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Life as seen through my lens…

Why can’t Americans understand English?!

Random rant number 1: When is English not English?

I’m English. I was born in Berkshire, lived in the Midlands for a number of years later in life, and now find myself in California. Being exposed to TV and other sources of the spoken word from a number of international sources, I find that as an Englishman, I can understand people talking to me in a number of different accents and dialects, so I ask myself…. Why is it that Americans seem to have such a hard time understanding English people?

We speak the same base language. OK, so we spell a few words differently; Americans don’t like using the letter U in many places where English people do, we say ‘zed’ whereas Americans say ‘zee’, and we use some different words to mean the same thing, but we should be able to understand what one another says at the spoken level without much of a problem.

So, having lived here for 6 months, and visited frequently prior to that, I ask the following;

1) Why is it that a reasonable percentage of Americans (that I’ve met anyway) can’t tell an English and Australian accent apart (I’ve lost count of the times a stranger has asked me ‘Are you from Australia’)?

2) Why do Americans have such a hard time understanding people talking with an English accent (and I know this isn’t just me – a number of English work colleagues tell the same stories)? I’ve not had a single conversation with an American where I’ve not had to repeat one part of it because it’s not been understood correctly, and this is made 100% worse if the conversation is on the phone as opposed to in person.

What is the solution here? Do we all need to talk with an American accent? Do Indian and Chinese immigrants in America have the same problems? Is it just the English that this happens to (perhaps this is America’s way of continuing to rub the collective English nose in it from when America gained its independance)?

I should add that this is somewhat of an over-generalisation, and there are some Americans I’ve met over here who actually can cope with an English accent, but they are few and far between!


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