Category Archives: Language Learning

British vs American English

Ever wonder why sometimes you see “center” and other times “centre”? Sometimes you see “fulfill” and other times “fulfil”? Many students of English have no clear notion of what exactly makes British and American English different, hence this post. I hope to clear up your confusion.

Britishenglish lessons utrecht

Some people call this “proper English” but it’s actually composed of many different people speaking many different dialects, only a small percentage of which is “received pronunciation” or BBC English. How small? Estimates show that 3-5% of British native speakers actually speak with this accent. So, please, let’s not worry about the accent.

British English is characterised by

  • additional silent letters, like the “a” in paediatric, anaemia, orthopaedic and aesthetic or the “o” in edoema, foetus and manoeuvre;
  • “our” in words like flavour, favourite, endeavour and honour;
  • an additional “l” in words like counsellor, labelled, or traveller;
  • “ise” in words like authorise, characterise, organise and accessorise (though “ize” is becoming more accepted);
  • “yse” in words like analyse, catalyse and paralyse;
  • “re” in words like centre, theatre, calibre and litre;
  • “gue” in words like dialogue, catalogue and prologue.

British English also uses the semi-colon after each bullet point and the full stop at the end of a list, where American English uses no punctuation with bullet points.

Americanenglish lessons utrecht

Americans have stereotypically “worse” speech, but that depends highly on where a person is from. Many people tell me they find American English to be easier to understand, but whether that is because they are more familiar with the accent through the American media or because Americans use fewer rare and complex words, I don’t know.

American English is characterized by

  • deletion of those pesky silent letters, like the “a” in pediatric, anemia, orthopedic and esthetic or the “o” in edema, fetus and maneuver;
  • “or” in words like flavor, favorite, endeavor and honor
  • a single “l” in words like counselor, labeled, or traveler
  • “ize” in words like authorize, characterize, organize and accessorize
  • “yze” in words like analyze, catalyze and paralyze
  • “er” in words like center, theater, caliber and liter
  • “g” or “gue” in words like dialog/dialogue, catalog/catalogue and prolog/prologue

Fortunately, most differences in British and American English are in the spelling or everyday vocabulary domain and so should not have a dramatic impact on research or professional situations.

This is by no means an exhaustive list (though this is a pretty exhaustive list), so use the dictionary and spelling function on each document–choose UK or US English and just follow the dictionary’s recommendations.



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Fortune favors the brave

As a new academic year begins, here’s a thought :

english lessons utrecht

For more than 2200 years, people have been exhorted to take action, to dare, to aspire to achieve great things. How can you use this expression in your life today?


Colleague: I can wait to publish this article until next year when I have more experience.

You: Fortune favors the brave! You might get accepted already–you never know.


I’ve decided to sign up for this writing course even though I’m not finished writing my article yet. It will stimulate me to get it done and you know, fortune favors the brave!


Child: The slide is scary!

You: Fortune favors the brave! Go for it!



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How to use less and fewer

The difference between less and fewer is actually really easy!

Use less with things that you can’t count:

There is less violence in the world today.

Less time is wasted on silly things.

He’s got less money than he had a year ago.

Use fewer with things that you can count:

Strong verbs are easier to read and use fewer words.

Fewer and fewer people know how to use this correctly.

And the most famous:

English lessons Utrecht

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How language transformed humanity

Biologist Mark Pagel shares an intriguing theory about why humans evolved our complex system of language. He suggests that language is a piece of “social technology” that allowed early human tribes to access a powerful new tool: cooperation.

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March 10, 2014 · 12:00 pm

Quit wasting time: 5 ways to study English more effectively

You think you’re studying the right way, but you don’t feel like you are getting anywhere? Most likely you just need to change your approach to become more efficient. Fluency in English doesn’t happen overnight and it doesn’t happen in school. So take your learning outside of the classroom and make improving your English an active part of your daily life.

5. Be consistent

Invest (a little time every day) in a vocabulary trainer on your smartphone or tablet.

4. Focus on the right things

Groups of words, not individual words. If you read one online article per work day in English, take one expression from the article and add it to your vocabulary list. Take expressions from your (English-speaking) colleagues’ emails and add them to your vocabulary trainer. You probably know many of the words already, but can you use them together with such flair?

3. Write every day

When you talk, you need someone to listen. Writing can happen alone and it is one of the easiest ways to convert your passive knowledge into active knowledge. You can write your emails, your to-do list, your meeting minutes in English, or even start a blog or journal.

