Browsing Category

Student Articles

California Life CISL San Diego Featured San Diego San Diego Neighborhoods San Diego Travel Tips Student Activities Student Articles Suggested student activities Vocabulary

California Surfer Slang for English Students

July 27, 2016

If you’re in California studying English, one thing is certain to happen: you’ll pick up some Cali slang!

Not surprisingly, a lot of California slang has its roots in the surfing culture. Below as some words often used by surfers, but you don’t have to be a surfer to use these surfer slang words; in fact, many of them are words commonly used by Californians. In the cases when a word is used both by surfers and the land-loving populations, we have included both definitions. 


Surfer Slang (used by everyone)

Generation definition: Having an aggressive attitude; having a bad attitude
Surfer definition: Being aggressive in the water
Example: He became really aggro when he was stuck in traffic.

Generation definition: Getting excited about something
Surfer definition: Getting excited to surf
Example: I’m so amped for our trip to Las Vegas!

Generation definition: To leave.
Surfer definition: to jump of the surfboard in order to avoid being thrown off because of a wave.
Example: What time did you bail last night?



Surfer Slang (used only by surfers)

General definition: the purple dinosaur on a children’s show.
Surfer definition: An inexperienced surfer.
Example: I was a total barney for the first year, so don’t give up when you first try surfing!

Beach Leech
General definition: There isn’t one! This is entirely a surfer term.
Surfer definition: A person who doesn’t bring their own supplies to the beach and borrows (leeches) yours.
Example: Your roommate is such a beach leech. I don’t have any sunscreen anymore because he used all of mine.

Generation definition: a name for a male.
Surfer definition: A non local.
Example: There were a bunch of bennies at the beach this morning.


To learn some more California slang, check out some of our other articles on the subject:

And be sure to check out our articles on surfing in California!

Would you like to learn some more surfer slang? Check out this article from Surfing Waves about “surf speak.”

Photos from Shutterstock. 

Career English CISL San Diego Featured San Diego San Diego Neighborhoods Student Activities Student Articles Student Life

Career English Student Success: Desiree’s architecture firm!

June 29, 2016

CISL’s Career English Program provides students an incredible opportunity to learn English in a small classroom setting, then spend time at an American company. Desiree, from Switzerland, shared her experience with Studio E Architects. Thanks for sharing, Desiree!

After spending four months learning English at Converse Languages School in San Diego, Desiree began the Career English program. She worked closely with our Career English Coordinator to find the most fitting experience for her based on her prior experience and education and her future work goals. Why did she choose architecture as her desired field for her Career English program? “Five years ago I started my apprenticeship as a draftsperson in Switzerland, so I would really like to draw in San Diego and I wondered how an architecture firm worked here.”

Desiree worked with Studio E Architects, which she explains is “a thirteen-person collaborative led by two principals, Eric Naslund, and John Sheehan.” After being coached by the Career English Coordinator on how to shine during an interview with an American company, Desiree interviewed with John . . . and was offered a chance to spend time with the company!

Studio E Architects

How was the first day? What about the first week? Says Desiree, “My first day I was introduced to everybody and got a place where I can work for the next four weeks. In my first week I should try to draw in a new software. It is called Sketchup and you can draw 3D models with it. It was completely new for me because I was used to draw with Archi CAD what is quite different to Sketchup. I could always ask somebody for help if I got stuck, which was very useful.

After three days of trying out I could start drawing a multi family house. I made different alternatives. I also could start to draw a new project always supported by John, who was showing me what exactly he want me to draw.”

In addition to spending time working with these new programs, Desiree had the chance to work with the company owners directly. “One day John took me out to show me the place where my first project should be build [sic] soon. So we took some pictures from the neighborhood there and back in the office I should draw the neighbour[hood] buildings next to the new building in Sketchup.” Such a cool experience!

Another great experience? Learning a little more about beautiful San Diego, straight from an SD local! “Afterwards John was telling me about the history of San Diego what all starts with the Missions in 1769. The first Mission of 21 was . . . in San Diego.”

