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Slang from the U.S. South + Delicious Southern food in SD and SF

September 7, 2015

CISL has written several articles on California slang and the California accent, American English vs. British English, and Northern California vs. Southern California slang . . . but we have never looked at one of the most well-known dialects in the U.S.: the South! Today we are looking at some Southern slang that is also used in many other parts of the U.S. How many of these words do you know?

Common Southern Slang for ESL Learners

A redneck

Redneck is a general term for a person who works outside (and gets a red neck from being in the sun all day). Nowadays, this is a term that is used for anyone who lives in the country, and it is embraced by many people as a way of describing people from outside of cities.

Comedians have been using this term for years, and although it might sound like a derogatory term, many people actually embrace the title “redneck” and associate it with the Southern lifestyle.

Example: They love country music and big trucks. They are definitely rednecks.



Britches are pants! That’s right: pants.

Example: You have a hole in your britches.


Too big for your britches

To think very highly of yourself is to be too big for your britches.

Example: She moved to the city and now she’s too big for her britches.


Fixin’ to

Getting ready to do something.

Example: I’m fixin’ to go to the store. Do you want anything?


To have a hankering for something

To have a strong desire (a craving) for something

Example: I have a hankering for some pie.




Example: I will do anything for you. You’re kin!




Example: I reckon that they’re coming home in two days.





Example: Today’s younguns are always using their iPhones.

These Southern words have made their way into the vocabulary of many people from around the United States. In fact, you might hear your teacher or host family (jokingly) using these words! Ask your American friend to give you their best Southern accent and have a laugh when they try to mimic the famous accent of Southerners.

All of this talk about the South makes us hungry! You don’t have to travel all the way to the American South for delicious Southern food: we have delicious restaurants right here in SD and SF! Here are a few of our recommendations.

The best BBQ in SD and SF

If you are studying English in San Diego, you must try Phil’s! Phil’s is a restaurant that is loved by many San Diegans. It serves classic American barbecue (try the ribs! They’re delicious!) and the prices are affordable.


When you think BBQ, think “ribs.” Warning: you WILL get hungry! Photo from Phil’s.

If you are studying English at CISL San Francisco, check out Southpaw BBQ in The Mission. Delicious $1 ribs every Sunday? What a delicious deal! Southpaw also brews their own alcohol and liquors, so it is a great place to taste locally-produced beverages.


Their hickory smoked honey chicken is delicious! Photo from Southpaw.


Ribs for $1? We might be here every Sunday! Photo from Southpaw.

What’s your favorite restaurant in SD or SF? Tell us on Facebook! We love to see your pics and hear your recommendations!

California Life Featured Learning Materials Listening Practice Pronunciation

How to Sound Like a Californian: California Accent Pronunciation Guide

August 13, 2015

If you want to sound like a Californian, there are a few things you have to master: pronunciation and slang. CISL has covered California slang in several articles: check out our articles on Northern California vs. Southern California SlangCalifornia Slang Words, Five Important California Slang Words, and the word Gnarly. These posts provide you with a great basic understand of casual speech in California!

The next step is to master Californian pronunciation. Californians talk differently . . . but how? Here are some things that are unique to the California accent.


How to Sound Like a Californian: California Accent Pronunciation Guide


Californians speak with a more open mouth, often not closing the mouth at the end of a sentence. Try this:

Say the following sentence clearly:

  • I can’t believe you did that!

Now, say the same sentence, but leave your mouth open at the end. It sounds more like:

  • I can’t believe you did tha!

Some Californians (especially younger ones and those from Los Angeles/Southern California) also tend to raise their voice at the end of a sentence so that the sentence sounds like a question.

  • ” I don’t really like seafood.” becomes “I don’t really like seafood?”

Many Californians clearly produce the “r” sound, which is not true of some other parts of the United States. For example, the word “really” stresses the “r” a lot, so it sounds like “rrrreally.”


Californians often do not distinguish from some vowels. For example, look at the following words with the “e” sound:

  • wreck, kettle, really

In California English, these words sound more like wrack and kattle and rally.

The same can happen with the “oo” sound. For example, think of the following words:

  • book, look, put

These can sound more like buck, luck, and putt.

Vocal Fry

Vocal fry is when the voice is very low and when the end of a word is pronounced in short, cut sounds. You’ve probably never heard of it. . . but you’ve probably heard it. Here is a great news report of vocal fry, which includes examples. Check out 1:30 in the video for some examples of the California accent as well!

There are many videos of Californian accents on YouTube, but one of our favorites is actress Emilia Clarke, who is famous for playing a main character on Game of Thrones. Watch her British accent change into an excellent (although a little exaggerated) California “Valley Girl” accent. It’s awesome!

Perhaps the best way to understand (and copy) the California accent is to understand how it differs from accents of other English speakers. Amy Walker, who is a famous accent coach with a successful YouTube channel about pronunciation, has an excellent video that shows four of the American accents. Check out minute 3:00 when she starts her California girl impression.

Have you noticed something? All of these California accent impersonations have been women. What about the guys??? The truth is that the California accent is most often attributed to females; however, men of course have an accent as well. They take on many of the traits that are expressed in these videos.

Do all Californians talk as the people in the videos do? Of course not. California, like the rest of America, is a melting pot of people from different places, cultures, and languages. These are just generally accepted traits of the “typical” California accent, and fun to practice if you want to sound like a California native!

