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February 2017

Tips for Learning Slang in Your Target Language

Learn the modern words and phrases not listed in the dictionary

Learning a new language is more than just memorising grammar rules and new vocabulary. The bottom line is communication, and communicating isn’t always as simple as we’d hope. There are dialects, heavy accents, and colloquialisms attached to all languages, making speaking and comprehension all the more difficult. But if slang and regional idioms aren’t always listed in standard dictionaries or textbooks, how do we as students learn them? We must seek them out.


There are reference books that specialise in slang and everyday speech. Such books are useful because they provide an easy reference to understanding idioms. The downside, however, is that they may not cover newer phrases, as “hip language” evolves fairly quickly (take, for example, Internet speech in English—LOL! #learning). Depending on your target language, these texts can either be very easy or hard to find. It should be fairly easy to find such books for more popular languages like English, French, and Japanese. For the less popular languages, you may be able to find similar resources online.

Movies and Television

Perhaps the easiest and best way to learn slang is to watch movies and television in your target language. This is easier today than ever, as many international films and TV series can be found for almost nothing online. Compare this to the days when purchasing imported media came at an elevated price. When selecting a source, be very careful to identify which dialect or accent the film or series is based upon. For example, if you’re studying English and you watch a film set in the city of Boston, you may pick up slang rarely used outside of that state, let alone America. If you are primarily interested in British English, finding a movie based in London may be your best bet. To learn slang common to speakers of any given country, choose movies and TV shows that don’t draw from one specific region.

Social Media and the Internet

If you want to stay abreast on current slang, you should follow native speakers on social media platforms like Twitter. Oftentimes it’s on the Internet that new slang is developed. Reading conversations online may be extremely difficult at first, but it will expose you to a wealth of colloquialisms. You’ll also see what people in your target language’s country are concerned about, a nice lesson on pop culture.

Similarly, reading the comments section on sites like reddit can be an interesting exercise as well. Just be wary that some of the language used may not be suitable for use in casual conversation. The anything-goes nature of some of these sites may introduce you to some slang that could be very inappropriate. If you’re uncertain whether any particular phrase is appropriate, do some research online or consult a native speaker first.

Conversation Partners

To play it safe, it’s best to find a native speaker to practice idioms with. It’s often difficult to know for sure what a colloquialism could mean to a non-native speaker, and you would not want to misuse such phrases, potentially saying something wrong or even offensive. Because slang in any language usually isn’t literal, it would be beneficial to have a native speaker to converse with to know the meanings for sure.

What methods do you use to learn slang? Let us know your tips on our Facebook Page, and be sure to “like” TELC English for more articles on language learning!

Picture (c) Fotolia, Kaponia Aliaksei