Surrounded by Americans? The following key gestures and words will allow you to fake a high level of American English, even and especially when you have no idea what anyone is saying.
This is derived from the Minimalist Language Learning Method, which targets language’s true purpose: amusement. Rarely, we believe, does/should language serve a communicative function; more often, it just decorates the time spent eating, socializing and fucking.
This method is useful whether you already speak English quite well, or not at all (perhaps you’re using the Google Translate feature — at top right — to read this). Take 20 minutes to learn the following phrases and behaviors, and, for most purposes, you will be fluent in American English, while not necessarily able to impart meaning.
- “Abso-fucking-lutely”: This vulgar affirmation should be your answer any inquiry, especially if you haven’t understood it. Americans are an extremely positive and enthusiastic people. Agree with them about everything, and they’ll love you.
- The high five: You’ve certainly seen it in films, but perhaps feel it’s too silly or trite to initiate. That’s tragic, because doing so will help you look very American. Whenever there’s a lull in a conversation, raise your hand and shout “up top!” Americans will respond by slapping at your hand, rather than clasping it as you might expect. If, however, the vibe calls for something more tender, and/or more aggressive, see the next point.
- The hug: This enthusiastic greeting replaces cheek-kissing, or whatever salutation is common in your land. For a culture that isn’t very touchy-feely, the American hug involves a relatively high degree of body contact. If you’re a young female greeting another female, you should jump up and down while hugging and shout, “Oh my god! Like, oh my god!“
- “Mind-blowing” and “amazing“: These will be our only adjectives in Minimalist American English. Conveniently, they can be applied to anything that’s good, bad, or even just odd. They are supposed to denote extremes, but have been diluted through overuse (as Louis CK once discussed). That makes them perfect for uncommunicative language use! If someone seems to have said a thing that requires a response, shout: “that’s amazing!”
- When called on to make a joke in English, use this: “A man walks into a bar, and falls down.” It’s short, and therefore easy for even low-level English speakers to memorize. It plays on the fact that many jokes in English start with someone walking into a bar. The twist is a pun: a bar can be a physical metal tube as well as a drinking establishment. As with nearly all jokes, it’s not funny. But it can be made very funny, especially after a lot of American moonshine, with a physical demonstration.
- Use “Guy” and “girl” to refer to people, and “stuff” for any inanimate nouns.
- On the rare occasions in America when jovial enthusiasm would not be appropriate, you should say: “That sucks ass!” Literally, it denotes oral-anal contact, but it is commonly used to express disappointment.
- Anybody who you like may be addressed as “love-muffin“.
- Never be afraid to boast “I dunno!” (an informal contraction of “I don’t know”). Americans are not shy about expressing ignorance. It’s a culture that values its blindspot for history and its emphasis on the new, with all the perils and benefits that brings. America is an ignorant — but not stupid — country. Use “I dunno” as a refrain, and most Americans will respect you for it.
- “I’m from Iowa, born and bred!“/“I’m from the hood.” You may be asked where you’re from, but that line of conversation will almost certainly go nowhere. Americans are likely to get Siberia confused with Serbia, Africa with Andorra, etc. (see the above point). Some will then make an idiotic, mildly xenophobic comment about wherever it is they think you’re from. Avoid the conversation entirely by insisting that you’re from somewhere preposterous, like Iowa, or from the hood, and change the subject. (“The hood” suggests a rough, urban neighborhood.)
- “I fucked it all up!” If you’re living with a proper sense of adventure, you will make many, many mistakes during your time in America. Rather than apologizing, keep this vulgar expression on the tip of your tongue to express your disappointment with yourself.
One more note: seize on any conversational opportunity that should arise. A business conference, a lost tourist, a drunken hookup: all of these can be great ways to practice your English. Unfortunately, most of the world has been tortured by childhood ESL education, and what should be seen as opportunities to practice English instead conjure up frightening classroom tests.
Let all that go, and enjoy speaking, no matter what your level is. The best route to confidence is faking it at first. And that’s what this article is all about. TRY it.
May your American English be enjoyable and meaningless. Your results with and additions to this method are welcome in the comments.