A guide to UK colloquialisms for non-native speakers

International students arriving in the UK for the first time will encounter some English phrases they haven’t heard before. Here are just a few of them.

One of the biggest worries for non-native English speakers coming to the UK is the potential for the language barrier to get in the way.

Even for those who arrive in the country relatively fluent, British English is full of informal terms for things that you probably won’t find in a textbook. To make things even more fun, these can vary across different regions.

To give you a bit of a head start here, we’ve compiled a list of five common terms you might encounter during your stay.

1 – Cheers

For most people, the word ‘cheers’ is synonymous with a toast at a party or night out, and British English does use it in this way.

However, it is also a commonly used informal way of saying ‘thank you’. This is a good phrase to use with new friends, perhaps less so for your lecturers.

2 – Not my cup of tea

If there’s one thing everyone knows about the British, it’s how much they all love a cup of tea. In fact, it’s so popular it has been used to create this expression, which simply refers to something you don’t like.


“The British...love a cup of tea…”

3 – Piece of cake

What’s a cup of tea without a piece of cake? Of course, this phrase doesn’t always mean what you think either. In some contexts, it can mean something that is or was easy to accomplish.

Strangely, this could mean an accomplished baker might describe making a cake as ‘a piece of cake’. Don’t worry, you’ll soon get the hang of this.


“a piece of cake”

4 – Fiver/Tenner

These terms refer to British money, issued in pounds (£). You may or may not be aware that most British banknotes you will encounter will be worth £5, £10 or £20. You might see a £50 note if you’re lucky, but on a student budget it’s perhaps unlikely.

If you need to know how much something costs and someone asks for a ‘fiver’, this means £5. A ‘tenner’ is £10. Importantly, this is as far as this rule goes, for example £20 is not a ‘twentyer’.

5 – The Tube

This is a London-specific one, and refers to the world famous Underground train network that runs through tunnels (or ‘tubes’) beneath the city. You will doubtless find yourself using this a lot if you’re studying in London, as it is one of the best ways of getting around, so this term may be useful if you are asking for directions.

Of course, these phrases are just the beginning, there are many more you will discover during your stay. They are really nothing to be concerned about, it’s always fun to learn new things and if you’re not sure, you can just ask.

This post was contributed by James Cooper at Pure Student Living,  (http://www.purestudentliving.com), which provides luxury student accommodation in London. They have four properties across the city welcoming students from many of the city’s top universities.