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Gremlins and Informal English

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Will Will | 18:27 UK time, Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Hello again!

I know that in my last blog I ended by saying goodbye, but there has been a change of plan and you're stuck with me for another month.

Zsuzsa, it's great to meet you and find out about your wonderful city. I know that we had some technical gremlins last week, but everything seems to be sorted now. So, I'm really looking forward to blogging with you across the rest of June.

I have been to Hungary once, to see my friend who was working as an English language teacher in Budapest. I thought it was a lovely city - full of grand buildings but it also seemed quite a 'happening' place. I have vivid memories of eating palacsinta (pancakes) and listening to lots of fab gypsy CDs.

Budapest from across the Danube

I'm not sure if this is Buda or Pest... but it's very grand!


In your passage you describe June as a nightmare for students, but you go on to tell us about a heavenly park where students can relax while they revise. As some other students commented on your blog, you create a nice mental image of this special place.

Frogs croak and water-lilies float on the surface of water, children run around, they angle for tadpole and undergraduates study their notes of chemist or philology on their blankets.

This is a lovely little passage. We would say Chemistry here and tadpoles. Here's another very small mistake:

June is a nightmare for Hungarian undergraduates. These days we have to prove our knowledge...

In English these days means the same as nowadays; i.e. it means now in 2011 rather than in the past. E.g.

In the past most Englishmen had a cooked breakfast every day, but these days people don't have time.

In your sentence you could say in this month or at this time.

But those are tiny mistakes. In general, I think you write very well indeed and really confidently. The only thing I would say at this stage is that your writing is a little formal and functional.

I would like to transmit some events and curiosities from my little country, Hungary in this month.

You could say - I can't wait to tell you about some of the events and curiosities from my little country, Hungary.

I don't know much about Hungarian (other than that it is very hard to learn!) but English is a profoundly informal language. So we tend to write in the same everyday language that we use with friends. Even business correspondence will contain phrasal verbs and contractions (although you probably wouldn't use slang words in that context).

There are usually three or four different ways of saying something in English. When you come across a word like transmit it's worth looking up the synonyms and trying to work out which of the words is most used, which is most formal and so on.



... I'm interested in your ideas and the ideas of our correspondents on this blog. So for this week's homework I'd like everyone to share how they learn English vocabulary - particularly informal vocabulary.

Where do you pick words up?
How do you make a note of them?
What do you do to ensure that you can remember the words when you need them?

I look forward to reading your responses!


  • you're stuck with me - A humorous phrase that means 'Unfortunately for you, I'm staying"

  • gremlins - gremlins are little creatures that don't really exist. Sometimes we say that problems with technology are caused by these little creatures living inside telephones, TVs etc.

  • sorted - an informal word meaning fixed or resolved. Here in the UK we use this word quite a lot. E.g. - A: Did you manage to get that contract to the client? B: Yep, it's all sorted now.

  • 'happening' - an informal adjective meaning that a lot of interesting or exciting things are happening. It's usually used to describe a place.

  • fab - this is informal / slang English. It's short for fabulous, so it means great, brilliant. This word was very popular in the 1960s and 1970s.

  • revise - to look again at your studies before taking an exam

  • everyday - ordinary, normal. Note that this word is an adjective; the adverb form is two words. Compare: In the past most Englishmen had a cooked breakfast every day. We tend to write in the same everyday language that we use with friends.

  • come across - encounter, find by accident

  • looking up - to check something in a book or on the internet. It usually refers to using a dictionary or encyclopaedia.

  • synonyms - different words that mean the same thing

  • pick (something) up - here, to pick up means to learn something. We can use this phrase to describe learning a habit or activity, especially without much effort e.g. My dad was always playing the guitar and I just picked it up.


  • Comment number 1.

    Hi Will,

    It's nice to see (or read) you again! What I do to learn informal English is basically this:
    I watch films/series in English, I prefer it if it's British English. I watch most of them with subtitles in English or Spanish (my mother tongue).
    Since a few weeks ago I listen to BBC1Xtra, there is music that I love and I can learn informal English, as sometimes people ring and talk about themselves about a topic, e.g. Yesterday they were talking about things that you do alone, would you go to the cinema alone? It's pretty funny and I learn many words that young people use.
    I love English music and I like singing the lyrics too, so I look for them on the internet and if I don't understand something I look it up in a dictionary. For me it's one of the best ways to improve my English.

