Translations of British words to American words

You may have learned some British words that are almost never used by Americans. To talk like an American, and reduce confusion, here are the translations:

Films are movies

Serials are TV shows

Cinema is movie theater (The sign on the front of the building often will say cinema, but we talk about it as the movie theater.)

Flat is apartment

Lift is elevator

Tram is trolley (these are rare in America)

Pharmacy is drug store (The sign on the front of the building often will say pharmacy, but we talk about it as the drug store.)

Supermarket is grocery store

Torch is flashlight

Rubbish is trash or garbage

On holiday is on vacation

Accommodation is hotel, or apartment, or home, or where you’re staying, or where you live

Surname is last name

Colleagues are coworkers

Zed is zee (the letter z, in Canada it is zed)

C.V. is resume

When discussing numbers above or below zero: plus and minus are positive and negative.

Football is soccer

In America, an underground train is the subway.

Keep your lips and cheeks relaxed

In American English, most of the work is done by the tongue. The lips have to work for some sounds. The cheeks never do any work.

Check to see whether you’re tensing up muscles in your cheeks. Your cheeks need to be completely relaxed when speaking American English; if they aren’t relaxed, the sound won’t be right.

Also make sure your lips stay relaxed except for the sounds that require your lips to do something.

Flap T

Often in ordinary American speech the T sounds like a D. This happens when the T is after a vowel or an R, and before an unstressed vowel. It also happens in some other cases. It’s optional to use the flap T, but sounds much more natural than a regular T.

These pairs of words sound the same in ordinary American speech:

catty caddy

latter ladder

waiter wader

waited waded

fated faded

Examples of words where the T is usually pronounced like a D:

Metal

Whatever

Butter

Party

Seventy

Eighty

City

Sometimes the next word changes a stop T to a flap T, for example:

“What” Here, “what” ends in a stop T

“What about” Here, “what” ends in a flap T, and “about” ends in a stop T

“What about it” Here, “what” ends in a flap T, “about” ends in a flap T and “it” ends in a stop T

See if you can find the flap Ts in this text (The answers are at the bottom):

Ball Lightning, from Wikipedia:

British occultist Aleister Crowley reported witnessing what he referred to as “globular electricity” during a thunderstorm on Lake Pasquaney in New Hampshire in 1916. He was sheltered in a small cottage when he “noticed, with what I can only describe as calm amazement, that a dazzling globe of electric fire, apparently between six and twelve inches (15–30 cm) in diameter, was stationary about six inches below and to the right of my right knee. As I looked at it, it exploded with a sharp report quite impossible to confuse with the continuous turmoil of the lightning, thunder and hail, or that of the lashed water and smashed wood which was creating a pandemonium outside the cottage. I felt a very slight shock in the middle of my right hand, which was closer to the globe than any other part of my body.”

R.C. Jennison

Jennison, of the Electronics Laboratory at the University of Kent, described his own observation of ball lightning:

I was seated near the front of the passenger cabin of an all-metal airliner (Eastern Airlines Flight EA 539) on a late night flight from New York to Washington. The aircraft encountered an electrical storm during which it was enveloped in a sudden bright and loud electrical discharge (0005 h EST, March 19, 1963). Some seconds after this a glowing sphere a little more than 20 cm in diameter emerged from the pilot’s cabin and passed down the aisle of the aircraft approximately 50 cm from me, maintaining the same height and course for the whole distance over which it could be observed.

Here are the words that have a flap T, in the order they appear in the text:

British, reported, electricity, cottage, noticed, what, that, 15, 30, cm, diameter, at, it, quite, that, water, creating, cottage, part

University, seated, metal, 539, Washington, 1963, little, cm, diameter, 50, cm, distance

Vowels

Americans and Canadians like vowels. For good pronunciation and accent reduction, often vowels need to be held for a long time. Listen to some Americans talking, and pay attention to the length of the vowels. For example, listen to this scene from “Scary Movie”:

American English has 14 vowel sounds. The following words all have different vowel sounds and clearly sound different:

fall fell fill feel full fool file foul fail foil foal

hat hot hit heat hut hoot height hate

lack lock lick leak luck look Luke like lake

mat met mitt meet mutt moot might mate moat

Here’s a chart showing more lists of words like these: Vowel Chart

How To Say The Vowel In “Leave”

This vowel sound is the name of the letter E, and usually the letter E is part of the vowel.

The vowel in “leave” is made with the mouth almost closed and the tip of the tongue almost touching or slightly touching the back of the bottom front teeth, and the middle of the tongue lightly touching the roof of the mouth.

This sound is represented several ways in written English:

ee, for example feed, bleed, and green

ea, for example peach, leap, and meat

ie, for example thief, brief, and berries

y, at the end of a word, for example many, berry, tiny, salty, family, and rainy.

Note, the letter I by itself rarely makes the vowel in ‘leave.’ Click here to read more about the letter I

Pronunciation Exercises, Free Ebook

Here’s my book of pronunciation exercises. Most of the exercises use minimal pairs to help you hear and say the sounds of American English. I use this book when teaching English lessons:

Jonathan’s Pronunciation Exercises

Click here if you’re interested in taking English lessons to improve your pronunciation or fluency.

How to Pronounce the Letter I

Usually the letter I makes the vowel sounds in pin or pine. Only rarely does the letter I make another sound; the vowel sound in the words eat and feet; the name of the letter E. That is also an important sound, click here to read about it.

Your tongue should be low in your mouth when saying the vowel sounds in pin or pine. If your tongue is touching your upper teeth or the roof of your mouth, lower the back of your tongue, so that it’s not touching anything. Listen to how the sound changes when you move your tongue. Now you’ll be making a sound that is probably close to the vowel in the word pin. To make this vowel sound, your mouth should be almost closed, and relaxed. The tip of the tongue should be touching or almost touching the back of the lower front teeth.

Here are some more words with the same vowel sound:

it

is

fit

did

still

ship

Here are some words with the other vowel sound that the letter I makes:

white

bite

fine

wine

lime

dive

right

might

fight

light

Notice none of the words in the first list have a vowel, for example an E, at the end of the word. However, many in the second list do end in E. The ones that don’t end in E contain a silent GH. (There are exceptions to these patterns.)

Learn English with an American Tutor

You can take lessons with me over Skype to improve your pronunciation or fluency.

I teach intermediate and advanced speakers of English. Lessons are 55 minutes.

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