How to Learn English Slang

One of the hardest things about learning English in an English-speaking country is figuring out how to learn English slang.  This is because slang words don’t mean what you would normally think.

What is Slang?

Slang words are idioms or expressions that mean something different from what they originally did. A perfect example is the word, “cool”, which now means “fashionable”, “fun”, etc.  The slang word “cool” has become so well-known that nobody thinks you mean “cold”.

Slang words spread like a virus from person to person.  They get very popular for a while, then die out as new words come into fashion.

Where Slang Comes From

Slang usually starts with one person or TV character that people think is cool. Words made up by a country's president or a big company usually don’t turn into slang that everyone uses. But words made up by football stars, characters on TV shows or the most popular people in school tend to catch on.  This is because people want to act and sound like that person or character.

Slang words will be very different, depending on whether you're learning English in America or England, and Australian slang is completely different!

How to Learn English Slang

One of the best ways to learn English slang is the way English speakers do it – by watching TV!  Not just any TV shows though – there are some shows that invented a lot of the words we use all the time.  A few good shows to watch are:

  • The Simpsons
  • South Park
  • Friends
  • Seinfeld
  • How I Met Your Mother

These shows are good because the characters made up a lot of words that everybody uses today (especially The Simpsons!)

The best way to watch these shows to learn English slang is by renting the DVDs and watching with subtitles.  Try watching them with English subtitles, and then again with subtitles in your own language.  That will help you to understand how and when slang words are used.

Another great way to learn English slang is to listen to new pop music, and read the lyrics as the song plays.  If you hear a word or phrase you don’t understand, look it up on Urban Dictionary

One other good website to look up English slang words is the World English Project.  Are there any English slang words you've heard that you didn't understand?  We'll help you out if you ask us in the comments!

Sneak Peek: On Friday, we'll have a blog post asking you to take part in a survey about how you learned English. (You might even win a prize if you take part!)

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