When we work with expats in the U.S. on their English skills, they often tell us that one of their challenges is figuring out American English slang. We can understand why. Ask just about any parent of teens in the U.S., and they’ll tell you that they have trouble keeping up with the latest slang terms, too.
But learning how to understand and use slang is one aspect of becoming fluent in English. And it can actually be pretty fun. That’s why we wanted to create this Fluency Corp guide to American English slang.
Why Is American English Slang So Tricky?
Even expats who are otherwise fairly fluent in English may still have trouble with slang in the U.S. That’s because slang doesn’t get covered enough in most English classes. And even if expats have regularly used English in their home country, they may not have been around many speakers of American English.
We’ve already touched on another reason that American slang may trip up an expat in the U.S.: Slang changes rapidly — perhaps even more rapidly than ever thanks to social media. So even if the expat had some exposure to American slang in their English classes, the words and phrases they learned may have become outdated.
Finally, American slang has a lot of regional variations. So if an expat moves from one region of the U.S. to another, they could have a whole new set of slang terms to familiarize themselves with.
Why Learn American English Slang?
Theoretically, an expat who is fluent in standard English could get by in the U.S. without knowing any slang. But life is a whole lot easier if you can speak and understand the everyday language that your co-workers, neighbors and other people you encounter use.
At work, a knowledge of American English slang can help you avoid misunderstandings with your colleagues. The ability to easily participate in conversations — whether at work, at the grocery store or at parents’ night at your kids’ school — can help you form the relationships that are so important to having a successful experience as an expat in the U.S.
How to Learn American English Slang
As always, the first step we recommend is taking classes in English from a native speaker, or being around native speakers as much as possible, specifically those you feel comfortable asking, “What’s that mean?” Language coaches, or English tutors, can build slang into your classes, and you can ask him or her about any unfamiliar slang terms you hear in your daily life.
Similarly, you could enlist the help of an English-speaking conversation buddy at work or in your neighborhood who can help you get to know slang in the region where you live.
You can also learn more American slang on your own. Add some current bestselling books — the key word here is “current” — to your reading list. Books from past decades won’t include much slang used today (except, of course, slang words that have entered general usage, like “cool.”).
Current music, TV shows and podcasts are other great ways to get better with American slang, especially because you can rewind to hear unfamiliar words or phrases again, or put the English subtitles on to see what the heck they were saying.
Learning in context is key here. Do not just randomly memorize slang from a list. If you can’t figure out what a slang term means, ask your English teacher or conversation buddy — or consult the website Urban Dictionary.
What Are Examples of Current American Slang?
We don’t want to leave you before sharing a few American English slang words you might encounter. This list is based on a 2023 survey by Preply that asked parents of teenagers which current slang terms they were familiar with, as well at this interesting discussion about slang usage by age on Quora:
- Salty — Peeved or upset: “He’s still salty about getting interrupted during the meeting.”
- Extra — Over the top or excessive: “I’m not surprised she was more dressed up than any of us. She’s always so extra.”
- Oof — An expression of discomfort, stress, or sadness: “Oof. That presentation did not go well.”
- No worries — Used to reassure someone else or to say “you’re welcome”: “Hey, no worries. I was going to the coffee shop anyway, and I’m happy to pick up something for you.”
- Sweet —Excellent or impressive. “You got the job? Sweet!”
Learn American Slang and Improve Your Fluency
If you’d like to improve your English skills by learning more American slang, we’d love to tell you more about English classes at Fluency Corp. Our English instructors are all native speakers who create highly customized learning plans.