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The Variations of The English Language & How It Affects ESL

You’ve quickly realised as a TEFL teacher, just how tricky it is to teach English as a second or foreign language. There are English theory terms as a native English speaker you’ve never learnt formally, like conditionals, and as a non-native proficient English speaker, it’s overwhelming when new words are officially added each year to the Oxford English Dictionary [], making English a constantly evolving, and confusing, language to teach. 

English is considered difficult to learn due to its complicated grammatical structures, tangled tense, illogical idioms, absurd contradictions, puzzling pronunciation, and all the arbitrary exceptions to rules you’ve already learned. 

If that’s not complex enough, there’s also the following prominent variations of the English language:

  • British English – British English is an amalgamation of other languages with its own unique phonology, orthography, inflexion, affixation, syntax, composition and vocabulary. 
  • Central and North American English – After colonists from various countries arrived in the New World; they further declared their cultural independence by adapting the dialect. There are key differences to British English (BrE) in grammar, spelling (e.g. US ‘’neighbor’ & theater”’ vs BrE ‘’neighbour’’ & “theatre”), vocabulary (e.g. US ‘’apartment’’ vs BrE ‘’flat’’), and pronunciation (e.g. The merger of vowel sounds and the distinguished /r/).
  • Indian English – Originally due to colonialism under the East India Company’s ruling, public English instruction began in the 1830s. Now, English is India’s 2nd most spoken language for economic progression. We also have India to thank for common English words in use today like shampoo, pyjamas and karma
  • Austral English – After the establishment of the Colony of New South Wales in 1788, Australian and New Zealand parted from BrE by merging dialects to form their own English variant. 
  • African English – Africa itself is diverse with languages. British settlers, colonisation and colonialism, had a major impact on English spoken across Africa, from Cape to Cairo and everywhere in between. Some English words borrowed from African languages include banjo and yam, and there are the South African English non-lexical and reduplication features for emphasis with words like now-now to wrap your head around. 

That’s not discounting the many other English varieties []  such as Irish English, Scottish English, Falkland Islands English, Sri Lankan English, Vincentian English, Jamaican English, Hong Kong English, and so on. 

And, of course, each English variety has various dialects and accents, resulting in a conglomerate of English spoken worldwide, each claiming to be the correct standard. 

Which English is Best?

All of them! The beauty of this language is its adaptations to local languages. Whichever variety of English you speak is correct for the country and surroundings you’re residing in. We can only but celebrate the variations and the humour it provides when comparing them.

How English Varieties and Dialects Affect ESL

First, English varieties affect your TEFL job interviews, particularly for online English teaching companies. Prior to interviews, investigate which English variety is preferred and taught at the company or school. For example, if the country or company favours American English pronunciation, you’ll have to practice modifying your accent to match the expectation. Use the Cambridge Dictionary [] audio functions to practice pronouncing common English words like water [] and mirror [] in both dialects. Additionally, if you have a particularly strong regional accent, practice a clear, more neutral English accent by checking out YouTube videos like this one [] on connecting words like a native speaker or this clear pronunciation video []. 

Then, when it’s time to teach your students, again identify the school’s preferred English variety. As the ESL/EFL teacher, less focus should be on your accent and more on teaching consistent English rules regarding spelling, pronunciation and vocabulary. Invest in or have bookmarked on the Internet the Oxford [] and Merriam-Webster [] dictionaries that you can consult if you get stuck with spelling or pronunciation.

How English Varieties Affect Proficiency Tests

It further affects the international standardised language proficiency tests IELTS []  and TOEFL [] for migration, study or work. The IELTS test accepts either British or American English spelling, whereas TOEFL requires American English. However, the Hindu E-Paper [] reports that non-American English is acceptable to use in TOEFL as long as the English is consistent and “…the evaluator can understand what the test-taker is trying to convey …the British or Indian accent will not be a criterion for disqualification.”

In conclusion, don’t let these varieties and dialects shy you away from English teaching as a second or foreign language. It’s one of the most rewarding careers as you become an important part of another person’s language progression, ultimately helping them to take a step forward to realising their goals and dreams. 

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