Learning England’s English: An American Perspective


Coming from the United States to England, I knew that there was going to be things I’d need to get used to hearing. In my head, I’d watched enough Game of Thrones to be familiar with a few different British accents, and I was aware enough of some of the more famous differences in language. I knew that what we call fries back home were chips, what we call chips were crisps, and what we call elevators were lifts. Simple stuff, really. This was going to be a seamless transition.

Then, on my first night out during Freshers’ Week, after a couple of drinks, someone asked me ‘You alright?‘. My response was to shoot them a dirty look and say ‘Yeah, I’m fine, why?’. The conversation ended fairly quickly; the chances of making a fast friendship were pretty low at this point. It’s since come to my attention that I was absolutely the rude one in this situation, and it’s chalked up to a small difference in communication.

“The implication of the question even being asked is that from the looks of things, I’m probably not alright.”

In the UK, the equivalent of saying ‘You alright?’ to someone is ‘How are you?’ or perhaps ‘What’s up?’ or “What’s good?“. It’s a friendly greeting, the intention being to start a conversation or see how the other person is. Where I come from, ‘You alright?’ means more along the lines of ‘Are you okay?’ and if you’re out drinking it might get followed up with “You should go to the bathroom” or “Do you want me to get you some water?” The implication of the question even being asked is that from the looks of things, I’m probably not alright. Something must be wrong, I’ve had too much to drink or I look very upset.

Even upon realizing this, my first instinct when I heard the question was to feel a little bit offended. I’m sure I’ve given more people a strange look than I’d like to admit when being asked the question. I’ve been in England for about three weeks at this point, and I think I’ve successfully rewired my brain to understand this subtle difference between American English and British English. Only recently have I been able to respond naturally, with an appropriate response, usually something simple like ‘Good, how about you?’.

I’ve found that people are very curious as to why I chose to leave America to pursue my studies at Southampton. Typically, my response includes something about my interests being internationally focused, and that for that reason it made sense in my head to study internationally. That’s usually followed by something to the effect of ‘I didn’t want to learn a new language.‘ Now that I’ve spent a significant amount of time at the university, however, I’m starting to realize that in a sense, I am learning a new language. And I’m quite alright with that.


Daniel Fitzpatrick is a MA Transnational Studies student hailing from Windsor, Connecticut in the United States.

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