"Mission San Diego de Alcalá - church" by Bernard Gagnon - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

Mission San Diego de Alcalá, the church in California. Learn more about the state’s missions with our article “Types of TOEFL Prompts and California Missions.”

For another project, Desiree had the opportunity to learn about one of San Diego’s most impressive architectural buildings, the Salk Institute in La Jolla. “Maxine is responsible for an huge parking garage which has already started build [sic] in the UCSD campus. I could go with her and John to visit the construction area which was very interesting. After that we went to the Salk Institute. It was amazing to see this building in real and John told me stuff about the architect Luis Kahn and the building.” Amazing!

Overall, Desiree said the experience was incredibly positive. “To sum up, this four weeks were great and sadly too short. The team was so nice, friendly and helpful. I can completely recommend this company to other students!”

We thank you, Desiree, for your hard work with Studio E and with CISL! Your English improved greatly during your five months in SD, and it was a pleasure seeing you enjoy yourself!

Would you like to spend time with an American company and improve your CV? Contact CISL and learn more about our Career English program!

Cover photo courtesy of Desiree.

“Mission San Diego de Alcalá – church” photo by Bernard Gagnon and licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Studio E Architects photo from Studio E Architects via Facebook. 

CISL San Francisco Featured San Francisco San Francisco Travel Tips Student Articles

A few things I’ve learned during my time in San Francisco

June 18, 2015

By CISL SF student, Cornelia


  • The back door on Muni only opens if you step down.
  • You can smell Marijuana almost all the times.
  • Don’t try to understand the trash bin rules. There is no simple explanation.
  • The people who like being naked in public aren’t always good looking.
  • Hugs, no handshakes.
  • Perfumed garbage bags exist.
  • It’s totally acceptable to wait in line for an hour for your favorite food.
  • Always bring another layer, no matter how warm it looks when you leave the house in the morning.
  • San Francisco is like Europe, combined with the US. The best of two worlds.
  • Coffee is never only coffee. Trust me: Regular? Decaf? Half-caf? 1 shot? 2 shots? Non-fat? 2%? Whole? Soy? With-whip?
  • Burritos are kind of a religion: Everyone knows THE best place to get THE best burrito.
  • Always check the street cleaning signs – especially if you borrowed a car.
  • Without green juices and smoothies your life isn’t good.
  • Stop smoking. It’s not cool anymore.
  • The fortune cookie was invented in San Francisco, not China.
  • SF is the perfect place for foodies. And soon you will become one, too.
  • Walking everywhere is the best way to get to know the city. You can’t always trust MUNI or BART.
  • Neighborhood parks are the place to be.
  • No Giants game is complete without garlic fries.
  • You can sell closets as bedrooms, as seen on Craigslist.
  • San Francisco should be called The Windy City, especially at Ocean Beach.
  • Coffee in one hand, mobile phone in the other. Headphones on. That’s the SF uniform.
  • Always wear your sunglasses. You never know when the sun will come out.
Career English CISL San Francisco Featured Student Articles

My Experiences as a Volunteer in San Francisco

February 11, 2015

by Roman (Germany), CISL San Francisco student

RomanAfter three months in San Francisco it is time for me to go back home to my normal life. But before returning to Germany, I want to look back to an amazing summer in California. I started with a language course of four weeks at CISL in the Intensive Program and changed after two weeks to the Global Success Program to get prepared for my volunteer program. After a short interview, I got a acceptance to work at the American Red Cross (ARC). The ARC is a humanitarian organization, which helps people who are in a emergency or affected by a disaster and it is part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. My job at the ARC was at the front desk of their San Francisco office. I had to answer a lot of phone calls, to greet guests and connect them to the person in charge, and to manage incoming and outgoing mail. So I got a lot of chances to talk to American people.

For the rest of the time, CISL gave me the opportunity to volunteer also in the school’s marketing department. This was a great chance for me to look behind the scenes and to see how the school finds out what their students need and how to attract new students. I also was able to contribute some articles to the blog and Facebook, where the school presents the impressions and experiences of their students.

