A Fun & Helpful Look at UK Lingo

A short guide to help migrants, students and others cope with UK lingo, which is filled with various accents, dialects, and idiosyncrasies.

A Helpful Guide to Understand UK Lingo

When travelling to Europe, they get a bit of a culture shock

UK lingo boasts phrases like “you alrigh’ bab?” and “say nothin’”, along with some hard-to-follow accents that can make one feel quizzical inside.

A few months into moving to the country, one soon comes across comedians like Paul Chowudhry, and before you know it, you’ve started calling French fries, “chips”.

As you get a bit more comfortable, you could go on to say things like, “alright luv” and make what would have been, self-effacing racial jokes on your own kind or amongst ‘friendly ethnicities’ around you.

What’s important about settling in with new lingo when moving to a place (where you already speak the language in your own way), is studying this new ecosystem, almost like a curious student of anthropology.

Studying the new environment is key to adaptation.

Just as the well-meaning sons-of-the-soil anthropologists of past centuries, be an earnest observer, and learn the customs and rites of the land.

One great piece of advice would be to log your experiences in a journal; your notes could potentially be a treasure for future generations.

Log-in things as, “Day 1: Today the natives and I break bread” or “No matter how many times I tap the card on the bus, you don’t spend more than 4 quid”.

After all, that’s the least bit one could do, and pretty soon, you’ll be a great tax-paying law-abiding expat.

Listening to “mate” everywhere, one might experiment with using it in everyday lingo.

However, this one might be a bit artificial to oneself to start with.

Something like “you alright?” (for “how are you?”) might be easier and more natural to add to your vocabulary, right away.

Specific to Birmingham, listening to “you alright, bab” or “bless you darling!” from the cheerful hard-working staff in supermarkets and local cafes might brighten your day.

For those moving to the UK from a busy country, one thing that stands out is the Ps and Qs used generously (maybe a bit too generously) across age groups and social strata.

For longer-term residents in the country, even when travelling to Europe, they get a bit of a culture shock where saying “please” and “thank you” (as well as “sorry”) isn’t as common.

Especially, saying “sorry” for every small thing, which might not even be an inconvenience to you, is really good. It sets good standards but makes one wonder what they’re so sorry about.

Arguably, the funniest polite expression is a crinkling on the chin and lower lip, to force an expression resembling a lower-lip smile, when you hold the door for someone after you, waiting for them to pass.

It’s also common to do a small nod, and if someone happens to share a small joke, the safest response would be to smile and not break eye contact.

It’s a fairly common sight to sometimes see people struggling to understand the words of the receptionist or bus driver, as those in the queue politely glower at them, for taking more time.

Sometimes people around are kind enough to help and translate Brummy or Black Country English to standard English.

However, it’s an everyday reality of native English speakers, commonwealth countries, for instance, to cope with the various dialects and accents.

If one decides to speak as they would naturally, they might navigate through work, live perfectly, and get their main jobs done, too, with no issues.

But in the spirit of “when in Rome”, one would have more interesting experiences this way.

It might be relatable to many students and workers in universities, that the interaction is with a more diverse crowd, not exclusively with the English/British. But here, one learns a bit more.

Across the UK, “yeah” and “innit” seem to be used a lot, after each sentence.

This is similar to the usage of “no?” as in, “yeah, no…”. 

Things like, “are you mad?” or phrases like “fam”, “ya get me”, “eazy now”, and “bombaclart” are fun to throw around.

Although, the latter is more of a cultural term used amongst the British Caribbean community. 

Try it with your friends. Others include: “pop it in”, “bits and bobs,” and “swear”.

London is definitely much more diverse, and Birmingham, too.

Interestingly, one might interact more with those from South Asian, the Caribbean, or East Asian backgrounds, to name a few.

At workplaces such as within the NHS, allied healthcare staff and doctors are more likely to come across people of various temperaments, learning more about various accents and lingo of diverse cultures on the way.

Birmingham has very interesting communities from the Caribbean, West Indies, Africa, and Asia. 

From the perspective of recent migrants in the country, one slowly comes to appreciate the variedness of the multifarious generational ethnicities.

While many countries are diverse, with different cultures from neighbouring or far-neighbouring lands, the diversity of Western countries, like the UK, is unique.

There have been waves of immigration in the UK, and the experiences of those coming to the country now, from a globalised world, are much different from previous South Asian generations.

There’s however, a very interesting phenomenon of a certain kind of discrimination reported vastly by Desis with their own specific ethnicity, at the workplace or among individuals.

This is better understood by embracing a compassionate approach. There’s a slight bit of discrimination from previously-emigrated first generation Desi (even as early as the early 2000s) to the newer lot.

Just as when learning a new language, watching movies and shows on the culture is a great fun pastime.

Some mannerisms are okay to joke about, but trying out a non-indigenous accent would probably fail badly.

As for daily interactions, knowing some of the background on the lingo helps, and retorting with some of the same (only those which feel natural to your own speech), would make for more fluid conversations.

Ratul is a writer and editor, enthusiastic about futuristic technologies, the news, and hyperreality. His motto is, 'Self-awareness is the key to growth.'

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