    Hope to read you soon!


  • Comment number 2.

    My teacher,
    I did not enough time whether I could read your latest post .
    I will write my post certainly tonight .

  • Comment number 3.

    Hi Sir Will,

    It's first time i comment on blog session. This is Fayas from Kerala, India.
    I think you know about KERALA(a prime place for tourists).

    Really Your Corrections and informal English finds useful for us. I could follow them easily when i look at its explanation given below.

    As far as i'm concerned, I learn English vocabulary through many ways, like by reading news papers, magazines, study materials, from internet(Especially from BBC).
    I posses Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary designed Special for South Asian student. When ever i find new words i look it up on it. It explains each word with examples, syn opposites etc, very useful. When i find new words which can't be find in the OALD i search it in Online dictionaries. I sometimes notes down the words in a book. But i don't study them and i'm lazy to write down. But by the grace of God i could easily remember them often. But for some words, i learn its meaning only by reading it more than two or three times in similar contexts in another books. But i never leave any word meaning unknown to me. But Sir, My problem is, can't write it formally or in literature style. I don't use phrasal verbs also. Slangs are not so popular here. We use what we use here. Some slangs are famous here like Gonna,Gotta, Wanna etc. "IN MY OPINION ONE SHOULD LOVE THE LANGUAGE, MAKE IT A PART OF HIS PASSION INSTEAD OF LEARNING IT FOR JOBS OR ACADEMIC PURPOSES!! THEN IT'LL EASIER TO LEARN AND UNDERSTAND. WE SHOULD SURROUND OURSELVES WIH THE LANGUAGE". At present, I learn Hindi, Urdu, Arabic, English and Tamil. I see them all as my friends. It all getting better too. Human potential are unlimited as i believe.I could learn a lot about the world by learning english. I started English Learning 5 years ago. Now i could understand everything easily. In my experience, English was so difficult earlier, But now i say it's very easy to master and it's great language which help us to communicate with the world.I hope you will reply with relevant suggestions.

    Fayas, Kerala.

  • Comment number 4.

    Yes my bog teacher,
    Here my responses .
    1) I collect my new words from reading and writing ,watching, even from names from the restourant at markets .
    2) Before I try to note on piece of papers when I see or know from anywhere .But these days I save them in my cell phone when I am not at home.
    Then later I check them and find the definition from dictionary for making sentences.
    3) First I try to come up them very much whether it takes times .As they don't come out then look up my dictionary (which is Tibeatn to English) . Sometimes it can make me remember the words again.

  • Comment number 5.

    Formal and informal, really if I were in England I might be speaking my "formal" English in places requiring "informal" English while if I were in US I might end speaking my "informal" one in even highly professional environments :)
    I really could not make out when my English friends joked with me or when my US were serious either as English is my second language.
    A lot of efforts in learning the same and help from really wonderful friends and ESL Classes from sites like englishlci.com helped me overcome my "temporary" shortcoming.
    English is an international language and really the more it gets used worldwide the more interesting it gets by absorbing the "local" influences as it goes !

  • Comment number 6.

    hooonamdrol, did you know that by the way that it was a Hungarian who made the first Tibetan-English dictionary? It was Kőrösi Csoma Sándor.

  • Comment number 7.

    Oh and it's Buda, nice photo by the way... :-)

  • Comment number 8.

    Hi dear kozmzsucsi,
    I think our teacher will was saying the name of dictionary .
    So I had to say there how I progress my new vocabularies in daily basis .
    Thanks for your corrections .

  • Comment number 9.

    Hi Will,
    Firstly, thanks for the help and corrections.
    I use generally a Hungarian-English, or E-H dictionary, but I have Advanced Learner's dict. too.
    In the university we have to use formal language, other registers are required too, but the major point in studies that we can express ourselves in a formal way.
    To study English, I make little exercises books for grammar, vocab, phrasel verbs to take notes..., if I hear an unknown word I put it down and I try to learn them.
    I think that one of my major problems is that I mix French and English. So I believe that I have to clearly separate the two systems in my mind and have to concentrate. My English teacher said to me when I wrote a composition that 'circulation' doesn't exist in English, that was a French word. Unfortunately, the French is stronger but that is the main reason for I am here to balance both languages. The blog writing means a lot, I think.
    Thanks for the new words and vocab. It really helpful. :)

  • Comment number 10.