For me, it was a great experience to work in two different places and to learn a lot of different things. While working at the ARC I improved my speaking and listening skills by answering phone calls and talking to a lot of different people. At CISL I could improve my writing skills by writing a lot of articles for their blog and the Facebook Site.

Now, after three months of school, volunteering and a lot of other experiences, I’m going back home to find a new job. Hopefully, my new experiences will help me in the German job market.

Featured San Francisco San Francisco Travel Tips Student Articles What's Up San Francisco

San Francisco’s Neighborhoods

February 2, 2015

by CISL SF student,  Cornelia Ineichen

Growing up in a Swiss city with 80,000 habitants, moving to San Francisco was quite a big thing. When you’ve never lived here before, this venture can be confusing. This town is kind of weird if you have no idea what’s awaiting you. All in all, San Francisco is an amazing place and you can’t go wrong even if not every place is perfect for you.


Cow Hollow once supplied the majority of milk products for San Francisco. Dairy ranches occupied much of the area from 1860 to 1880, when the city decided it would be better to move the milking to a place with less people.


Where did the Cow Hollow dairies go? Many of them relocated to what is now Glen Park. But to SF people in the 1880s, the area was known as Little Switzerland. This is due to the similarity of this area to the common image of Switzerland: Steep hills and dairy products.


The kids who lived in the Russian Hill neighborhood in the 1850s used the graveyard, which was then located near the top of the hill, as a playground. Most of the graves belonged to Russian sailors or soldiers. The children began calling it Russian Hill, and soon everyone else did too.


The Nob in Nob Hill is probably a nickname of the word “nabob”. Nabobs were governors in India. When the British colonized India, they borrowed the word, broadened the definition to mean a rich or important person, and eventually shortened it to “nob.” The San Francisco nabobs built extravagant mansions on the hill, all but one – the Flood Mansion – were destroyed in 1906.


The Mission is named for Mission Dolores, the oldest intact mission in California and the oldest intact building in San Francisco. What you may not know is that the mission’s official name is not Dolores, but was dedicated the Mission San Francisco de Asís in 1776. However, a small lake or possibly spring (no one knows for sure) somewhere nearby had been named the Laguna de Nuestra Señora de los Dolores earlier that year. So, the church was never really called by its given name.


The Castro was, from the 1930s through the 1960s, known as Eureka Valley. In the 1910s and ’20s, the area was called Little Scandinavia because residents of Sweden, Norway, and Denmark heavily populated it. All of those names changed when the newly liberated gays of the 1970s came to the neighborhood, made it the epicenter of the gay rights movement and renamed it after a movie theater.


Some neighborhoods are named after locations elsewhere. The SF Tenderloin, unfortunately not the best region in the city, was named after New York City’s Tenderloin. It got its name because police working the area got hazard pay, as it was very dangerous, and could therefore afford a better cut of steak than their colleagues.


George Marsh was one of the first settlers of the Richmond District. He gave it that name because the dunes reminded him of the dunes where he grew up in the Australian Richmond.


Moving along to natural boundaries, the name North Beach descends to the earliest days of San Francisco in the 1850s. The city’s northeast shoreline only went to Taylor and Francisco until it was filled in during the latter part of the 1800s. There was once a beach where today there are strip clubs, Italian restaurants, cafés, and the City Lights Bookstore. After the quake in 1906 everything changed. The neighborhood attracted many Italian Americans; therefore sometimes we call it Little Italy.


The Fillmore district was created in the 1880s to provide new space for the city to grow in an effort to address overcrowding. After the 1906 earthquake, Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe settled in the Fillmore. Jewish-owned businesses opened on Fillmore and McAllister streets to serve the community. During the 1910s to 1930s, sections of the neighborhood became home to thousands of Japanese immigrants as that area became part of Japantown.

Later, vacant homes in the Fillmore attracted African Americans migrating northward to work in the shipyards, as part of the Great Migration, as well as musicians, and artists.

Soon, many nightclubs were opened, bringing major musical icons to the neighborhood including Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, and Billie Holiday.