De Andrew Burlton

22 février 2015 - 18:32

photo de petites étiquettes avec le mot merci dans toutes les langues

Getty Image. Thinkstock.

As a learner, reaching a level of English that enables you to get by is not too difficult.

If you’re a speaker of another European language, you might be able to recognise a lot of words that come from a Latin, Greek, Anglo-Saxon or Arabic origins. The rules of sentence construction, verb conjugation etc. are not too difficult. There is not much variation in the basic stem of a verb compared to some other languages.

But a lot of learners get stuck when it comes to understanding the everyday English spoken by native speakers. And no wonder! Native speakers frequently use idiom, metaphor or expressions which create a complex code that takes practice to decipher.

Here are ten examples of British expressions that can bamboozle* the uninitiated: 

“I’m off. Catch you in a bit.”

Translation: "I’m leaving now. See you later."

You can see how this one could confuse. “Off” is the opposite of “on”. And how do you catch someone in a piece of something?

“Break a leg!”

Translation: "Good luck!"

A strange thing to wish someone, don’t you think?

“Not half!”

Translation: "Absolutely!"

A bit outmoded, but still heard. Not half of what?

“Do you want to come round mine on Friday?”

Translation: "Do you want to come to my house on Friday?"

Sounds like a friendly offer, but you can see how a non-native speaker might not be 100% sure what the offer is.

“It’s six and two halves, really!”

Translation: "There is no difference in impact between the two options presented."

Ellipsis (omission of part of a sentence) is not the friend of the language learner. Neither is exophoric* reference to a common idiom!

 Which brings us to another expression with a similar meaning:

“It’s much of a muchness”.

Translation: "There is no difference in impact between the two options presented."

“The news caught him cold”.

Translation: "He was not at all expecting this news."

Apprehended him when chilly?

"I don’t get it!”

Translation: "I don’t understand".

This is only one of the many, many uses of get that together seem almost deliberately designed to confuse a learner.

“You up for it?”

Translation: "Are you willing to do it / Do you want to do it?"

More code. At least with a closed question you have a fifty-fifty chance of giving the right answer.

“You up to it?

Translation: "Are you able to do it?"

As above. Different meaning, but devilishly difficult to work out. 


*Bambozzle - to confuse

**Exophoric - reference to something outside the text which is understood in context.