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English Conversation - How to understand and sound like a British native

British English

English Conversation - How to understand and sound like a British native

English is undeniably one of the richest and most descriptive languages in the world. It is a front-runner language in literature and music with some of the most famous singers and writers in the modern world and recent history hailing from English speaking countries. For those learning English as a second language, especially if they want to move to the UK, it is important to not just master the grammar and structure of English but really get to grips with the art of conversing like a native. Phrasal verbs, synonyms, idioms and slang are just some of the ways native speakers can play with the language; without even considering the influence of slang, regional dialect or accent. But fear not! This article is here to highlight some of the most common influences on English conversation, how to understand them and how to try and use them yourself.

Which verb is this?

So, you've learnt your correct verbs. You know your "bring" from your "take" and your "do" from your "make". Heck, you've even learnt lots of phrasal verbs! So why are you hearing so many strange verbs from English speakers?! English speakers not only like to use varying expressions or verbs because they sound more fun but also as a way to be informal or put a friendly spin on a command. A good example of this is POP. As a regular verb To Pop means to make a small, light explosive sound - you can pop a bubble or a balloon for example. But combined as a phrasal verb it can mean a multitude of things! Brits have a strange habit of not liking to sound too direct so instead of commands like "Put that down" or "Go to the shops" you can replace the imperative verb with POP; mainly used to mean going to a place for a short time or to replace the verb Put. Sound strange? Here's how you can use it:

"I'm just popping to the shops" = I'm going to the shops for a short time

"Pop your bag down over there" = put your bag down in that place

"Pop your coat on, we're popping out" = Put your coat on, we're going out for a short time

"I'll pop over later" = I'll come to visit you later

Onomatopoeic words (words that imitate a sound) such as Splash, Flop, Bang or Whack are the most common to be used as unusual verbs, creating more creative, fun sentences which non-native speakers struggle to understand as they are expecting the more literal verbs. Here are some examples of use:

"The story was splashed all over the paper" = The story appeared everywhere in the newspaper

"He was so tired he flopped down on the sofa" = He was so tired he sat down heavily on the sofa

"The wind banged the door shut" = The wind closed the door loudly

"It fell off the shelf and whacked me on the head" = It fell off the shelf and hit me on the head


Just as demonstrated above, the English language is rich with synonyms for every context. It can be hard to learn the wide range of adjectives in English but most are translatable. Try reading a novel in English and you will soon amass a great list of new adjectives which may all appear to be the same word! Some are more commonly used by different age groups,whilst some can be more popular depending on what area of the UK you are in. English allows you to really get creative so if you want to enrich your language it's a good idea to keep a few to hand. Here are just a few:

Bad =   substandard, poor, inferior, second-rate, unsatisfactory, inadequate, unacceptable, not up to scratch, deficient.

Good =   capable, proficient, accomplished, skillful, skilled, gifted, talented, expert, knowledgeable, quality.

Smart =   clever, bright, intelligent, sharp, quick-witted, shrewd, astute.

You may also find yourself hearing a word you know, but used in a totally different context. For example, Pretty. As an adjective it's straightforward right? She is a pretty girl, that's a very pretty house...but how about "It's pretty cold today"? "Pretty" can be used as a modifier between "quite" and "very" in affirmative sentences or questions, NOT in negative sentences. Listen to any native Brit and you will hear it - It was a pretty expensive restaurant, it's pretty cold today. Then we have Pretty Much - not a modifier but a synonyms for "Basically" or "Almost", for example:

I pretty much did the whole presentation by myself = I basically did the presentation by myself

"Have you finished those emails?" - Pretty much, I just need to finish this sentence = "Have you finished those emails?" - Almost, I just need to finish this sentence

Connected speech

English in your English class is clear and well pronounced and any listening activities you do, especially at the beginner stages, will have a nice "BBC English" accent - like a Jane Austen movie or Hugh Grant. Unfortunately when you get to the UK you will quickly realize that hardly anyone actually speaks like that and you may be left wondering if what you're hearing is even English! Regional accents aside, you may be finding it hard to understand what people are saying because it's hard to make out the words - i.e. they are using connected speech. Connected speech is modifying your pronunciation to make your speaking quicker and can range from dropping endings of words to merging two words together. For example:

Do you want to go to the cinema? = D'ya wanna go to the cinema?  

I'm going to go to the shops = I'm gunna go the shops

I don't know = Dunno

What are you doing? = What'cha doin?

I'm practicing my swimming today = I'm practicin my swimmin today

You will most commonly hear the auxiliary verb "do" connected and the "ing" ending contacted to "in" to make the rhythm of speech quicker. As a general rule, native speakers in informal, everyday speech will pronounce things in the simplest way and you may not always hear words fully or clearly pronounced. However, as an English learner, it is not recommended to try and use connected speech until you have a higher level of competency and it starts to come naturally, otherwise you may find that your pronunciation is too difficult for people to understand. 

You is You, right?

One of the first lessons in English - subjects are I, You, He/She/It, We, You, They. Simple! But you're hearing a different word for you (plural). Whilst English doesn't have any official subject pronoun to distinguish between you (singular) and you (plural) native speakers will find ways to indicate that they mean you (plural), and because there is no correct term you may hear some strange words depending on area, accent and nationality. 

You all, Yous, Y'all, Ya's, Yuz, You guys, You lot = all could be used to denote you (plural) and most native speakers won't even realize that it's not a real word. Note: "Y'all" is typically only used in the southern parts of the USA and is not common in the UK. Most of these expressions are considered slang so whilst it is good to be aware that you might hear it, it is recommended that if you want to use it you stick to "You all" or the simple "You".