If you’ve been working in the United Kingdom, you might assume that the English you learned will help you get around when you move to the United States. Good news: for the most part, it will! But there are quite a few differences in vocabulary and slang between British and American English that you should be aware of when you consider traveling or moving to the US. Even within American English, terms can vary by region. Fortunately, there are many resources to learn the differences between American and British English. In this series, we’ll go over some of the common differences in the vocabulary you’re likely to experience – starting with transportation.
In addition to driving on the right side of the road, Americans use many different terms from the British when it comes to transportation. Familiarize yourself with the following terms, and you should feel confident in your ability to navigate your new home.
If you’re getting around using public transit, there are a few differences you’ll need to be aware of.
In the UK, you might say that you’re going to use transport, while Americans would say transportation. Brits get around the city using the underground or tube, and Americans take the subway. While in the UK, you might wait in a queue, purchase a return ticket, and hop on the coach, while in the US, you’d wait in line, buy a roundtrip ticket, and catch the bus. A single ticket in the UK is a one-way ticket in the US, and a timetable is a schedule.
Many parts of a car have different names in the US, as do many common sights on the road.
If you want to drive in the US, you’ll need to get your driving license – known to Americans as a driver’s license. If you own a car, you’ll also need to register it and get your number plate – or license plate. Or maybe you prefer a motorbike…make that motorcycle!
Having car trouble? In the UK, you might use your indicator to pull over to the kerb and check under the bonnet, but in the US, you’ll use your blinker or turn signal, pull over to the curb, and look under the hood. A boot is a trunk in the US, and a windscreen is called a windshield. Tyre sounds the same but is spelled tire in American English.
Brits drive on the road surface and walk on the pavement, but Americans drive on the pavement and walk on the sidewalk. Depending on where you are in the US, there will be a different word for motorway – typically, these are known as freeways in the western states and highways elsewhere. Flyovers are overpasses in the US, dual carriageways are divided highways, and crossroads are intersections. If you’re driving on a highway, you’ll be certain to see lots of lorries – known to Americans as trucks.
While in the UK, you might be directed along a diversion, through a roundabout to arrive at the car park, in the US, you’ll have a detour through a traffic circle (though sometimes you do still see the word roundabout in some regions of the states) to get to the parking lot.
In the UK, children get to cross zebra crossings protected by lollipop men/ladies, while in the US, it’s a bit more mundane – crossing at crosswalks with crossing guards.
Don’t forget to fill your estate car (station wagon) with petrol (gas)!
Feeling overwhelmed? Remember that most of the English you’ve learned in the UK will serve you just as well in the US. Many Americans will understand British English terms if you’re struggling to remember the American word. Review and practice these new words, and you should have no problem getting around in your new American home.