As an ESL tutor for 13 yrs, funnily enough, I’ve never been asked this question, so maybe it’s a waste of time that I even writing about this! That’s not to say I haven’t had students ask me which word is preferable to use when there is a choice between the American used word and the word used in the UK but as for wanting a general rule I think my students must be more practical than I am and they don’t seem to be as bothered about this as I am.
So why aren’t my students more bothered by this? In no particular order I’d say:
1. They have bigger fish to fry, meaning when you’re learning a foreign language while it’s important to take note of the finer details and subtleties you don’t want to lose site of the forest from the trees. The most important thing is speaking clearly and fluently, with context you’ll be understood whichever word you decide to use, so just pick one and go with it with confidence.
2. Synonyms are a normal part of any language. That there are different words to describe things is perfectly understandable. That within a country there might be certain regions that favour one word over another is unsurprising. Just in this last sentence the auto spell correcter wants to change favour to favor which is the American spelling I’m not someone who is very detail orientated but this bothers me!
3. Most of my students are European and therefore are less influenced by American culture. If my students were from Central or South America maybe they’d be more likely to want to know and use the most commonally used words in Nth America. There’s an interesting and an amusing imbalance in the native English speaking world. In the non American, native English speaking world there is much more familiarity with different English words to describe things but you can get quite a blank, confused look from Americans who are completely unaware of these words. Trying to use words that my American friends haven’t heard before then becomes a bit of a game.
So if you want to have a bit of fun with your ESL teacher start asking them which word to use.