5 Things About British English That You Don’t Learn In School

5 Things about British English that You Didn't Learn in School

I still remember the exact moment in July when I left the London-Luton airport. I’d just arrived to start my new life adventure after graduation. I was a young Polish girl with a job already secured in one of the London corporations, fluent (well, at least I thought I was) in English, and with two suitcases in her hands.

I was heading to my friends’ place where I’d live for two weeks, and my first task was to find the bus that would take me to the city centre. I asked a staff member where I could find it, but because of her accent, I couldn’t understand anything she said apart from the words, show and ticket. This was the first of many times I’d experience language shock despite my fluency in English.

Here are five things about British English that I wish I’d learnt in school:

1. People speak English in many different accents

In Poland, English listening exercises in school always present the language clearly with a pure and easy accent, and a standard vocabulary. Unless you are preparing for CAE/CPE certificates, you will not have exposure to real life situations, which will include people with various accents, slang, and less-than-clear voices on the phone or the radio.

The biggest obstacle in using my English presented itself at work, where I was supposed to be fluent in English. The problem was that I was only fluent in the classroom. It took me some time until I had the courage to pick up the phone and call a foreign candidate in order to schedule an interview for him. Suddenly, I was encountering accents that I’d never heard before in films nor during my studies, including Scottish, Northern England, and Nigerian.

2. Some words don’t follow typical phonetic rules

These include words like Leicester, Gloucester, salmon, and quay. There are a lot of other words that, apparently, I’d previously been mispronouncing simply because no one had told me that I’d been saying them wrong. When educating future teachers, we should definitely pay attention to these types of words so that they don’t pass on these mispronunciations to their students!

3. There are unlimited synonyms for rain in British English

“Oh, it’s spitting!”

“Who is spitting?”

“No, no, look outside, it’s raining.

In England, it rains a lot. So, there are tons of ways to describe the many different types of rain. Yet, the only word I learned in Poland was rain. Turns out, here are some other words that describe different types of precipitation: drizzle, mizzle, trickle, dribble, sprinkle, light showers, spells, and spit.

4. Feedback doesn’t necessarily mean what it’s supposed to mean

If you’re getting or giving feedback in England, keep in mind that phrases have different meanings than you might have learned.

It’s ok = you should go fix it or do something about it right now–otherwise you might have problems.

It’s good/It’s alright = it meets basic criteria, but surely you can do better. Please fix it as soon as you can.

Very good = you did a good job, so you might be happy with yourself.

Excellent job = you have actually done a great job and you may be proud of yourself. Remember to use it as an argument for a raise during your annual review!

5. Spoken British English is filled with softeners

I can’t believe how quickly I’ve learnt to use different softeners when speaking English, including: sort of, kind of, and like. Because British people value politeness, communication is not quite as direct as it could possibly be. Well, I guess you kind of have to get used to that when being abroad!

About Marta Zielinska

Marta ZielinskaMarta Zielinska is a Polish native who has recently relocated to London, UK. She is a Psychology graduate who is very much interested in people’s productivity in a workplace as well as the influence of the cultural background on various interactions in an organization. She blogs about her expat experiences and cross-cultural psychology at Project Abroad.

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