Arts & Culture / Mosaic / February 4, 2015

International students reflect on American slang

Graphic by Griffin Belzer/TKS

Graphic by Griffin Belzer/TKS

For many international students, moving to the United States can be daunting. Not only are they exposed to a myriad of unfamiliar customs, they are also bombarded with a myriad of unfamiliar American slang words.

Because these words are often not included in a formal English education, it can be grueling for international students to grow accustomed to their widespread, and arguably excessive, use.

Simultaneously, it is easy for Americans to become oblivious to their own cultural vernacular without a proper intercultural perspective.

With students from 51 countries currently residing on campus, Knox is rife with such perspective. Therefore American students are presented with the unique and valuable opportunity to observe their colloquial speech objectively, and consequently learn to better relate to students from different cultures. Junior Rohail Khan, who is from Islamabad, Pakistan, described the slang phrases that he found most perplexing when he first arrived in the U.S.: “Some of the common ones were ‘come through,’ ‘take it easy,’ ‘ballin,’ ‘tweaking,’ ‘scan’ [scandalous], ‘have a good one,’ ‘w.y.a.’ (where you at), ‘keep it real’ and numerous others.”

Yet these slang words, he noticed, were not without a certain pattern.

“I’ve noticed that slang words are usually dictated by where you’re from. Different parts of the U.S. have people using different slangs. The ones I mentionedÉare mostly used in Chicago.”

Another student, freshman Ayla Mir, who is from Punjab, Pakistan, noticed the same thing. “I think, in the U.S., slang changes from state to state. I was in Utah before I came here, and the people there used different slang.” Mir also shared her initial difficulties in coping with cultural jargon shock. “‘Ratchet’ was something that I was not used to hearing,” she said. “However, it was mainly weird stuff like that [that confused her]; the general things I’ve seen on TV.”

As unfamiliar as American slang may be, international students have found many ways in which to draw parallels between the slang used in the U.S. and that used within their home countries. Freshman Vlad Papancea, who is from the Covasna region of Romania, compared the widespread use of the words “bro” and “dude” in the U.S. to the use of the Romanian word “frate” (brother) which is used in a similar, informal manner. Khan also found similarities between Pakistani slang and the American slang that he has been exposed to. He stated, “Slang back home was similar to American slang as to when it’s used, but obviously with different expressions. Ours had more to do with the kind of schooling you received, and the area that you were from. A few of our slang expressions included the use of idioms.”

Mir said, “In the class that I’m from, and the schools that I went to, we spoke English primarily, so there is not much of a difference; however, words sometimes reach there later than they reach here.”

Despite their initial difficulties, all of the international students that were interviewed reported that they now incorporate American slang into their usage of English to varying degrees.

Khan said, “I’ve started using some slang words that include the ones that I’ve mentioned … Some I use due to the fact that my roommate used slang a lot, and others I just caught from hearing them all the time while I’ve been here.” Mir explained that she has been using American slang before she even moved here due to the use of English in her school in Punjab.

“Pakistan is not a backwards country,” she stated. “We know a lot about the rest of the world.”

Papancea has taken a more tentative approach. He stated, “I use it, but I don’t really use it that much.”


Hespera Purdin

Tags:  American international language slang

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