Speaking English Slang

Most of what you see or learn in English coursebooks or on learning English websites is “standard English”. Learning standard English is useful, as most people in most countries would understand it – even if they don’t always use it themselves!

But if you go to a country where English is usually spoken as the main language, you’ll hear a huge variety of expressions – not all of which you’ll find in coursebooks. Some expressions are unique to that person (their own, particular way of speaking), others are regional or dialect-type expressions, and others are slang – in fashion one week but not the next.

As an example, here are just a few of the different ways to say “How are you?”

How’s it going?
How are things?
What’s up?
How you doing?
How’ve you been doing?
How’s life?
You alright?
Alright?
Alright mate?

As you’ve probably noticed, not all of these are “grammatically correct”! But they’re all quite common in the UK.

What should you do if you don’t understand an expression?

Don’t panic!

Don’t feel you need to learn every phrase you might hear. It’s enough to learn the more common or standard ways of saying something and to use those until you feel confident. Then you can experiment with new ways.

Use the context to help you understand

If you’re meeting a friend or an acquaintance, there’s a good chance that the first thing they say is a greeting. So even if you don’t understand the exact phrase, give a standard answer like “good” or “fine” followed by a “you?” Then, if you like, you can ask them what they said / meant.

Listen to intonation

Even if you don’t understand all the words in a phrase, listen to hear if the voice goes up or down. If it goes up on a “yes-no” question (such as “Alright?”) or down on a wh-question like “How’s it going” you can give a one-word answer like “Yes”.


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