do?
  2. When the same language exists in more than one part of the world, there are often some differences between the two languages. These are called varieties of the language. Are there any varieties of your native language?
  3. What differences in language are there in your own country? For example, do people in the capital city speak a different kind of language than people in the country?
  4. What do you think of the different varieties of your own language?
  5. Is there one standard variety of your own language? Is there one variety of your own language that people in your country dislike?
  6. If I wanted to learn your native language, would it matter what variety I learn?

Activity: Dirty Dan: Key

Suspect 1 is Dirty Dan. The American words and expressions are: already said this (British would use present perfect); on the weekend (British – at the weekend); took a shower (British – had a shower); movie (British – film).