2. Use your down time

Change your subtitles from Dutch to English. Dutch subtitles are a crutch that is preventing your brain from processing the English that you hear on the TV all the time.

1. Connect with context

This is for all the high school students out there: no one can memorize lists of random words. Add context to your vocabulary lists: write a short, catchy sentence for every word. You’ll have an easier time remembering the words within a context.

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Writing in English: How to get the passive voice right

It’s hard enough to write in the active voice, but once you start writing in the passive voice, things can go haywire. Let’s start with the basics.

How do I form the passive voice? (in four easy steps)

Example sentence: We made a mistake.

1. Identify the verb and verb tense in your active voice sentence.

made, past tense

2. Make your object your new subject.

A mistake…

3. Put the verb “to be” in the tense that you identified in #1.

A mistake was…

4. Put the past participle of the verb after it.

A mistake was made.

When do I use the passive voice?

Not all the time! Not even often! Please read this post about when and why we use the passive voice.

For Dutch speakers…

If you’re Dutch and writing at a high level, the passive voice is going to trip you up. It’s all about the words is and was: we use them in both languages but in vastly different places.

When you use this in Dutch

…use this in English!

 wordt  is
 werd  was, has been
 is  was, has been
 was  had been (was, has been)

The trick is to avoid using is and was in English in the same place as in Dutch. It will be tempting, but resist!

Dutch to English Passive Voice:

1. Deze afdeling wordt goed geleid.
This department is managed well.
2. De binnenlandse markt is hard geraakt door de verhoging van de BTW.
The domestic market was hit hard by the VAT increase.
3. De ideale oplossing is gevonden.
The ideal solution has been found.
4. De eerste auto werd gemaakt in 1886.
The first car was made in 1886.

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Top 10 English mistakes among Dutch speakers and how to correct them

Dear Dutch compatriots,english utrecht

Maybe this year you resolved to improve your English on a professional level. In order to get you started on the right foot, please find below 10 small changes that you can make today that will greatly improve your fluency.

10. I live in Utrecht for two years.

Dutch tenses are used differently than English ones, even if they look similar. Beware! Whenever you have “for 3 months” or “since December” use the form “I have lived” and not “I live”

✔I have lived in Utrecht for two years and I’ve worked here for three months now.

9.  Maybe I do it soon.

English uses the future tense more than Dutch does. Start pronouncing the ‘ll and your English will noticeably improve: I’ll, you’ll, he’ll, she’ll, it’ll, we’ll, they’ll. Read more about when to use will in English.

✔Maybe I’ll do it soon. Don’t worry, I’ll get it done before the end of the week.

8. Yes. No.

You know this: English is less direct and more polite than Dutch. Answering with just one word sounds rude (I know you don’t mean to be!) Remember the rule of three to be more polite:

✔Yes I do. / No I don’t. / Yes I have. / No I haven’t.

Have you finished that presentation yet?

No I haven’t.

7. Hereby

You only use this word in English if you’re writing a contract. Since you probably aren’t doing that, throw this word away. When attaching a document to an email, use

✔Please find the revised version of my article attached.

6. on school

Many prepositions are used similarly, so it’s hard to tell which prepositions are different. On is an easy one though: Are you sitting on the roof of your school? If not, then you are

✔at school

5. Greetings

There are innumerable ways to translate groetjes or groeten, none of which are greetingsRead the blog post about how (not) to use greetings.

✔Cheers/Take care/Kind regards

4. The report is published.

Is published is the past tense in Dutch but the present tense in English, so it usually does not translate exactly. Read more about how to get the passive right in English.

✔The report was published (yesterday). / The report has (already) been published.

3. I am having an idea.

Certain verbs cannot be used in the ing form, even when you’re talking about right now. The most commonly misused one is have because have also appears in many expressions where it means something else, like

We’re having dinner (have = eat)

He’s having a great time (have a great time = enjoy oneself)

When have only means have, it can only appear one way:

✔I have an idea. He has a plan. We have our own company.

2. When I would do that, you wouldn’t like it.

There are actually two issues here: when and would do. Read the post about if/when and conditional sentences.

✔If I did that, you wouldn’t like it.

1. I have seen that yesterday.

I have seen/I saw sounds a lot like ik heb gezien/ik zag. However, you use each form in a completely different way than you do in Dutch. When an action is finished (last week, on Tuesday, yesterday), you have to use I saw even though you would make the sentence with ik heb gezien in Dutch:

✔I saw that yesterday.

If you learned something from this post, please share it with your friends or colleagues!


Filed under Business English, Language Learning