Standard English

Standard English is a variety of English most easily understood by a wide audience. It isn’t the only or ‘correct’ form of English - there are regional dialect words and generational differences too.

However, Standard English is most suitable for formal occasions or where the audience is large or unknown. If everyone speaks in a standardised variety of English, we are more likely to understand each other. It is also the form of English rewarded in GCSE Speaking and Listening tasks.

Informal language

Street dancers wearing trainers that have different name labels to represent the use of colloquial language and slang.

Standard English is formal - it does not include informal language. We use informal language in situations where Standard English is not necessary or might not be appropriate.

For example, we might use informal language like colloquialisms when we are with our friends or family. Your idiolect might include slang words and phrases that are particular to your age or social group. For example, think of the following words you might use to describe your sports shoes. Perhaps you would use one of the following:

  • sneakers
  • daps
  • trainers
  • runners

Most speakers would understand the word ‘trainers’, but the other words could be considered more informal or slang words.

When using informal language it is also common to use contractions - shortened versions of phrases such as ‘gonna’ for ‘going to’, ‘innit’ for ‘isn’t it’ and ‘I ain’t’ for ‘I am not’. These contractions are not appropriate for formal speaking situations, but it would still be acceptable to use contractions like ‘I’m’ and ‘don’t’.

Here is an example of Catherine Tate’s comedy character Lauren Cooper using informal language to speak to her teacher. Notice how her language seems out of place.

Catherine Tate’s character Lauren Cooper uses colloquial language as she makes fun of her teacher’s accent

Dialect is the form of language used by a group that live in a particular area. If a speaker is using a dialect, they may use different words, spellings or even order their sentences in different ways. For example, in Newcastle the word 'gadgie' means man.

These non-standard English words and forms are easily understood by certain groups of people, but might be unfamiliar to other groups. Although dialect words can be acceptable in formal English, it's important to think about your audience and purpose when deciding whether to use them or not.