An international student’s guide to British slang


Sunday 30th September is International Translation Day, which celebrates languages and linguists all over the world. If you’ve just moved to the UK and you’re learning English, you’ll soon realise that British slang can leave your head spinning! Even if you’re not learning the language from scratch, the accent here can be a struggle to understand. So, if you’ve just started studying in the UK, I’ve compiled a handy cheat sheet of a few of the most common British idioms, phrases and slang I’ve heard myself over the past few years as an international student.

Everyday conversation

  • You alright?

Probably the most common phrase you’ll hear; basically, the British version of “How are you?”

  • Banter

Fun conversation or jokes

  • Bagsy

Like shouting "SHOTGUN", to bagsy something means to claim it first before anyone else can e.g. "I bagsy the last chip!"

  • Quid

Great British pound, e.g. "This book only costs two quid" (£2)

  • Half past

When you ask a British person for the time, they tend to say, "It’s half past seven" (i.e. 7.30pm) or "It’s twenty to ten" (i.e. 9.40pm). They basically tell the time by the minutes to the next hour or minutes passed in the hour. Confusing!

  • Tea

Usually the drink (unless you’re in the North, where ‘tea’ sometimes means ‘dinner’)

  • Faff

To waste time doing very little; procrastinate

  • Leg it

To run away

  • Innit

Abbreviation of “Isn’t it”

Emotive expressions

  • Chuffed

Overjoyed, pleased or full of pride, e.g. "I’m so chuffed I passed the exam"

  • Gutted

Extremely upset or devastated

  • Bee’s knees

Something really cool

  • Bloody

Adds emphasis to an expression, usually in anger or incredulity, e.g. "I’m still waiting for the bloody bus"

  • Cheeky

Something or someone that could be considered impolite or bad-mannered, but instead comes across as endearing or funny to others

  • Peak

The best or height of something e.g. "We’ve reached peak GIF" (i.e. this is the best GIF we’ll ever find)

Can also mean unlucky e.g. "You missed the deadline? That's peak"

  • Gobsmacked

Astounded, bewildered or shocked

Describing people

  • Mate

A friend e.g. "My mate Josh"

  • Fancy someone

To like someone

  • Fit

Physically attractive

  • Geezer

Really depends on context and has many connotations – generally means a man; British equivalent of American slang word ‘dude’; a well-dressed man (typically from east London)

  • Mug

Someone who is gullible or easily fooled (but be careful - the same word is used to describe the cups that people drink tea out of)

Eating and drinking

  • Chips


  • Go for a cheeky Nando’s

Have a quick bite to eat at the popular chain restaurant Nando’s

  • Go on a bender

Go on a spree of heavy drinking

  • Fag

A cigarette

  • Spoons

Wetherspoons (a chain of pubs throughout Britain very popular with university students due to the cheap alcohol and food)

  • Trollied


  • Cheers

This is what British people say when they're toasting a drink

Are there any other slang words you've heard since moving to the UK? Let us know on FacebookTwitter or Instagram. Good luck settling in! 

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