What you learn in your English class is one thing; what you learn in your everyday life in America is another.
I’ve been learning English since I enter primary school. In France – as in every other European countries – English is compulsory. Every pupils are taking at least 1 hour of it, which is increased to 2 hours in high school. Furthermore, I deliberately chose to major in English in university. With approximately 20 hours a week, in class, learning the language of Shakespeare: I thought I would be alright. I thought the only barrier I would face would be people’s accent and their speaking pace. I was wrong.
I never imagined facing something new, something you just don’t learn in your ESL class. This “something”, these little words, expressions, phrases or whatever you call them, are giving me hard times every single day.
Let me define it with my own words.
Slang : “Terms which come from nowhere, but are everywhere except in dictionaries and textbooks; and which have been mainly invented to trick foreigners.”
The first weeks were very difficult. In France when one run into someone else, they just say hello and that’s all. There are not such questions as “What’s Up? How is it going?” People don’t even stop to listen to your answer! They just don’t care if you are alright or not. So why asking all these questions? This situation scared me so much that I tended to avoid people at the beginning. And I am not even joking when I say it took me a while to realize who that “Dude” was. Slang has literally changed my whole life here: “What’s Up?” is my new enemy; Urban Dictionnary’s my new bestfriend.
I think I am just used to them now, but I can make a list of a few words my poor little ears hear ALL THE TIME : “Phat”; “Cool”; “Wicked”; “Wack”; “Maaad”; “Wicked”, “Aaaawesome!”; “Dude”; “Bro”; “Oh my godddd!”, “Wassup?”…
After some researches, I found out that some serious studies have dealt with slang and its signification and influence in society. It is used by many people (mainly teenagers and young adults) to communicate. Slang is part of their culture. But people’s culture can differ; therefore slang may also differ from one place to another – and in this case, from one part of the US to another.
The New York Times has set up a survey to help people figure out their “personal dialect map”, according to the Harvard Dialect Survey, a linguistics project begun in 2002.
Check it out guys!