Students of English in Japan often ask do Japanese learn British or American English? Also in Japan people ask “which is better to learn, British or American English?” So, which should they learn? The fact is, there is no correct answer to this question. In fact, the question is a bad question! There are many types of “British” English and “American” English. There are MANY types of English, in the UK, in the USA, and all around the world.
In this article, we will look at the benefits of knowing and studying the many types of world Englishes.
Do Japanese people learn British or American English?
English textbooks in Japan usually teach “American” English. But what does “American” English mean here? In fact, what this means is the English dialect used by the white, highly-educated sector of American society. The correct term for this is “standard American English” or “general American English.”
You should imagine the English of Washington or New York state, or south-western Canada. In fact, you should imagine the English of American mass media. Think of CNN or Fox News.
On the other hand, “British English” may mean “received pronunciation,” a form of English that is actually not widely used much anymore. It is also known as “the Queen’s English.”
“British English” may also mean the English of the white, educated classes in the regions around London and the south of England. Again, this is only a small part of the British population. This excludes speakers of British English from the midlands and north of England, and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland!
Some Japanese textbooks do actually teach this form of “British English,” and usually this is stated on the textbook as a selling point. It is true that “British English” seems to have a special image overseas, maybe related to the historical power of Britain and British culture.
So should Japanese people learn British or American English?
It doesn’t matter! These forms of “British” English or “American” English are actually a very small part of the English speaking world.
English is the native language of around 378 million people, or roughly 5% of a total world population of over 7 billion. There are far more native speakers of Spanish or Chinese – 442 million and 1.3 billion respectively – and nearly as many native speakers of Arabic – 315 million. English, however, is the dominant international language in areas from academia and science, to business, to media.
The English language is used around the world for many different reasons. English is also an official language in over 50 nations. There are even many varieties of Asian Englishes. English is a global lingua franca.
What types of English should students learn?
There are many varieties of English. These are often called “World Englishes.” Each has unique features and are used by millions of people.
You may know some of these types, for example British English, American English, Australian English, Indian English, Geordie, Texan, but have you heard of Malaysian and Singaporean English, South African Englishes, or Australian Aboriginal English? How about the English of Hong Kong?
Britain has a huge number of dialects and accents across the country, and there are “black” varieties of both British and American English, as well as the Englishes of many diverse and multicultural communities. There is also an emerging “international English,” or an international “business English.”
So here are a few nations that use English as their main language or as an official language:
The UK, the USA, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, India, Ghana, South Africa, the Philippines, Jamaica, Kenya, Pakistan…
So why would you learn only standard American or British? Let’s look at some reasons why English students shouldn’t worry about choosing between American or British English.
English for business
If you are using English for international business, it is unlikely you will be speaking to only American’s or British people from regions that speak the “standard” English varieties. You could be working with someone from northern England, or from anywhere in the United States. You are also very likely to work with someone from Scotland, Vietnam, India, Germany, South A
frica, or any other country or region.
The point is, you cannot guarantee you will be speaking the form of English you studied, which is why you should study many!
You should also remember that it doesn’t matter what variety you are speaking, but that you make sure you are communicating clearly!
English for travel
If you want to use English when you travel abroad, you only need British English or American English when you’re going to Britain or America! Even then, there are so many different accents and dialects in the UK and USA that you probably won’t be speaking to the so-called “standard” English speakers.
When you travel and use English, it is much more important to speak slowly and clearly, thinking about what you want to say before you speak. The person you are speaking to will be doing the same.
No one will treat you differently for not speaking standard British or American English!
English for study
International academia is exactly that: international. Studying abroad, you will meet and study with people from all over the world. You will share research and ideas with a variety of people.
Don’t not worry about speaking “British” or “American” English. You should be concentrating on the content of your words, not their appearance. No one will judge you on your accent – and if they do, they are not worth your time.
Furthermore, if you think badly about someone speaking English because they don’t sound American or British, then you are making a mistake. It is important not to idealise a specific regional dialect.
English for living in the US or UK
This might be the only real reason for learning British or American English. If you are living in the UK for a long time, you will want to blend in! In fact, it will be the easiest form of English to learn as you will hear it every day. This is the same if you are living in the USA.
BUT this is only true if you are living in a specific part of the UK/USA. If you are living, for example, near Liverpool, you are going to pick up the Liverpool accent. If you are living in Iowa, you might pick up Midland American English.
And what if you are abroad somewhere else? In Singapore, you could be speaking Singapore Standard English in school and Singlish outside! In Australia you will pick up a very different accent and vocabulary than in Canada.
But there is no need to worry. An Australian can understand a Canadian. A South African can understand a British person. An American can understand an Indian speaker of English. The important thing is patience and understanding.
Always cooperate with the person you are speaking to. Remember, speaking English is a conversation, not a competition.
So why do Japanese people learn British or American English?
In Japan, as with many other regions, the idea that British or American issue is historical and economic. In the post-World War II era, American culture was
obviously powerful in Japan. Also, America was and is the world’s largest economy. It is easy to see why standard American English became the most common form in Japan. This was the English of the media and elites of the USA.
For British English, maybe it is that “English comes from England.” This is a very simple idea, and unimportant. English has been the languages of many people around the world for centuries. However, it is perhaps understandable that the UK remains slightly “special” for learners of English.
So what do you think? British and American English, and beyond!
So do Japanese learn British or American English?
In general, they learn standard American English. However, it totally depends on their teacher and how they use English. Many students may learn a different accent or dialect.
We recommend learning from a variety of English teachers, from all around the world. Find many on our site!
Should Japanese people learn British or American English?
Should Japanese people learn British or American English? They should learn World English. The key is communication, not sounding like some imagined “ideal” speaker.
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