Cher lecteur - Watching TV in English and using slang

Cher lecteur - Watching TV in English and using slang

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Hello Cher lecteur,

Une question sur les séries TV (trop rapides?) et l'usage de l'argot ("slang")... Here we go!...



I discover your newsletter in may 2009. I have tried to understand and speak english better for 4 years. I watch television series and movies in english. But I don’t watch sitcoms because I don’t like it except “the big bang theory” and I don’t think they speak slowly (unless I choose the single sitcoms where they speak so fast !). In this context, I has liked yours "mailbags” because they encourage me to carry on. So, I decided to buy you book the last month.

But, I think you are a little bit contradictory on some points. For exemple, when in one part you say in the first chatiper on your book it’s better to choose some lyrics whitout slang and in other part you advise to “speak” to others English-speaking with the chat room. You say I can know how they utter the worlds. But how do you do that when you don’t anderstand the world ? You can’t find these worlds in a dictionnary.

Can you explain me this obvious contradiction ?

Best regards,


Hello Anaïs,

Here are a few pointers!

Regarding the speed of speech:

You need some time to get used to it. At first, you will naturally be "lagging behind". People will naturally speak faster than you can understand. The main point here is to focus on what you do understand, as this will build a strong basis to understand even more and more. This is pretty important to watch the TV shows without any subtitles as soon as possible, as this is only then that you will experience major improvements. What are you using right now (no subtitles?)? What I typically recommend is to stick with a sitcom for at least two weeks, watching at least 1 episode a day, at least 5 days a week (you can easily increase to 2 or 3 episodes in one night if you feel like it; this only takes an hour a day).

After a couple of weeks on this program, you should experience like a shift in your ability to understand English: hearing English becomes natural and does not require much effort anymore. This does not mean you will understand everything, yet, this does mean you can keep practicing almost daily and let the English sink in, become part of you. At first you will understand maybe 50% of what is being said but, week after week, this will increase to 60%, 70% and so on.

If this is too hard, I strongly suggest:

a) Using a TV show you have already seen; this way, you can focus on the pronunciation instead of the story. This is an easy way to guess most of the vocabulary and action.

b) Focus on pronunciation and phonetics. Practice chapter 5 and appendix 2. Use an online dictionary to hear each of the chiefly English sounds. There is only a limited amount of them. Be able to recognize them and pronounce them and you will have learned something that will be of use your whole life. This is a critical step and something you will feel very good about once you have mastered it. This is not all that hard: just train yourself to hearing how those sounds are truly unique (most of them different from French) and how you need to position your tongue in order to produce them.

Regarding the use of slang to learn:

I recommend not using any slang in the first chapter because this chapter is mostly about getting back in shape practicing English. Like, using lyrics is a chance for most people to start learning English again (some of them may have stopped for quite a few years) so I recommend sticking to regular English.

On the other side... When you chat online, people will typically use slang and "bad English" (same way we do in French online or with SMS). So what do you do when you do not understand a word? Well, you just ask them! Like if the person uses abbreviations, like the words "bro", or "veggie", or "prolly", or "indie", then you just ask them what they meant with those words (answers: "brother", "vegetarian", "probably", "independent"). Usually, this will let you know how people actually talk (and pronounce things) in real-life. This is not the first thing to learn; but this is still something to learn eventually, and worth learning, as this prepares you to talking with people in person and using the same words they do. You also can find those words on Google, or their definition in slang dictionaries.

I hope this helps.

Keep up the good work and let me know how it is going please,

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