Your child probably already uses one type of English, depending on what they’re learning at school. That’s perfectly OK. There’s no right or wrong type of English. We accept different varieties of English in our exams.
Our Listening tests include a variety of accents. So encourage your child to practise reading and listening to lots of different types of English.
Which English accent should my child use?
In Cambridge English Speaking tests, learners don’t need to have an English accent. They simply need to communicate in a clear and effective way. This involves:
- saying individual words clearly (pronunciation)
- stressing the right parts of words and the right words in a sentence (word stress)
- making sure the voice goes up and down at the right times (intonation).
Which English vocabulary should my child learn?
The English language has one of the largest vocabularies of any language. For example, look up the word ‘big’ in an English thesaurus. You’ll find there are over 50 other words which also mean ‘big’!
The English language has over 1 million words. But the average English speaker only tends to actively use around 20,000 words. So which words should your child learn?
Our research project, English Profile, finds the English vocabulary that speakers tend to use at each level of language learning. We then produce free vocabulary lists, so that your child can learn the most useful English words.
Download our free Pre A1 Starters, A1 Movers and A2 Flyers Word List Picture Books.
Download our free vocabulary lists for A2 Key for Schools and B1 Preliminary for Schools.
Which English dictionary should my child use?
The Cambridge dictionary gives your child definitions from both the British and American English dictionaries. Your child can also use it to:
- see differences in spelling.
- hear differences in pronunciation - for example, listen to how the word aunt is said in the UK and the USA.
Which English spellings should my child use?
English is a difficult language to spell correctly. There are a large number of exceptions to the rules. In addition, there are lots of differences between British and American spellings. For example, colour/color, centre/center, organise/organize, dialogue/dialog.
In Cambridge English Writing tests, British or American spelling can be used. They can also be used together – in the way that Australian and New Zealanders will use British spellings for some words and American spellings for other words. However, once your child spells a word one way, they must continue to spell the word that way for the rest of the test.
How many different types of English are there?
Learners often want to study ‘standard English’. But it doesn’t really exist. In countries such as the UK and Ireland, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, there are over 100 different regional and local varieties of English.
Around the world, people use different spellings, vocabulary and expressions. Here’s an example:
- 'Walk down the pavement, past the petrol station, my flat’s on the left.’ (UK)
- ‘Walk down the footpath, past the servo, my unit’s on the left.’ (Australia)
- ‘Walk down the sidewalk, past the gas station, my apartment’s on the left.’ (USA)
In addition, the majority of people who use English now come from other countries around the world (over 1 billion people!). English speakers are used to hearing lots of different accents and types of English – it’s a really important part of learning the language.
Furthermore, English is changing all the time. Most people don’t talk in the same way as their great-great-grandparents did. How you speak and express yourself is a personal choice, which reflects your personality, characteristics and the ‘identity’ you want to create.
Although people still talk about different types of English, it is interesting to notice how close they are to each other nowadays. With global communication – the internet, music, cinema and television – the different types of English will continue to influence each other.
What are some examples of the differences?
There are some words that are still exclusively British or American, even though people from both countries understand them. For example:
- A British person goes on holiday, whereas an American takes a vacation.
- You visit a city centre in Britain but go downtown in the USA.
- British people join a queue to wait for something, but Americans wait in line.
A few words have different meanings across the two varieties of English. For example:
- Americans who are wearing pants definitely have their legs covered. If a British person is dressed only in pants, they are in their underwear!
- If you need to fill up your car with fuel, you can ask for gas in the USA. You need to buy petrol in Britain – ‘gas’ is not a liquid in British English.
Phrasal verbs (verbs with two or more words like take off or live up to) are another area of difference. There are slightly fewer of them in the American English Vocabulary Profile. For example:
- British and American speakers talk of a relationship breaking up. However, Americans wouldn’t use this phrasal verb to mean ‘finish a school term’ as we do in Britain.
- British people buy food to take away, whereas Americans have a take-out.
Overall, though, our research shows that British and American English are actually very similar. The 10 most common words (the, of, to, and, a, in, that, is, for and I) are the same in both countries.
Looking at the 5,000 most common words in the UK, the vast majority of these words are also in the USA’s top 5,000. Furthermore, most of the differences are easy to explain. For example, it’s not surprising that ‘pounds’ is more common in British English, while ‘dollars’ is used more in the USA.