    Hi Will! Hi everyone!
    Very nice to meet you Will. Thank you for bringing up a very interesting topic: formal and informal language. To tell you the truth being formal is my issue. I think it is one of many differences between English and Russian, because in Russia the more formal language you speak in everyday life, I mean, even when blogging and chatting with colleges and acquaintances, the more you are considered to be a literate and eloquent person. We don’t view this as formal language the way the English people would do. We view this in a bit different light. If you can build beautiful sentences, passages like those in books especially in your writing of any kind – letters, blogs and compositions, than clever you are. When I read some blogs in which students show rather good writing skills describing things beautifully and then a teacher blogger says that the language these students have used is too formal, I really get confused. Here I am, thinking the writing is good, and as it turns out it is not for it is too formal.
    Regarding your question Will, I can say I learn almost everything from books. I’m an ardent reader, a book junky I’d say. So that’s where my passion for formal language comes from, I think. I’d like to learn informal language from native English speakers because I guess it’s the most effective way to do it but, unfortunately, I have no native English speakers in my environment, which is sad. I’d love to friend with somebody in a social networking to be able to chat and learn. Of course I find all the materials the BBC LE provides us with very useful, and I use them a lot but… sometimes it isn’t enough. I think, the communicating with another living soul, with a friend is of more use because this way you put into practice all you’ve learnt, don’t you think? At present, to learn informal vocabulary I read books of modern writers. I must confess such reading not necessarily gives me pleasure in terms of the language some modern authors use but for the purpose of learning some useful phrases and expressions it will do.
    Well, Will, let me compliment you on your teaching skills. Thanks for being helpful.
    Best regards,
    Svetlana from Russia.

  • Comment number 11.

    Hello, Will!

    My name is Natasha. I am from Russia. I read a lot of mordern literature in English. So my informal vocabulary is rather rich, but my problem is that I can't use it in communication, that is all these new words and phrases are in my head, but when I start speaking I can't use them properly. That is why I prefer to speak formal language.
    Looking forward to your advice.
    Thank you.

  • Comment number 12.

    Hello Will

    It is my first time I am writing in your blog which is absolutely useful and marvelous to know there is another way for learning English.
    I have been reading your blog last week and I found new words and many interesting topics. I am used to reading BBC English, I love this page there are many things for learning that in an only day is not enough time.

    Answering your questions? First I usually find new words from the newspaper, reviews from restaurants or movies, magazines, e-mail, movies and television. Secondly I am used to writing the new word with their meaning, pronunciation and one or two examples. Finally I remember it when I start writing and when I can not remember I need to go over it one more time.

    In my opinion, your blog is very educative and understandable. I feel happy to share this lines too. I will be waiting for your next blog very impatient to learn something new.

    Best Regards

    Silvia B.

  • Comment number 13.

    Hello Will

    It is my first time I am writing in your blog which is absolutely useful and marvelous to know there is another way for learning English.
    I have been reading your blog last week and I found new words and many interesting topics. I am used to reading BBC English, I love this page there are many things for learning that in an only day is not enough time.

    Answering your questions? First I usually find new words from the newspaper, reviews from restaurants or movies, magazines, e-mail, movies and television. Secondly I am used to writing the new word with their meaning, pronunciation and one or two examples. Finally I remember it when I start writing and when I can not remember I need to go over it one more time.

    In my opinion, your blog is very educative and understandable. I feel happy to share this lines too. I will be waiting for your next blog very impatient to learn something new.

    Best Regards

    Silvia B

  • Comment number 14.

    Hi Will

    I like reading so I learn a lot of words from books. I jot them in a small writing pad wich I have at hand. At odd moments I look through it and repeat these words.
    My main problem is how to understand what people say. I attend lessons with very good teacher from Australia and I got accustomed to his pronounce. But when I whatch films or listen to singers it becomes different. Yestarday Sting sang in St. Petersburg. I enjoied his music but didn't understand some words unless I watched a big screen where I could see the movements of his lips. Guys, what is wrong with me? m.b. I'm not nimble enough?

