Enlist an English Speaking Friend

Enlist an English Speaking Friend

Two friends sharing something on a phone

Friends make things easier

Your first lifeline is to enlist the help of an English speaking friend. You need someone who you feel that you can trust and with whom you have a reasonably good relationship already. Tell them what you’re doing and what you need and they’ll most probably be delighted that you asked.

It’s a common mistake to believe that native speakers will laugh at your attempts to speak their language. I learnt how wrong this was years ago when I was still in my teens learning French. I found myself alone in the middle of an amusement park in the northern town of Beauvais waiting for my French exchange pall to get free from his friends. He wasn’t a great host and I often found myself twiddling my thumbs. On this occasion I plonked myself down on a bench and waited patiently. At the other end of the bench there was an old gent reading a paper.

I’d been there maybe five minutes when the guy turned to speak to me, of course in fluent French. Hesitatingly, in my broken school boy French, I apologised to him that my French wasn’t up to a conversation. He lit up with delight and said something I will never forget, “You’re trying that’s what matters! It’s wonderful that you’re speaking French, I’ll ask if I don’t understand.”

We chatted for another five or six minutes until Pascal appeared and we went back to his place on the Rue de Clermont. I don’t remember what else was said, but that piece of advice has stuck with me ever since.

Things to look for in an English speaking friend:

  1. They speak English with either a received accent or an educated local accent.
  2. They have a reasonable understanding of English grammar and usage
  3. They’re a reliable friend or at least that they know you fairly well
  4. They are willing to set aside some time to help you
  5. That you feel comfortable sharing things with them that might be awkward or embarrassing

What you need them to do:

  1. Correct pronunciation
  2. Help you translate difficult expressions and idioms
  3. Keep you accountable for your learning goals
  4. Encourage you
  5. Be a good friend to you

Having someone available who you can ask questions about local customs and usage is vital. The way English is spoken varies enormously across the globe. When I first moved to Melbourne from Cambridgeshire in the UK, I had a fairly steep hill to climb learning new vocabulary and usage, despite the fact that I have Australian heritage on my mum’s side. A local friend can help you navigate some of this.

Even if you don’t want to use swear words and slang yourself, you need to know when someone is being friendly or aggressive when they use these expressions with you. Australia is particularly relaxed about the use of swear words and other colourful language. I can still remember my Granny and Pop Pop discussing one common swearword which was taboo in the UK but in daily usage in well-to-do homes in Melbourne. Granny was brought up in Melbourne, while Pop came from Birmingham in the English midlands.

The exchange would go something like this:

Granny: “Go to buggery Arthur!”

Pop Pop: desperately “Carrie! You don’t know what that means!”

Indeed any use of the word “bugger” in the UK was frowned on in polite company. However, I vividly recall seeing the caption “Because you’ve bugger all chance of winning the lottery” adorning the side of a tram on Dandenong Road advertising ING savings plans.

I’m sure you will have seen the police anti-drink-drive campaigns from a few years ago, “Little bit over? Bloody idiot!” On my first day on Australian soil, I drove down the Tullamarine Freeway where a huge banner was stretched across one of the bridges bearing this moto. Phrases like this would not fly in many other English speaking countries.


  1. Check through your contact list or phone book and make a shortlist of people you could approach to be your English speaking friend.
  2. Make some phone calls until someone agrees to help.

Make a note as we’ll ask you who you’re going to nominate in the quiz for this section. It’s about keeping you accountable and helping you achieve your goals.


100 Australian Slang words & Phrases IELTS website

What makes a good friend Reachout Website

Articles Page on Accent Reduction Website