Learning Materials Lessons Pronunciation

Ten English words that students have difficulty pronouncing + 10 Practice Questions for Cambridge FCE and CAE Speaking Part 1

June 21, 2015

Every language has words that are difficult to pronounce, and depending on your mother tongue, some sounds and letters might be more difficult to say than others. But there are some words in the English language that many learners have difficulty with regardless of their linguistic background. Do you know how to pronounce these words? Click on the recordings to hear the correct pronunciation and then practice saying the sentences below.

1. Question

Click here to hear the recording.

I have a question.

Can you answer my question?

Thanks for answering my questions.


2. Judge

Click here to hear the recording.

I don’t judge people by their choices.

People are often judged by their friends.

The judge wore a black robe.


3. Whistle

Click here to hear the recording.

Can you whistle?

I can’t whistle well.

I heard a loud whistle before the train came.

Soccer Sports Exercise Team

4. Clothes

Click here to hear the recording.

Where do you buy clothes in San Diego?

We are going clothes shopping in San Ysidro.

I love how trendy the clothes are in SD.


5. Develop

Click here to hear the recording.

He wants to develop an app for the iPhone.

The wind helps to develop waves on the beach.

My ideas for a new book really started to develop during my time in San Francisco.


6. Throughout

Click here to hear the recording.

Throughout the day, I practice my English.

I get a lot of exercise throughout the day in my job.

If you drink water throughout the day, you will stay hydrated.


7. Genuine

Click here to hear the recording.

My CISL teacher is a very genuine person.

For genuine Italian food, head to San Diego’s Little Italy.

My dream has been to see a genuine California sunset.

San Diego Beach Sunset Surf

8. Would

Click here to hear the recording.

Would you like to take a road trip with us to Lake Tahoe?

Would you rather go wine tasting in Napa or Sonoma this weekend?

I would like to go to Las Vegas soon.

CISL San Francisco students enjoying a weekend in Las Vegas

CISL San Francisco students enjoying a weekend in Las Vegas

9. Really

Click here to hear the recording.

I really love playing volleyball in Mission Beach.

My roommate really wants to have burritos for lunch.

I really love the convenience of public transport in SD and SF.

Downtown Trolley SD

10. Rarely

Click here to hear the recording.

I rarely drive when I am in San Francisco.

I rarely see my roommate. She is always surfing in Pacific Beach!

My classmate rarely studies and he always gets 100% on his quizzes!


10 CAE and FCE Speaking Part 1 Questions

  1. Question: Where are you from? 
  2. Question: And what do you do there? 
  3. Question: What do you like most about your job?
  4. Question: What do you like most about studying English?
  5. Question: Where do you see yourself in five years?
  6. Question: Tell me about someone you admire. 
  7. Question: How did you arrive here today?
  8. Question: What are some of your hobbies or interests?
  9. Question: Tell me about something you recently studied. 
  10. Question: What are some qualities of a good teacher?


Question #1: Where are you from? 

Tip: Say more than just your country or city. Tell the examiner a little more.

  • Example: I’m from Girona, which is a historic city about an hour from Barcelona.

Question #2: And what do you do there? 

Tip: This question translates to “What is your job?” NOT “What are your hobbies?”

  • Example: I’m the manager of a tourism company.

Question #3: What do you like most about your job?

Tip: Repeating the question structure in your answer allows you to give an answer that is a complete sentence.

  • Example: What I like most about my job is meeting people from all over the world. When people are on vacation, they are usually in very good moods!

Question #4: What do you like most about studying English?

Tip: Give reasons for your answer.

  • Example: What I like most about studying English is that it allows me to understand song lyrics. In my free time, I’m a musician, so it’s really great to be able to listen to and understand the songs that inspire me.

Question #5: Where do you see yourself in five years?

Tip: Often a question will be posed that makes you speak in the future tenses. Notice this and use them appropriately. (For help with Future tenses, click here.)

  • Example: Well, as I really enjoy my job, I suppose I will still be working for the same company in the next five year. By then I hope I will have bought my own home as well. Hopefully I’ll have some spending money so that I will be able to travel often as well.

Question #6: Tell me about someone you admire. 

Tip: Questions like this are an excellent opportunity to show your vocabulary skills!

  • Example: Someone I really admire is my younger sister. She’s a lawyer, and she’s incredibly driven and independent. I’m always impressed by her drive and ambition, especially since she is so young. I know she will go far in life.

Question #7: How did you arrive here today?

Tip: This is a question designed specifically to see if you can talk about the past. Give details and use the correct tense(s).

  • Example: Today I actually arrived here by car. Normally I take the train into the city, but my friend had a meeting and she offered to drive me. She picked me up about an hour before the test and dropped me off just outside. Thankfully, we didn’t hit any traffic!

Question #8: What are some of your hobbies or interests?

Tip: Always be prepared for this question. It’s common on proficiency tests.

  • Example: I love the outdoors. You can always find me outside playing sports, hiking in nature, enjoying the beach during the summer . . . if the weather is good, I’m outdoors! Although I also enjoy skiing in the winter, so I suppose I’m also out when the weather isn’t the greatest.

Question #9: Tell me about something you recently read. 

Tip: Always be ready to talk about a book you’ve read, your favorite movie, your favorite holiday . . . any generic question you can think of! These questions are difficult to think of in your own language, so it’s important to prepare!

  • Example: I recently read an article about the Egyptian pharaoh, King Tut. Apparently there are conflicting studies about whether or not there are hidden rooms in the pyramid where his body was found. I thought it was fascinating to hear how the scientists disagree, and their reasons for thinking that their theories are correct.

Question #10: What are some qualities of a good teacher?