The differences in spelling (of numerous words) between “British English” and “American English” (sorry – horrid names – but I didn’t come up with them) isn’t a problem for people in the UK or USA – unless you count the scattering of wavy red lines in MS Word, the problem is for people who are learning English as a 2nd – or maybe even a 3rd language. Which spellings should they use?
Personally I don’t really mind and I will often use both myself, and I would say to anyone learning our language – it doesn’t matter – as long as you are consistent. For example if you are going to use the US spelling of colour (which is color), make sure you use the US spelling of things like honour (honor). Obviously if you’re planning to move to an English-speaking country it would be worth learning the spellings that country uses, mainly to avoid confusion when you read newspapers or magazines etc.
The English language is a complex thing, it has grown and developed over the last two thousand years or so, it has merged and incorporated other languages. It’s a living thing. I have a 1996 edition of the Oxford English Reference Dictionary on my shelf – the cover proudly states 192,000 definitions and entries. I’m not sure of the number of “words” defined – but there are 1686 pages of it (plus a load of appendices after that). According to The Global Language Monitor there are 1,013,913 words in English (according to answers.com French has around 220,000).
But saying all of this the one thing I do not like is the “text” speak that today’s youth seem to like using, call me old-fashioned (and I’m only in my 30’s), but when I send a text I spell everything out fully with the correct capitalisation and punctuation, not doing the abbreviations, this has in recent years spread to services like twitter with its 140 character limit – again here I try to spell things fully and not resort to these abbreviations, and back to the people learning English, how do they know that great and gr8 could mean the same thing?
Sticking to using full words in the limitations (although SMS is not really limited on modern phones) allows a greater range of words to be used – thesaurus.com is great for this!
So go forth and use this great language to its fullest, whether you use British or American, like having u’s in words, love or detest z’s and if you want re or er – just write something and enjoy the words.