English Dialects: 10 Language Tips for Americans in the UK
Landing in Edinburgh airport, full of excitement for the next four years of my life, in a country I had never visited, my first social interaction was with a Scottish bus driver. I understood nothing. That experience was followed by conversations during which I took an unnatural amount of time to respond because my brain was both confused and unwilling to admit defeat. A tip to my fellow Americans: The nod and smile doesn’t work. Ask people to repeat themselves (preferably using ‘Sorry?’) and learn to appreciate the differences in words and pronunciations. These language variations never cease to be an entertaining topic.
Of course expressions and pronunciations for words vary throughout the UK and the US; however here are a few general impressions, in regards to the way that the English language varies, as you find yourself on the other side of the ocean.
No, I am not referring to the sound you might make when showing off your karate moves. ‘Hiya’ is the equivalent of ‘Hey’, or ‘What’s up?’. The latter being a greeting that I, personally, have never quite figured out how to answer, so I much rather be mistaken for a black belt.
Also, ‘you alright?’ is a normal greeting and should not be taken as an insult to your appearance on that particular day.
To be enthusiastic or eager. No, I had never come across this word in a conversation until I moved to the UK. The first time I used it in a sentence I felt an unparalleled sense of achievement, and from my facial expression, it was painfully obvious how proud I was of myself.
If you are looking forward to a warm cup of English breakfast tea (referred to as ‘tea’, just tea, no added flavo(u)rs), you might be disappointed. This word can also refer to dinner, or supper, or the last large meal of the day.
However, on a tea (the drink!) note, when making tea for others, never let the tea bag soak for more than four minutes. It was considered absurd that I thought my vanilla chai tea (flavored tea…what was I thinking?) tasted best after a ten-minute soaking period.
4. The ‘Chips’ and ‘Crisps’ Dilemma
‘French fries’ are to ‘chips’, as ‘chips’ (potato chips) are to ‘crisps’. And crisps can even be put in a bread roll type thing to create a ‘crisp sandwich’! The wonders of comfort food.
This can be used as an overarching term for all desserts, not just that pudding stuff you can buy in yogurt cups at the store.
Life tip: ‘Sticky Toffee Pudding’. Try it. Love it. Whenever it’s an option, you will never be faced with a dessert menu choice again.
Yes, this word means the same thing in British and American English; however the pronunciation is drastically different. It never came to my attention before, but after being laughed at in the UK, I realized I sound ridiculous when saying that word. I pronounce it ‘doody’. As in something a child might refer to on the sidewalk (pavement), thoughtfully left behind by a dog. Unfortunately, I find that American English can sometimes sound slightly less intelligent.
7. ‘Pitch’ and ‘Kit’
For you sports fans out there, let me highlight some lingo changes that came to my attention while in the UK. I had heard of a soccer (football) ‘field’ being referred to as a ‘pitch’. However, the word ‘kit’ took me a while to figure out. It turns out that it refers to the entire sporting ensemble: jersey and shorts.
Side note: ‘Cleats’ (as in the footwear worn to play soccer) are called ‘boots’.
That muscly human specimen running on the beach that might catch your eye could be referred to as ‘fit’. In other words, ‘attractive’ or ‘hot’. I was brought up thinking that fit meant ‘in shape’ or ‘athletic’, then all of a sudden it had a sexual connotation.
9. ‘Pants’ and ‘Trousers’
Just know that what an American calls ‘pants’, are ‘trousers’ in the UK. Unfortunately, ‘pants’ is also used in the UK, but refers to what you are wearing underneath your trousers. Fortunately, this mix-up is relatively well-known amongst the UK population. Thus, the difference, if acknowledged, will only be pointed out to you with a quick smile.
Pronounced like the name ‘Kailey’, it refers to Scottish dancing. With it comes a band, plenty of room for improvement (if you, like me, are not Scottish and did not learn the routines growing up), a work out, and possibly a little bit of danger (I elbowed my friend in the eye at our graduation ball…Thankfully, we had taken pictures beforehand).
Marie Morrison is a recent graduate of the University of St Andrews. As a dual Austrian-American citizen, she grew up in the US, but currently resides in Germany.
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