Posts tagged ‘english as a foreign language’

July 28, 2015

About Slang

I have one simple and easy piece of advise to give when it comes to slang terms: stay away!  To use an American expression “don’t touch it with a 10-foot pole” – meaning “don’t even go near that one.

If you live in a foreign country and get to the point where you can speak the language rather fluently the temptation is great to adopt slang terms, or maybe dialects and regional expressions.  Some of that can be okay, some might be unavoidable and some should be avoided at all cost – 10-foot pole stuff.

Let’s start with the unavoidable.  I live (lived, will live) in California.  Wide roads with multiple lanes, on-ramps and exits and no cross traffic are called freeways, technically speaking freeways are limited access highways.  So in Northern California we take freeways to get to work/wherever and we refer to them by number.  We would, for example say something like: “I take 280 South and then 880 East to get to work”. In Southern California people also take freeways to work but their they use articles, so they would use “the 405″ to work but the 10” to get to the beach.  What we never ever use in California are things like turnpikes.  That’s for those Eastern folks.

In California we eat subs, not sandwiches and if we talk about you in the plural we will say “you” or something like”you guys” but never y’all.  That’s what they do in the south or mid-west or wherever. So if a foreigner picks up the “y’all habit” when living in “y’all territory” that is pretty much unavoidable and okay.  I use the expression “you guys” all the time, giving away my Californian “heritage”.

So something like: “you guys, let’s take 280 instead of 101 to go to the city” is perfectly acceptable.

Were it gets less acceptable are expressions used by an ethnic or other groups you do not belong to.  If you are a white woman from Germany it will sound stupid if you try and speak like a black kid in the Bronx.  It will also sound stupid if you if try and speak like a surfer dude or your teenage daughter.  It starts with you not sounding authentic and not being able to carry on a whole conversation in that style and ends with you likely using words that are so last week.  That then, instead of making you sound cool, makes you sound lame.

There is also a risk of mixing perceived cool terms, slang and regional vocabulary that do not go together in one sentence making it sound even weirder.  To make this effect clear I always think about  how a foreigner with an accent (because most non-native speakers will retain some form of accent) would sound mixing Swabian words, with Saxon words and a few far northern idiosyncrasies thrown in for good measure.  Add to that a few words my pre-teen son uses with abandon and you have the perfect storm of ridiculousness.  If you do an exercise like that with your own language in mind you’ll undersatad what I mean.

Some of these slang terms eventually make it into the common language by which time they may be carefully adopted in special situations; although I have to say that I find all the “yo, bro” and “whazz up, dude” going on between middle aged men rather annoying.  Something similar goes for women in their 30s, 40s and beyond who scream in high-pitched voices “oh my gosh, this is ,like, so awesome” as if they were 15 years old.  Not so good.

So, again, my advice would be to stay away from the slang and the overly colloquial terms as well as any language that is associated with a specific group you do not belong to.

Of course I am expressing my own views in this blog, not some universal truth but I have seen these things go wrong so many times that I am at least claiming to have a well-informed opinion on this.  An opinion nevertheless.

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