Culture shock: ‘Blimey!’ That’s not the English I learnt!

Y’rite? (“You all right?)  

You hear your cheery coworker at your new workplace or university accommodation in the UK say this, and you wonder what to reply. Still figuring out what language or type of English accent it is, or an appropriate response in your head to this question, you finally decide to stay quiet and display a sheepish smile instead. Sounds familiar?

Have you been in a similar situation where you felt stumped and wished your relocation agent or Language teacher had forewarned you about words and phrases like these used in the UK? Or were you expecting formal sentence structures ... like those used by the royal family, newsreaders on BBC or cricket commentators?

Only a visitor or newcomer into the UK will understand what it takes to uncover the everyday nuances of British language and culture, much of which goes largely unexplained! As foreigners, there is a lot that one can do to get acquainted with the rigmaroles and charming eccentricities of this country. After all, your decision either for employment, study or pursuing other interests has led you here and this melting pot will expose you to new settings - professional and personal ones for you to get your head around.

I recall my experiences in Malaysia (my base for 3 years), where trips to the local evening market to buy groceries and order food became increasingly stressful. I had to learn, remember sentence starters, phrases (and more importantly ‘google up’ expected answers!) for fear of being served anything other than vegetarian!

So, here are some ways one can get around the challenges of truly getting to explore the language and overcome some initial barriers:

  1. Familiarise yourself with specific phrases and colloquialisms (slangs or specific informal words used) which can be very confusing and specific to certain regions. For instance: the meaning of the phrase “Bob’s your uncle” is to say "Yay! Your Jobs Done!" and has nothing to do with a person called Bob! Or if your lecturer at uni mentioned your essay was 'bog-standard', it would mean it was a plain/ordinary/ average essay and no, you didn't have lentils for lunch if someone called you 'full of beans'. It just means you have a lot of positive energy and enthusiasm! Here are some more examples.

  2. ‘Immerse’ yourself or actively listen and observe conversations in a wide range of settings. Watch popular shows on TV. The Netflix series ‘The Crown’, introduces very formal Queens English for instance, that could give you an insight into formal language and etiquette. Listening to diverse accents (Celebrities like Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), Ed Sheeran (Musician) or the stresses on the ‘r’s of Tom Macleod or the cockney accents of guest speakers on BBC radio) can further help you comprehend and understand what people speak. This will in turn make it easier to follow conversations and as a result, help you gain confidence when interacting with others.

  3. Show curiosity at work; stop and ask questions if you are unable to follow what is being spoken. This table here arguably clarifies some standard phrases used in daily conversation and how their meanings can be misconstrued or misread.

Well, I can hear you say- 'all that’s easier said than done!’ because it takes time and there are a whole lot of other aspects of life such as policies, practices, lifestyle and living that can get “Blimey, mind-boggling”!

A lot of students, professionals and their families move to the UK with varying degrees of English proficiency. Some of them realise very quickly after reaching the UK that they now need to extend their knowledge of English to gain permanent residency (B1 or equivalent), while others need GCSE Grade 4 (C equivalent) and above to access jobs or study courses here. Not all of this is available in textbooks, literacy programmes and English classes. Watch out for my next article, where I share some ‘snap-up’ tips on how to familiarise yourself with practices, procedures, policies and daily life when in the UK. Watch this space!


Liked what you’ve read? Feel free to share it with anyone whom you think might benefit from this advice. If you have any specific questions related to what has been discussed in the article, or requests for information and guidance to navigate careers or general advice in the UK, please feel free to drop in a comment.

Read more related articles on the cMyQual blog and book your 1:1 coaching with our team to get English Support and Career Guidance.


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