British and American English are the two major forms of English in the world, and the Canadian and Australian dialects follow behind in number of native speakers. While native English speakers generally have no problem understanding the English of those from other English-speaking countries, there are some difference between the written and oral forms of American and British English, the most easily recognizable being the following: vocabulary, spelling, and pronunciation. There are also some grammatical differences which might not be as readily apparent if one is not paying close attention.
Below is a brief description of the major ways in which British and American English differ:
There are entire dictionaries devoted to the differences in vocabulary between British and American English, and many dictionaries list whether a term is used in Britain or America. A few examples are:
American English | British English
Click here for a fun tool to show you some of the vocabulary differences.
The spelling differences fall into a couple of major categories: miscellaneous spelling differences for some words, differences in spellings of words derived from Latin and Greek, and words with difference spellings and different connotations.
The spelling differences that many are most familiar with are those that come from the differences in words derived from Latin or Greek, such as color in American English and colour in British and realize in American and realise in British.
For a comprehensive breakdown of the various spelling differences, peruse Wikipedia’s entry.
The most notable difference between British and American English is that of pronunciation. These fall into two major categories: accent and pronunciation of individual words. The pronunciation differences can further be broken down into regional differences in America and differences among the countries of Great Britain.
For a list of links to follow to check out the differences between British and American pronunciation, click here.
Implications for Translators
If you translate into Spanish from English, it shouldn’t be difficult for you to work from a document in either American or British English regardless of your country of origin. However, some clients request that a document be translated from Spanish into either British or American English. Because of the very subtle grammatical differences, it wouldn’t be wise to translate into an English dialect that you are not intimately familiar with.
If you are a client who needs to have your document translated into a specific dialect of English, make sure that your translator is a native of the country which you will target with your translation. If this isn’t possible, then make sure that the translator you entrust with your document is either currently living in the country (i.e. an American translator residing in England) or has lived in the country for a substantial amount of time (i.e. a Brit who went to college and worked in the U.S. for several years).