Who the Heck is Zed?! Teaching (American and British) English Abroad

This post was written by Matthew Clark

Two days into my new career teaching English as a foreign language, I realized I didn’t know much about my trade.  I was visiting a class of 5th “formers” (please see chart below), and as a welcome gift they elected to sing me the alphabet song.  Clearly they had been practicing for a few weeks, and I was quite impressed…until they reached “W-X, Y and Z.”  Instead of pronouncing the last letter of the alphabet as “zee” like any English speaker knows is correct, they sang “zed.”

I maintained my composure and congratulated them on their song despite the strong sense of embarrassment I felt for their poor, misguided classroom teacher that had taught them “zed” instead of “zee.”  Later in the day, however, I witnessed an 11th “former” commit the same mistake when spelling aloud “zoo” for his teacher.  My goodness, I thought to myself, it’s almost like a transmittable disease, this ZED thing, and it appears the entire school has been infected!


A few weeks later during a lesson with some of my more advanced ESL students, I decided to correct them of this mistake and ask them where in the world they had heard of this “zed.”  Sasha, one of the best speakers in class, explained that it was British pronunciation and quite acceptable.  On the off chance he was right I steered the conversation away from the topic as tactfully as possible and, as soon as the last bell of the day had rung, I raced to the internet café to research the truth.  Sasha was correct—“zed” is the British pronunciation of the letter “z.”

Shocked, I continued my search about the difference between British and American English and soon learned several new words (sample sentence: “I love to eat bangers in my flat while wearing trousers”). English has many variations that permeate all components of the language—pronunciation, lexicology, spelling (favorite vs. favourite, color vs. colour), and grammar (do something on the weekend vs. at the weekend).

I encourage any English teacher to familiarize themselves with these differences before heading into the ESL classroom.  See the chart below to get started, and be sure to check out the ABCs by the awesome singing mushroom heads on YouTube).  It will save you a lot of embarrassment, can provide you with several teaching plans, and it’s highly entertaining!

*The table below was pulled from Georgia State University’s website.

American English vs. British English



































































































































































































































































































































American British
apartment flat
argument row
baby carriage pram
band-aid plaster
bathroom loo or WC
can tin
chopped beef mince
cookie biscuit
corn maize
diaper nappy
elevator lift
eraser rubber
flashlight torch
fries chips
gas petrol
grade (in school) form
guy bloke, chap
highway motorway
hood (car) bonnet
jello jelly
jelly jam
kerosene paraffin
lawyer solicitor
license plate number plate
line queue
mail post
motor home caravan
movie theater cinema
muffler silencer
napkin serviette
nothing nought
overpass flyover
pacifier dummy
pants trousers
parking lot car park
period full stop
pharmacist chemist
potato chips crisps
rent hire
sausage banger
sidewalk pavement
soccer football
sweater jumper
trash can bin
truck lorry
trunk (car) boot
vacation holiday
vest waistcoat
windshield (car) windscreen
zip code postal code
grade (in school) form
lawyer solicitor
license plate number plate
line queue
mail post
motor home caravan
movie theater cinema
muffler silencer
napkin serviette
nothing nought
overpass flyover
pacifier dummy
pants trousers
parking lot car park
period full stop
pharmacist chemist
potato chips crisps
rent hire
sausage banger
sidewalk pavement
soccer football
sweater jumper
trash can bin
truck lorry
trunk (car) boot
vacation holiday
vest waistcoat
windshield (car) windscreen
zip code postal code