Slang: The importance of keeping it real

Translation Project Manager Steph Lancake explores how slang can convey different messages around the world, and the difficulties of translating this informal style of language.

What is slang?

A type of language consisting of words and phrases that are regarded as very informal, are more common in speech than writing, and are typically restricted to a particular context or group of people.

Pros of using slang:

Slang incorporates different backgrounds and makes the British language multicultural, reflecting our diverse population. Slang in London can be a hybrid of Cockney, West Indian, West African, Bangladeshi and more depending on where you are!

Slang offers a different level of communication and emotion within it

It shows our individuality and flexibility within our language

Slang enables our language to evolve: Shakespeare hugely developed our language and even invented the word “swagger”

We have freedom of speech. Literally.

Cons of using slang:

Some people struggle to get through a sentence without saying “innit” or “do you know what I mean”

Not everyone uses slang at the right time (a job interview in NOT the right time!)

Not everybody understands the meaning- and it varies so much from region to region

The quality of standard English is deteriorating

People can be prejudiced against those who speak a lot of slang

Slang can be offensive

Should you translate slang?

Unless you’re going to spend a lot of time with the Royal Family, it’s likely that you’re going to need a bit of “real”, more colloquial lingo in your translations, in order to relate to your target audience.

This is even more important if you’re translating slogans or marketing messages that contain a play on words or reference local culture.  We use a lot more idioms and slang in our language than we perhaps realise and it comes up in all types of documents in many different contexts. That’s why it’s important that we use linguists who are going into their native tongue; they are up to date with the language, jargon and culture and able to implement slang appropriately.


Steph is a Project Manager mostly in the Legal and Financial vertical at Capita TI, having been a Spanish and German teacher at Secondary and Sixth Form level for 5 years. She is also the Service Delivery and File Engineering representative for the Employee Engagement Group. When not at work, she’s usually doing sport.

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