information for global expats

Languages for Expats in the United States Of America

Submitted: September 2013

Under US immigration law, a basic English language test must be passed by individuals who wish to become US citizens, no such test is required for those wishing to become permanent residents or who plan to stay in the country for a limited period of time.

However, English is the international language of business and the native language in the USA. It is therefore wise to gain basic English language skills prior to arrival in the country.

Language courses are widely available via the internet as distance learning projects and can enable individuals gain the standard necessary for living and working in the USA. A good introduction is the free online tuition offered by USA learns (https://www.usalearns.org). The website uses multi-media systems to help adults learn English. Another good starting point is ESOL. The website offers courses for beginners, intermediates and advanced learners and also has a page dedicated to life in the USA (https://www.esolcourses.com/content/topicsmenu/life-in-the-usa.html) with listening, reading, quiz and puzzle sections.

Cambridge English, part of Cambridge University (https://www.cambridgeenglish.org), offers a comprehensive range of language courses designed for beginners, intermediates and those who wish to gain an English language qualification recognised by many businesses.

Another option is to attend an English language school in the USA. EF (https://www.ef.co.uk) has teaching facilities in 12 locations across the USA and offers students the opportunity to immerse themselves into life in their chosen city.

There are a variety of language schools to choose from and generally, lessons are structured not only in a classroom setting but also encompass practical elements such as a variety of social events that include opportunities to talk to native speakers.

One important factor that must not be forgotten when thinking about the English language in the USA is the difference that exists between this and the language as it is spoken in the UK. For example, the term purse in American English is used for a lady’s handbag; faucet is a tap; sidewalk is the pavement and the boot of a car is called a trunk.

So, even if your English language knowledge is considered sufficient for your stay in the USA, it might be a good idea to familiarize yourself with some of these terms as confusion could reign supreme otherwise. The English Club website (https://www.englishclub.com/vocabulary/british-american.htm) lists English and American terms used to describe the same thing and is worth a look.

There are some grammatical differences that someone speaking UK English will probably become aware of, but these are only minor and the American English way of speaking will often be adopted by an expatriate after a while. Greater differences are apparent in the spelling of individual words. The British Council (https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/en/grammar-reference/british-english-and-american-english) provides examples of these differences and enables the website user to engage in a little test to determine if something is said or written in American or UK English.

Accents can potentially be another stumbling block along the way but as long as the basic language knowledge has been mastered, these should not present a major issue for the new expat.



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