Dispatches from England: British Things My 4-Year-Old Says

One of the things we wondered about when we moved to England was how long it would take our children to acclimate to the way of life here. Naturally, this includes the different accent and the many uniquely British sayings. We’ve been shocked by how quickly our oldest, who is 4 years old, and who attends a British school full-time, has picked up on all of it. In fact, he now speaks with more than just a hint of a British accent.

I’ve been keeping track of the progression as it happens, so at some point a year or two from now, I’ll share how the transformation in the way he speaks went. But for now, I thought it would be fun to list a few of the British things he says regularly.

First Day cropped

  • The loo. Naturally, at 4, habits relating to what he previously called “the potty” come up in conversation a lot. I think after only about two weeks in school, I would hear him saying “the loo” or “the toilet” instead of bathroom or potty.
  • Easy peasy. I had heard this expression from time to time in the U.S., used whenever something is easy to do. But it’s much more common here, and I now catch my son saying it all the time. If I ask him to help with something, he’ll often reply, “Sure, that’ll be easy peasy.” Or “look Mom, this is easy peasy!”
  • Ready, steady, go! In the U.S., to start a race you’d probably say, “Ready, set, go.” But here, it’s “Ready, steady, go.” It was further ingrained in my son’s vocabulary because the popular children’s television network here, called CBeebies, has a song that comes on in between shows that includes the lyrics, “Ready, steady, get set, go” over and over.
  • This will take ages. This expression always makes me laugh, especially coming from a 4-year-old. To an American like me, it seems so dramatic and old-fashioned. He says it all the time, like when we’re waiting at a red light, talking about the upcoming Christmas holiday, or even waiting 15 more minutes for my husband to get home from work so we can eat dinner as a family.
  • Tidy up. One of the funniest conversations I’ve ever had with him happened during his first week of school. I asked him what he liked best about school, and he said, “When it’s time to tidy up.” I laughed and asked why he never liked cleaning up at home, but liked it so much at school. He said, “Well, Mom, you say clean up and at school they say tidy up. I only like to tidy up.” From that point on, we’ve called it tidy up!
  • Nearly. Instead of saying “almost” he now says “nearly” instead. As in, “Mom, I’m nearly ready for school.” Or “I’m nearly done looking at this book.”

Some of these differences probably seem quite subtle, but they’re pretty eye-opening to a parent. It’s been really fun to watch the transformation in him since he started school, and language development and differences are a big part of that.

Read More at Anglotopia


  1. avatar says

    So interesting! As you say, subtle differences! Such as we’d say ‘I’ve nearly finished looking at this book’ rather than using the word ‘done’! Thanks for pointing it out!

    • avatarJodie Shard says

      I was thinking the same – In both American and British you can ask: “Are you hungry?” and the response using present perfect in British “No, I’ve already eaten” and in American “No, I ate already” – same reason why we British wouldn’t say “I’m nearly done reading” we would actually say “I’ve nearly finished”.

  2. avatarJohn Evans says

    Doubtless you’re hoping your little boy doesn’t pick up any of the (numerous) naughtier Britishisms – like the ones Jonathon has listed elsewhere on this site.

  3. avatar says

    In Pennsylvania one often hears “red up” as opposed to clean or tidy up and also, at least in Pennsylvania, pies and cookies (biscuits) are done, people are finished (with whatever task).

  4. avatarGill says

    As a Brit who came to Canada with my husband and two boys some 7 years ago, I’ve had a similar experience the opposite way round! I totally underestimated the subtle differences in language, and boy oh boy are there many. I still find Canadians looking quizzically at me from time to time when I inadvertently use a ‘Britishism’!

  5. avatarPetra says

    Interesting! We don’t live in the UK but my kids are big fans of Harry Potter and just from watching those movies over and over they have picked up some British expressions like , “That’s rubbish!”, the use of “Brilliant” instead of great, and even sometimes “Bloody Hell” (ops, not so good perhaps, lol)

  6. avatar says

    That is interesting! I’m British in the US and I’ve noticed that my kids pick up a lot of my accent when they are young, since they are at home with me. But once they hit preschool and then Kindergarten, they start sounding almost completely American. It’s happened sooner with my 2nd child, since he listens to his older sister talk a lot. As little ones I get them saying “water” like I do and also “ready, steady, go”. Both of their preschool and Kindergarten teachers commented on their slight British accent for words like “little”.

    • avatarCarol Teuchert says

      Same here,
      I am British living in the US my children sounded English until they went to school it was then they realized their Mother was a little different.

    • avatar says

      Wow, what’s really fascinating is that “water” and “little” are two of the first words we noticed him saying differently. Happened even before he started school. I’ve been warned by other expats here that we’ll start to get some strange looks from people in a year or two when he sounds completely British, and we clearly still sound American. Like how could this kid belong to us? :)

      • avatarJean Terpstra says

        I hope you are recording his speech at regular intervals. It will be so neat to hear the change over time. We miss the little mid-western boy, but can’t wait to hear your little Brit!

  7. avatarCanadian Limey says

    I have lived in Canada from 1966, and I still use the occasional ‘Britishism’. What makes it even funnier is that my husband is from the Deep South, so certain words and expression come out of my mouth with a southern drawl. On top of that, I speak French, and the odd word creeps into a conversation with an English speaking individual. I am frequently asked where I am from.

  8. avatarKelli says

    I am finding it the other way after moving from England to Texas with my 7 yr old. In the 8 months here, he has already started to become Americanized. I know it will happen, but it does make me a little sad.

  9. avatar says

    We can’t get our two boys to stop saying “bollocks”. They first seen it in a beer commercial over here in the US, where we live. They laughed and repeated it and would have probably forgot all about it if my hubby, who is from England, didn’t mention that the word “bollocks” is really rude in England. As soon as they heard it is a rude word in England, they embraced it with gusto! They figure it’s not a rude word here and it is the closest they will get to swearing. They have been told the word better disappear when Nana and Granddad visit! I pick my battles, so I let it go. Probably a good thing, as my hubby has a hard time not snickering just a bit when they say it, all the while reminding them it is a rude word.

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