Are you someone who usually studies English in a formal classroom setting or by using a common English textbook? If so, you are in for quite a surprise when you begin interacting with native English speakers! Try listening to the radio or reading the news. Watch an American television series or speak with a native English-speaking tourist in your hometown.
What do you notice? Native speakers almost always use slang terms and expressions throughout formal and informal encounters. Because there are a diverse range of idioms and colloquialisms used in the English language, I have chosen to create three common scenarios that you may find yourself in: a friendly encounter, a college classroom, and a business meeting.
Scenario 1: Night Out with the Peeps
One morning I decided to take a walk in the park to clear my head. As I was strolling along, I bumped into the peeps. They exclaimed, “What's up?! Are you hanging in there?”
I replied by saying, “I'm about to go nuts, but things are looking up.”
One of them said, “You're such a team player! Let's hang out tonight.”
I said, “Alright man, I want to let loose to shake off all this stress from work.”
Whew, is this enough to make your head spin? Can you understand the main idea of this passage? Which idioms and colloquialisms can you figure out based on the context of the scenario? Let's break it apart.
- Peeps: These are your friends or associates.
- Clear my head: If you have been focusing on something for a long time, you may feel tired. You can go somewhere to take your mind off these things. You can clear your head by thinking or doing something for fun.
- Strolling along: This is a casual way of saying a person is taking a calm, relaxed walk.
- Hanging in there: Are you okay? Are you able to manage this difficult situation? Yes, you are hanging in there.
- Bumped into: Bumping into someone is not so literal. This is referring to someone who coincidentally meets someone they know.
- Going nuts: You can also say you are “going bananas.” This means you are going crazy!
- Looking up: Things will soon begin to improve if you think positive thoughts.
- Team player: This refers to a person who will “hang in there” and continue to persevere until the work is finished.
- Hang out: If you want to spend time with your friends, you will schedule a time to “hang out” or spend time together.
- Let loose: If a person is uptight, he or she needs to relax and go have some fun.
- Shake off: Find a way to get rid of all the stress that has built up. Go out and do some fun activity!
Main idea: While the character went on a walk, he coincidentally met his friends in the park. These friends knew he was going through a stressful time at work, so they asked him to spend time with them to relieve his stress.
Scenario 2: The College Classroom
During class the students were bored out of their minds. Out of the blue the professor announced, “To kick off the beginning of this three day weekend, I'm going to give out a pop quiz.” The students were nervous wrecks and wished they had pulled all nighters! The professor said, “I will give each of you a cheat sheet so you won't bomb the quiz. Will someone give me a hand passing out these papers?” The small talk subsided once the quiz began.
- Bored out of your mind: This term is used when someone is so bored that they don't know what to do with themselves.
- Out of the blue: This is an occurrence or event that takes place all of a sudden when no one is expecting it to happen.
- Kick off: This term is not so literal either. If you want to start a new series of events or classes with a fresh start, you can kick it off with a game, or in this case, a quiz!
- Pop quiz: Have you ever been given a quiz “out of the blue”?
- Nervous wreck: People are often “scared out of their minds,” “scared to death,” or want to hide in a corner when they are nervous wrecks!
- Pull an all nighter: When a student needs to finish homework, he or she may stay awake for the entire night without sleeping to complete the assignment(s).
- Cheat sheet: Professors often provide reference guides for students to use during a test. For example, you can find a cheat sheet containing formulas for algebra or chemistry.
- Bomb a test: Have you ever utterly and completely failed a test before?
- Give me a hand: Please help me with this task.
- Small talk: Students who casually chat amongst themselves are making small talk.
Main Idea: The students were no longer bored when the professor gave out an unexpected quiz. The students wished they had stayed up all night studying. They stopped chattering after a student helped the professor pass out the cheat sheets.
Scenario 3: The Business Meeting
“Good morning everyone! I'm sorry to say, but the ideas we brainstormed at the last meeting were lost due to a computer bug. We are going to have to start over from scratch today. Do you read me? You can review these ideas after the meeting because our secretary will keep the minutes,” the manager announced. As the meeting progressed, all of the employee were on the same page because they were all onboard with the program. They were on a roll! “Please be sure to touch base with me after the meeting so we don't have to play phone tag. Thank you.”
- Brainstorm: Can you come up with ideas to help solve the current problem? When writing an essay, you can first write down a bunch of ideas you may want to discuss later on.
- Computer bug: This is a virus on your computer which corrupts your files.
- Start from scratch: Start from the beginning.
- Do you read me?: Do you understand what I'm saying?
- Keep the minutes: The secretary of the business meeting records information that is discussed throughout the session.
- On the same page: Does everyone agree with and understand what is going on?
- Onboard: Everyone is willing and able to execute the plan or task presented.
- On a roll: This is a continuous series of successes.
- Touch base: If you haven't spoken with someone for a long time, go talk to them to be sure you are “on the same page.”
- Phone tag: This occurs when someone makes a phone call but no one answers. For example, if I call my co-worker but he doesn't pick up the phone, I will leave a message. When he returns my call, I don't pick up my phone so he has to leave me a message.
Main idea: All of the ideas the employees came up with during the last meeting were lost due to a computer virus. Therefore they had to start over and come up with new ideas. All of the employees seem to agree with and be willing to help the manager with his new plans. After the meeting, the employees were supposed to communicate with the manager and review the secretary's notes.
There are thousands of slang terms and expressions in the English language. Although it is tricky to understand the meanings associated with each of them, it will become more natural for you to use them if you insert yourself in as many different situations as possible. Keep exploring and you will soon discover interesting idioms and colloquialisms.
Hero image by Damir Bosnjak (public domain)