Cracking the code to learn real English

August 31, 2021


Go for it! 

Just go with the flow. 

English speakers love to use these kinds of informal, casual expressions in their conversations with friends and coworkers. In fact, it is safe to say that native English speakers cannot say a few sentences without using at least one. Some other examples are take a stance, give me a ballpark figure, it’s all downhill from here, you got this, let’s get back on track, we have a problem to tackle, and many more.

If you are not a native speaker, these expressions can be baffling. Is going downhill good or bad? Why is he asking me about a ballpark? I got what?

Due to the pandemic, with the huge increase of online meetings held in English for education and business online, non-native speakers are facing a wave (pun intended; even I cannot escape using them!) of confusing expressions. Learners try to look these up in their English textbooks and dictionaries and cannot find answers. It feels like English has a secret code that is impossible to crack. This excludes non-native speakers from being a part of daily conversations and from having a voice.

If these expressions are so frequently used and important to following conversations in the classroom and in the office, then why cannot learners find these in their English textbooks or dictionaries?  I think there are three main reasons:

  1. Slang

English textbook and dictionary editors consider these words to be slang, or not “proper”, and exclude them from their publications.

  1. Trendiness

Many of these words and expressions spring up suddenly as cultural by-products from recent movies, music, and in talks by thought-leaders. Due to the time needed to thoroughly review any new entries, it may take many months before publishers will put these into their online databases or even years before putting them into print.

  1. Strings of words

Many of these casual expressions are strings of words which do not fit the dictionary format of defining each individual word.

My message to English learners is that you can crack the code and be included in the conversation. Formal textbook editors and other language “experts” might disagree with me but you must learn these expressions to be successful. Don’t be embarrassed to try practicing and adding these to your vocabulary. You will surprise people you talk with that you are savvy and will show a fun side to your personality. Be prepared that people will laugh and this is a good sign. In other words, you can develop your English speaking self. 

Here is a short list to help you get started:

Awesome - great, excellent, I agree with you.

           “That is an awesome idea. Let’s do it.”

Take a stance - position on a topic

            “What is your stance on promoting women’s leadership in corporations?

Go with the flow  - to follow events but not to control it.

              “This situation is out of our control so we just need to go with the flow.”

Give me a ballpark figure - estimated amount,  usually dealing with money

           “Can you give me a ballpark figure for how much it costs to fly to New York in January?”

It’s all downhill from here - it is going to get easier, you passed the hard part.

           “Now that we sign the contract to rent the building, it is going to be downhill from here.”

You got this  - you can do it, I believe in you

            “I know you’re feeling worried about your presentation at your company today but you got this. You’ll be great.”

Get back on track - keeping things on schedule and  in order

            “We have to get our plans back on track soon or we are going to be in trouble.”

These are just a few examples. You can practice more and build up your confidence using common expressions on the New Voice Learning app. Soon you will be understanding and using them naturally in your everyday life.

Matthew Sussman
Matthew Sussman
CEO, Co-founder