Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Idioms and Slang (C)

by AJ

Listen To This Podcast Conversation

Welcome to Effortless English. In today's conversation, I talk to my mother about some of the problems that immigrants, and international students, and visitors to the United States often have when they try to communicate with Americans.

We begin the conversation talking about a co-worker of my mother's. My Mom works in a dental research lab and she works with a lot of doctors and dentists who are from other countries.

Mom: Now he does get a little stumped with,.. I forgot what the English word is,... kind of the slang that we use.

AJ: Uh-huh

Mom: He gets, um, you know, like someone will say "He got cold feet".
AJ: Uhm-uhm

Mom: He doesn't.. ha! He thinks his feet are cold.

AJ: Yeah, those are hard in all languages, you know, its a... cause, you know, they're metaphors basically.... and... you've gotta know what they mean.
Mom: Right, that's the word.

AJ: Spanish has a decent amount of those also. So, ha. So
Mom: Oh they do.

AJ: Yeah. Well there's a guy.. this guy that I work with.. this guy Steve Kaufman, who,.. he speaks nine languages. He's got this internet learning site.
Mom: Uh-huh.

AJ: But he really makes the point and he's totally correct, that, um,.. really in, in a language you have to learn phrases, not so much individual words.
Mom: Uh huh.

AJ: You know individual words will only get you so far.

Mom: Well, well that makes sense.

AJ: Yeah, and, and after that you've gotta learn phrases... that's how you learn the grammar, that's how you learn the slang. So its really,.. the phrases are the, the most important block of language that you've gotta focus on. And, you know, most people focus on just the individual words. And they struggle because of that.

Mom: There's, you know, there's so many of them. There's so many of them, that, uh, its its very confusing.
AJ: Uh-hmmm

Mom: And I think I told you one that, well, this, it wasn't Dr. Soto, it was a Japanese woman, uhm, student, that we had... and and Sharon said that her sister had a lead foot.

AJ: Uh-hmm

Mom: And (s)he said, "I'm so sorry".


Mom: You can tell your class that.

AJ: Ah, that's great.

Mom: She goes... Sharon goes "Ah,". She just,.. Sharon just stood there for a minute, she goes, "Oh no"

AJ: She just drives fast.

Mom: She drives too fast.

AJ: Yes. And you know they never learn that stuff, you know, they... that's the problem, all these English schools in America, in Canada, in Japan..

Mom: Uh huh

AJ: They're teaching them this kind of very formal written style of English.

Mom: That nobody here talks.. speaks.

AJ: Nobody speaks.. and even if they've studies eight years in Japan.. they've, they've.. you know, they majored in English in University.. that was their major... and they've taken it since middle school, and high school, and all through college...

And they come here and they're always shocked that, "Oh my god, I can't even.. I can't have a conversation with any Americans here. What have I been doing for the last, you know, eight years? "

Mom: Right. Right.

AJ: Because they never learned the real, the real language that everybody speaks. Not like, not like teenager slang, not special slang. But just the stuff that everybody knows... You know, if, if, if, you're grandma's age, or my age, or you're a teenager, you know, there are certain idioms and phrases that we all use.

Its kind of this, you know, they learn this kind of very formal dictionary English.
And, you know, just know one speaks like that. I still don't understand why all the textbooks are designed that way, and all the classes are designed that way.

Mom: Uh-huh

AJ: And yet, no one actually talks that way. Its, its just kind of a-- ha!
Actually, I'm, I'm starting a website.... in fact I'm recording your conversation. I forgot to warn you.

Mom: Oh, that's OK.

AJ: Uhm, ah, so I'm going to take little pieces, like our conversation.. maybe what we're... this topic... and maybe about Sigmund.. and I'm gonna transcribe them, I'm gonna write them down. And then I'm gonna define all the... like.. "lead foot". I'll use that one and I'll, I'll describe what that actually means.

And so, my, my hope is that students, you know, anywhere.. they can go to my website, and then they can listen to these conversations and they can learn, you know, the real English that we use. The idiomatic, normal speech.

And I'm recording conversations with Kristin, and I recorded some with Tiffany.. uh, because they, they so desperately need that.

Mom: Uh-huh

AJ: Its Its really sad, its really sad when I see my students come to San Francisco.. and they've, they've had all this English, and they think they're really advanced, uh, and then they're isolated. They don't make friends, they, they, they, they get really frustrated and upset because they, they struggle with just everyday conversations with people.

Its kind of sad because, you know, they come here with these dreams of making all these friends, and getting jobs here, and going to University, and then, and and they think that's gonna happen quickly and they... and that's when they realize, "Wow. All this education I've had.. they weren't teaching me anything useful."

Well, its not totally not, not useful.

Mom: Right

AJ: But there's a lot they missed.

Mom: Uh-hmm

AJ: And then they come here and people say, "Hey, what's up?", and they're, "Huh? What?". You no one... very few people actually say that whole sentence, "Hi. How are you?" You now, uh... maybe in a kind of formal setting, maybe, but... people are like, "What's up?", "Hey", "How's it goin", "Whatcha doin?",...

Mom: Right. Yeah.

AJ: And, and they're just shocked that no one actually uses the sentence they were taught from middle school,.. and no one says it.....

That's the the language learning system in,.. I would say, almost every country, but in Asia it seems, tends to be worse, and its this.. they learn these canned, kind of,...
Mom: Yeah.

AJ:... ways of speaking that are so unnatural. They're, they're, you know, they're studying these textbook dialogues and scripts..

Mom: Uh-huh....

AJ: And, you know, they memorize them by heart. Some classes they literally have to memorize these dialogues, word for word, and repeat them back.

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