A new study found 71% of the UK’s foreign students want teachers to explain English slang they hear on TikTok. Plus, we help break down some English idioms.
Gen Z English learners are getting bare gassed about flexing TikTok slang in class, according to a new study from international English language exam board Trinity College London.
A survey of 505 English as a foreign language (EFL) teachers in the UK, who work with Gen Z students aged 12 through mid-20s, found that 71% of overseas students want teachers to explain English slang terms they’ve seen on social media or TV.
Some of the most-requested terms include:
- ”Beef”, an argument (and also an Emmy-winning miniseries about the ultimate argument)
- ”NPC”, a non-playable character in video games, or an unbelievably boring person in real life
- ”Rizz”, short for “charisma”, used to describe someone who oozes charm (also Oxford’s 2023 Word of the Year)
- ”Pop-off”, a way to say something or someone is getting wild
Many of the slang terms mentioned in the survey (which was commissioned by Trinity College London while developing its “Skill Up!” English learning app) come from what’s known as Multicultural London English (MLE), spoken by diverse young people in the British capital. Others trace their origins to African-American Vernacular English (AAVE).
But all of these terms have since crossed international borders through their popularity on social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram. The Trinity survey found that 80% of foreign students arriving in the UK have already heard some of these slang terms, though they don’t always know their meaning.
Aside from social media, TV shows like ‘Top Boy,’ ‘Friends’ and ‘Stranger Things’ that have gained international viewers on Netflix and other streaming sites have also contributed to changing the type of English that young foreigners have access to before they arrive in the UK.
That means British teachers are having to up their game when it comes to the slang young people are using – Trinity’s study found that 67% of EFL teachers include MLE in their lessons. They also generally recommend students watch British shows like ‘Bridgerton,’ ‘Sherlock’ or ‘Downton Abbey’ to immerse themselves in British English as they learn the language.
Old-school idioms still confuse English-learners
Learning English isn’t all TikTok and TV though – the Trinity College survey found that foreign students are still having trouble with English idioms and expressions, which have been the bane of every foreign language student’s existence for generations.
At Euronews Culture, we’re no strangers to the difficulties of learning a new language – and English is one of many languages that’s filled with confusing rules and ever more exceptions to those rules.
That’s why we’ve put together a list of our favourite English expressions and idioms. Though they’re undoubtedly less hip than the aforementioned slang terms, we hope they can help students at least get a confused chuckle out of their native-speaking peers at their next function.
Food-related expressions: in a pickle, spill the beans, cut the cheese, go bananas, etc.
English speakers love to eat. That probably explains why there are endless food-related expressions in the English language.
A chatty Cathy might spill the beans (tell a secret, or more commonly today “spill the tea”), while someone who has eaten too many beans might cut the cheese (pass gas).
Someone who has had enough might go bananas (a predecessor to “pop-off”, meaning to go crazy, lose your marbles, go apeshit, etc.).
And if you’re in an sticky situation you’d be in a pickle (facing a difficulty), but you might decide to put off dealing with it because you’ve got bigger fish to fry (more important things to do).
Body-part related expressions: by the skin of your teeth, on the nose, neck-and-neck, an arm and a leg, etc.
When you’ve finished eating, you can dig into the variety of expressions referencing different body parts in the English language.
Someone who is a lucky guesser could pass a test by the skin of their teeth (by a very narrow margin), or they might guess the correct answer on the nose (exactly right).
A teacher’s pet might also be called a brown-noser (someone who tries too hard to get approval), and the two top students in the class might be neck and neck (very close or equal) when it comes to final marks.
These days, most things in the supermarket will cost you an arm and a leg (a very high amount) if you weren’t born with a silver spoon in your mouth (come from a wealthy family).
Animal-related expressions: dog’s bollocks, cat’s pyjamas, can of worms, bee in your bonnet, bull in a china shop etc.
All you eager beavers opening this particular can of worms (something that is more complex than it appears) will discover that the English language loves its animal puns and idioms.
A clumsy person might be referred to as a bull in a china shop (someone who breaks things or is careless with their words), while someone who fixates on something has a bee in their bonnet (to be obsessed with something and often talk repetitively about it).
Someone who is highly admired could be referred to as either the GOAT (greatest of all time), the dog’s bollocks, the cat’s whiskers, the cat’s meow or the cat’s pyjamas (English-speakers apparently love cats).
Someone with endless opportunities might hear someone tell them, “The world is your oyster”.
Bonus round – People-related expressions: Bob’s your uncle, Adam and Eve, Bloody Nora, Gordon Bennett
And if everything we’ve mentioned wasn’t complicated enough, there are also a load of expressions that refer to hypothetical people by their given names.
If you believe something in East London, you’d also Adam and Eve it (Cockney rhyming slang for “believe”).
Those who are surprised or outraged but don’t want to sully their tongue might yell “Bloody Nora!” or “Gordon Bennett!” (Jury’s out on where these expressions originated…)
People who know nothing about a topic don’t know Jack about it, and people who call the police at the slightest disturbance are often called Karens these days (apologies to any of the actual good-natured Karens out there).
So there you have it, a taste of the intricacies of the English language and its many (often nonsensical) expressions and idioms.
With languages constantly changing – at breakneck speeds in the age of social media – the list of slang, expressions and idioms is sure to get even longer.
But the good news is that once you’ve mastered all these expressions, well, Bob’s your uncle (a British expression that means “there you have it” or “easy as pie”).