24 Mar 2014

Foreign slang

Slang, perhaps one of the hardest things to grasp as a language learner but once you've got it (and can use it correctly) its probably fair to say that you've earnt the right to call yourself bilingual.

However, this is no easy feat; as a Brit I could go from London to Newcastle and everywhere in between and probably not fully understand what everyone was saying to me. This also goes for other countries, regional variations can be quite problematic, for example the slang I learnt while in the Nord-Pas de Calais region of France seemed rather strange to my Parisian friends.

To help you out along the way here are some examples and advice on when/where to use them.


As I have already said, English slang varies tremendously from city to city, so with that in mind here are some examples from the larger northern and southern cities.

  • London: aka Cockney rhyming slang. This phenomenon came about (as with a lot of slang) as a way to confuse the police and hide any illegal activity. The basic concept is to take an expression that rhymes with a word and use the expression instead of the word. 
         Some examples: 'alone' = Jack Jones, i.e "I've been on my Jack Jones all day" 
                                   'bar' = Ringo Starr, i.e "Let's go for a few Britneys* in the Ringo"
                                   'beers'* = Britney Spears (see above)
                                   'wrong' = Pete Tong, i.e "Its all gone Pete Tong"
                                   'winner' = Chicken dinner, i.e "Everyone's a chicken dinner"

Source: www.etsy.com
  • Newcastle: aka Geordie. Famous for their friendly attitudes, the night life and the infamously tricky accent, this is a place everyone should visit. While their slang doesn't rhyme it is still rather confusing.
         Some examples: 'propa' = very, really or significantly, i.e "that film was propa good"
                                  'Toon' = Newcastle, city centre or Newcastle FC, i.e "I'm going to Toon"
                                  'howay man' = no real translation, a general proclamation of encouragement or exhortation.
                                  'canny' = good, i.e "that's canny".
  • General slang. There are some older phrases that are still used all over such as 'summat' (something), 'berk' (a fool/idiot), 'mate' (friend) or 'bob' (used to be a shilling now used for money in general), but you will also find all of the slang that has come about with (American) popular culture such as 'selfie', 'twerk' or 'YOLO'.  


Just to be confusing in French as well as regional variations there are also two types of slang. There is the normal slang and then there is something called 'verlan'. 
  • General slang: As with most slang, there is no real pattern but if you are able to get the hang of some of these words, not only will it enrich your vocabulary but it will also help you integrate with the French, especially with the young people. 
         Some examples: 'un mec/type/gars' = a guy/man                    'le fric/thune/blé' = money
                                  'une nana' = a girl/woman                              'j'ai la dalle' = i'm starving
                                  'un pote' = a (male) friend                              'la tronche/gueule' = face 
                                  'un(e) gosse' = a kid                                      'tomber dans les pommes' = to faint
                                  'le bide' = stomach                                         'un flic/keuf' = policeman

Source: www.pinterest.com
  • Verlan: This is a type of "pig latin", if you will, that is still very much in use today. To 'verlan' a word you separate the syllables, reverse them and put the word back together. For example: noir -> renoi.
          Some examples: 'une meuf' = une femme                           'relou' = lourd
                                   'chelou' = louche                                      'une teuf' = une fête
                                   'cimer' = merci                                         'zarbi' = bizarre
                                   'ouf' = fou                                                'zyva' = vas-y


As with French and English, Spanish slang has a lot of regional variations and each Hispanic country has variations which is again potentially problematic for learners. So we'll start with the basics...
  • Spain:
                    'Una gozada' - applies to anything that is a pleasant experience, i.e: es una gozada verle jugar
                    'Guay' - cool, a catch-all adjective, i.e que zapatos guays
                    'Chungo/a' - dodgy, i.e es una tía chunga
                    'Una birra' - a beer (borrowed from Italian).
                    'Beber como una esponja' - to drink like a sponge/to drink a lot
                    'Una clavada' - a rip off

  • Mexico: 
                     'No hay bronca' - no problem
                     'Chela' - beer
                     '¿Qué onda?' - What's up (¿Que paso?)
                     'Chido' - cool
                     'lindo/a' - beautiful (spain = guapo/a)
                     'La poli' - the cops
  • Argentina:
                            'Mala leche' - bad luck 
                            'Chabón' - a guy/dude
                            'Langa' - a cool person
                            'Charlar' - To chat/have a conversation
                            'La cana' - the police
                            '¿Qué contás?' - What's up?

And just to prove how tricky all of this really can be....

If you want to start learning a second language or get some extra practice contact us and we will help you organise your stay. 

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