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“IBLCE English” Means “British English”

The International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBLCE) announced that, beginning with its 2013 exam, all English-language publications will be available in only one form of English–British English. IBLCE will no longer make a separate American English exam available.

Exam-takers used to the American English version of the exam may be surprised by the British English text they’ll see next month, particularly if they missed this item from the International eNewsletter from the Board of Directors (Dec. 2012).

According to the IBLCE, there are “relatively few substantive differences between British English and American English,” and the change makes sense because British English is “the most common form of English used worldwide.”

English-speaking exam candidates should therefore expect to see a host of words that may cause them pause. IBLCE states that British English terms will be followed by equivalent American English terms in parentheses—ex., “nappy”(diaper)—and we can expect they will give translations for other baby- or feeding-focused words as well, such as “dummy (pacifier),” “teat (nipple),” or “winding (burping).” Readers should be able to self-translate such words as “recognise,” “colour,” and “centre.” Readers may be caught off-guard by the British spelling of medical terms. Words such as “foetus,” “aetiology,” or “amenorrhoea” may appear.

I don’t find these differences bothersome, although I have been alerting the people in my exam prep courses this year—that’s my job, after all.

What I do find bothersome is IBLCE’s assertion that the “substantive differences” will be “relatively few.” Perhaps the IBLCE means that their vocabulary of baby- and feeding-focused terms in need of translation is short. In a more general sense though, there may be many other differences. Anyone who has had a British roommate or professor, might have heard “loo,” “pram,” “barrister”,” “cotton wool” (or a host of other “Britishisms”), and it is easy to think of situations where they might arise on the exam. Would these be translated? Would the term “sick” mean “ill,” as it does for Americans—or would it mean “nauseated,” per Britain?

I don’t know if these words will appear on the exam, or if they would be translated. I am not suggesting that IBLCE is trying to trick or confuse anyone. However, without much time or effort, I can think of more than 20 word differences between American and British English. That seems to me to be more than a few.

How will these changes affect American exam-takers, and how will it affect those who opt to take the take the exam in English because they have studied the subject in (American) English?

Let’s look at the numbers. While British English may be “the most common form of English used worldwide,” as IBLCE states, it seems unlikely that it is the most common form of English among IBLCE exam candidates and re-certifiers. In 2012, the IBLCE exam was administered in 17 languages on 55 continents to 3,550 candidates. Over half of the exams were administered in the U.S. and Canada, presumably to American English exam-takers.

We know that more than half of the IBCLCs worldwide reside in the U.S. (roughly 13,300 of 26,000). Given that dozens—perhaps hundreds—of words have “substantive differences” in spelling or meaning between the two versions of English, I find it puzzling that the Board came to this decision.

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  1. Sally Wardle

    Perhaps, time and cost of preparing for both is part of the reason??.. It certainly was an experience learning American English when i first arrived in the USA way back in 1990….even taking the CGFNS and NCLEX exams..It was definitely harder for the American to understand what I was saying… I don’t mind it..of course i wouldn’t! I doubt we will fully know the reasoning for the decision… I often “translate” still in my head..altho a Diaper is a Diaper…I have been known to slip back into Nappies and dummies and Winding…usually the Mom I’m working has recently moved here from UK..or South Africa, Australia…ah,, that is where it could have stemmed from,too… interesting.. and btw, I let my hair go natural.. had to start the colour again,as it did not turn the beautiful silvery white you sport… your hair is absolutely beautiful.. might have to say yes,your highness…with a little similar to the Queen’s…

  2. Sherry Weersing

    I have to tell you that the more I deal with this organization the more frustrated I get. This is the first time I am hearing this news and I took 2 of your courses this year.

  3. Debra Knight

    I am so glad I retested last year! I hope IBLCE will realize American English represents more of their IBCLC’s and reverse their decision before I have to retest in 2022. Thank you or keeping us informed.

  4. Lyn McNair

    You have got to be kidding me?? This exam that is once a year and now the board decides to change the language.
    Seriously! I agree this organization is going over the top and is getting more and more difficult.
    This should be reconsidered.
    How many sitting for the exam will be unaware, I got this by accident.
    I’m glad one more time and I’ll be retired!

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