    Best wishes,

  • Comment number 15.


    Nice to meet you!!! It is the first time for me to give comment at BBC English learning website so I am a bit nervous.

    Speaking of your topic, I usually learn both formal and informal words from books. As a matter of fact, I have difficulty in understanding spoken English word by word. My memory is also not good that it is almost impossible for me to learn any informal words from movies, TV or radios. After coming across a new informal words, I just felt puzzled and then forgot what I heard. Therefore, I have to deliberately learn them from books. To enhance my memory, I would try to use them as often as possible. I usually use them in my writing because there is not much chance for me to practise spoken English.

    At this moment, I am at lost in learning English. Most native English speakers think that I don't need to improve my English further because I shouldn't have any problem understanding and writing English. Surely, it is not the fact. I think my written English is only at intermediate level and my listening is only at pre-intermediate level. I don't know what I should do for improving my English. I want to get a great advancement in short period of time. What should I do?

    Best regards,

  • Comment number 16.

    Hi Will and everybody!

    This month, I think I’ll become one of your regulars :).

    I usually pick words up on English sites, in English books, magazines, newspapers. But now I prefer online resources; and instead of buying a newspaper or a magazine, I go to their websites. Some time ago, I started listening to podcasts - they not only broaden my vocabulary, but also improve my listening skills. In addition, I use vocabulary builders - books with a number of topics, each of which contains a list of words or phrases that are usually used to talk about this or that thing or situation.

    As for informal English, it seems to me that the best way of learning it is watching films. But I like when I hear a new word and don’t know its meaning, somebody explaines it to me :).In films there are usually a bunch of them, and I cannot remember all of them. But watching a film with a piece of paper and writing something all the time is a questionable pleasure to me. Maybe, it’s just my laziness, which is not a good helper in learning languages, or my level of English is not high enough for that. Anyway, because of that I do like some online series devoted to informal English.
    As I know phrasal verbs are mostly used in informal English. There is a wonderful series on your site called ‘Face up to Phrasals’. It’s really helpful!

    To remember new words I create a document with them, print it out and then learn. I remember when I started learing English, our teacher advised us to write an unknown word sixteen times (less or more - it depends on how difficult a word is) and pronounce it in English and in Russian, as I’m Russian :). It’s quite boring, but it works - in this case you remember its pronounciation, meaning, and spelling. But now, to remember new words I make up stories with them, and revise them from time to time.

  • Comment number 17.

    Hi there,
    how do we, students, learn new vocabulary? When I just started learning English the learning of new words was a very long and painful process, just because all new words got mixed up in my head. Basically I used to learn new words just by repeating them out loud as many times as it needed to remember the word. After awhile, I figured out that it is not a very effective way to learn new words. When you learn the word with no context first it is very hard to keep it in your long-term memory, and second it gives you no clue how to use the word. Also, I think there is one more problem with enhancing vocabulary. When you learn a foreign language especially vocabulary first of all you need to know what to learn and then how to learn it. I suppose it reasonable to learn the most common words of a language.
    When I need to learn new words I just write them down, and try to make up a sentence with them. Also, reading of newspapers and watching cartoons in English are very helpful. For learning new slang or phrasal verbs the communication with native speakers is the best.


  • Comment number 18.


    I am very happy to see you. I am one of them who welcome you with red flowers when You are coming to us walking on the red carpet. You can see ma at last of the post because I did not any new writing on this blog and left to visit this site.

    Homework : I like to pick up words from books, blogs, movies or different websites etc . When I get a new word I just make a note by English with example . I do not make not by my own language but for remember sometime I go through a local dictionary .Except that I like to follow English dictionary and I feel better to search those words online dictionary specially by search engines. There I can find the meaning of the words from different angles . It is very tough to remember any new foreign word by reading at once that is why sometime I revise the note that I made . Thank you

  • Comment number 19.

    hello Will
    This is the first time i post a comment in BBC so i am a bit nervous, I am from Vietnam and my English is not good. But i want to improve my E so i come here to read these comments to understand how to write a letter and to cominucate to everybody.
    i have learnt English for 7 years, when i 14 years old but now i don't know much.
    please help me to be better in Engllish.
    Thanks so much.


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