American English or British English? Tips to help you when applying to university
The English language curriculum set by the Indian boards has evolved over time and is certainly different from the curriculum in international schooling systems such as the United States or the United Kingdom (upon which the original curriculum was modeled).
Differences in American English, British English and Indian English are related to spelling, usage of active/passive voice and specific expressions and idioms. Such nuances when informally talking and writing generally do not matter as long as when you communicate, you are able to get the point across.
However, if you are applying to colleges abroad, you will have application forms to fill and essays to write. While admissions officers from international universities have become more savvy about contextualising Indian phrases and spellings, understanding these differences can help you put your best foot forward and demonstrate your desire to learn and adapt.
Color or Colour? What should I use?
Whether you use American English or British spellings will depend on the country to which you are applying. Some universities offer guidance on what they prefer. In other countries, such as Canada and Singapore, both spellings are acceptable.
For those of you applying to colleges in the US, make a concerted effort to use American English spellings. You can change the language setting on your word processing software to English US (or UK as the case may be) or look at using apps such as Grammarly, which are also helpful when you need to check grammar and punctuation. American English tends to spell words in a more simplified and pronunciation based manner. British English, on the other hand, spells words as they originally were seen in the languages they originate from. Some examples –
|Er vs. Re||centre, metre, kilometre, theatre, litre||center, meter, kilometer, theater, liter|
|Nse vs Nce||defence, offence||defense, offense|
|Ize vs Ise||apologise, accessorise, recognise, organize, capitalise||apologize, accessorize, recognize, organize, capitalize|
|Or vs our||behaviour, colour, armour, humour, neighbour||behavior, color, armor, humor, neighbor|
|Double “ll” before –ing , -ed||levelled, travelling, modelling,||leveled, traveling, modeling,|
Being Mindful of Indian Phrases
Be mindful of the kinds of phrases and expressions you use when you are describing activities or events. For example, an Indian student will say “take up my paper” or use a “mark sheet.” Certain phrases and expressions are unique to Indian culture (sometimes specific to a region or even a city). Using these expressions in an essay, on the application form or during an interview can cause confusion or worse still, a misunderstanding. For e.g. the word “topper” is subjective to Indian students and actually does not mean anything in American English. Below is a table of some typical Indian phrases and their American English counterpart.
|Indian Expressions||American Expressions|
|A few years back||A few years ago|
|Give an exam||Take an exam|
|Take up my sums||Test me on math questions/problems|
|Mark sheet||Report card|
|Passing out/from||Graduating from or completing|
|Out of station||Out of town|
|[Number] Standard or Class [Number]||[Number] Grade|
|He is in my batch||He is in my grade|
|I can’t make out what you’re saying||I can’t understand what you’re saying|
|Topper||Highest achiever in class|
Students should always use ‘the active voice’ when writing essays for college applications. By writing in active voice, the story focuses on the subject, you! The essay also comes off stronger and engages the reader more effectively. Lastly, with the word limit in mind, writing in active voice makes the essay more concise and less wordy.
Active voice is when the subject in the sentence performs the act or the verb. Passive voice, on the hand, is when the action is acted upon the subject. For example:
The students compared the results of the science test.
Jack wrote the article about Canadian universities.
The results of the science test were compared by the students.
The article about Canadian universities was written by Jack.
Learning the lingo (relevant spellings, expressions and meanings) can be helpful because it demonstrates you are taking the trouble to adapt; it will also help make your transition to life on campus smoother. With a little attention to detail, you can avoid your point being misinterpreted and present a more solid application to admissions officers.
Note – Whether you use American or British English, consistency is key. Stick with one style of spelling and word usage. This includes forms, essays and resumes.
If you are starting college in the US check out our article on some of America’s campus-related idiosyncratic language usages. If you are starting your application process and are sitting down to write your essays read our article on common essay mistakes students make.