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How to speak like a Brit - the Chapter London guide to British expressions

Published: 29 Feb 16

If you’re an international student, moving to a country where they speak a different language can be a little daunting. Of course you’ll pick up the language really quickly but even if you have studied English, there are certain words and phrases you may not have come across before, and some don’t have the most literal translations.

To help you out, we’ve put together a few of our favourite British sayings and what they actually mean.  You’ll be speaking the lingo like a local in no time. 

  1. Cheap as chips - cheap/inexpensive
    London is large a capital city and so it can be expensive at times. However, there are always bargains to be found such as deals in restaurants and shops so use this expression when you are surprised by how cheap something is. 
    Example: "The beer I ordered at the student union the other day was £1. It’s cheap as chips in that place."
     
  2. To cost an arm and a leg – very expensive or overpriced
    Following on from number one, this is the opposite expression to cheap as chips. We know that our residents come from all over the world and that some items may be cheaper in your home country. You can use this expression to show your shock at how much something costs. 
    Example: "Wow, that costs an arm and a leg! In China, I can buy this for half the price."
     
  3. Not my cup of tea – something you don’t like
    Everyone knows the British LOVE tea – we drink it in almost every situation. So when we find something we don’t like, obviously we compare it to our favourite cuppa. Use this phrase when you’re not keen on something.
    Example: "I hate fish so the British fish and chips are definitely not my cup of tea."
     
  4. Don’t judge a book by its cover – don’t make up your mind about someone until you get to know them 
    This is used so often and its meaning is so important. You will meet so many new people during your time at university and you should give everyone a chance. Just because they may dress differently or have different values, doesn’t mean that you can’t be great friends. 
    Example: "I wasn’t sure if Anita and I would be friends but she is one of the nicest people I have met at university. I’m so glad I didn’t judge a book by its cover and took the time to get to know her."
     
  5. A piece of cake – really easy
    University courses cover lots of topics and everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. You can use this phrase to talk about things that you are good at.
    Example: "Einstein’s special relativity is a piece of cake" (said no one, ever…)
     
  6. Paint the town red – to party in bars/clubs
    Meeting new people and making life-long friends is one of the great things about university. You’ll also have more free time and independence to do what you want and hang out with friends. Use this expression when you want to go out and have a good time.
    Example: "Let’s paint the town red tonight."
     
  7. Just the ticket – perfect
    When you see a fancy dress outfit on Amazon and it will arrive just in time for the Chapter London Halloween party, you can use this phrase to describe it. 
    Example: "That zombie costume is just the ticket. They have my size and there is even free delivery."
     
  8. Another string to your bow – another skill/new experience you have gained
    Whilst at University, you’ll have so many opportunities to learn new things. Whether it’s a new language, sport or simply a new way of doing things, these are all skills that you have gained and can take with you when you move into the world of work. Use this expression when talking to friends about what you have learnt. 
    Example: "I’ve added another string to my bow with these extra Spanish lessons, more than one language looks great on my CV."
     
  9. Raining cats and dogs –  raining really hard
    Now, unless you haven’t done your research, you’ll know that Britain gets a fair amount of rain. We don’t have a clear rainy season and a dry season, so it’s rather exciting that there’s always a chance of a downpour. You can use this phrase when it’s raining heavily. 
    Example: "I need to take my umbrella to lectures as it’s raining cats and dogs outside."
     
  10. Neck of the woods – where you live
    Your new home at one of our Chapter properties means you will have a new neighbourhood to explore. When talking to friends, you can use this phrase to refer to the area you live in. 
    Example: "I live at Chapter Spitalfields so the area of Spitalfields is my neck of the woods."
     
  11. Bang out of order – unfair
    With ever-changing course modules and tough exams, sometimes life can seem a little unfair. This expression is used when something changes and you are not too happy about it.
    Example: "It’s bang out of order that they’ve moved my human biology lecture to 9am."
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