Coping with Local Accents and Popular Expressions
When you are not a native of a country and you are attempting to learn the language, it makes sense to converse with local people as much as possible. Not only do you benefit from the practice, but they will also correct you or hopefully give you extra time to think as you are speaking in order that you find the right word or phrase.
But of course this is not always the case because some local people may have strong accents or they may be so familiar with their own language that they don’t realise that you are new to slang terms.
The best thing to do is to politely say that you don’t understand the meaning of a word, sentence or phrase so that they have the opportunity to clarify. People do not usually mind helping others understand the language, in fact many people enjoy the opportunity to share their knowledge.
Smile and say “Would you mind explaining that word please?”. It’s ok to interrupt sometimes, wait for a pause and then let them know that something about what they have said has confused you.
Common issues include the use of slang terms; words or phrases used as a substitute for the real word or phrase being referred to. Examples of common slang words or phrases include the following:
Rip-off: This simply means “to cheat someone” or it can refer to counterfeit goods. To further add to the confusion, it can also be literal; for example, “to rip off a band aid”
Fab: This is a short version of “fabulous”
Alright: This is often used as a greeting and is a way of asking “Are you alright?” it’s a pleasantry and the correct response would be “Yes thanks and you?”
If you don’t understand a word, do ask about it. Many people are happy to explain the word and sometimes the origin of it.
While we are on the subject, greetings can be confusing too. It’s sometimes difficult to know which response would be the correct one since so many greeting phrases exist. A quick rundown of the most commonly used is helpful:
Hey/Hi: A casual non-formal greeting which can be used in a variety of situations. It’s a friendly way to say hello, you can respond with either in return or expand by adding “How are you?”
How do you do?: This is a more formal greeting and is often used in a business or a social setting, usually with a handshake. It is preferable to respond with a return “How do you do?” rather than tell them you’re well.
How’s it going?: This is a friendly and casual enquiry. You can reply “Great thank you, how are you?” or simply “Alright thanks, which is far more casual.
Accents and difficulty
It’s probable that your teacher has a mild accent or if they do have an accent that you have become accustomed to hearing English spoken in that way. Hearing other accents can be very confusing as sometimes, they almost completely change the pronunciation of a word or run two words together making them sound like one.
It is perfectly fine to ask someone to speak a little slower. Tell them that you are still learning to speak English and can’t always keep up. Most people will happily oblige.
Learning a new language is a real challenge and coping with accents and slang is just one aspect of it. A great tip is to try to watch a wide variety of English television shows with subtitles turned on; this way you can pause moments which you find hard to follow and read the subtitles. In this way you will be able to listen and learn at your own speed.