Short background of me:

I was originally from the Philippines and have learned English for 14 years in school. I came from a family with humble beginnings and grew up surrounded by people who speak either Ilocano and/or Tagalog (Filipino). Although English is an integral part of daily life in my country, where TV, radio, internet and public announcements are mostly in English or a combination of English and a local language, I have not had the change to use proper English outside of school, apart from Taglish (mixing Tagalog and English within a sentence) which is very common for younger people in the Philippines.

My dilemma

I have only really started using English on a daily basis when I started working 8 years ago. I work in technology, whose main language is English. In the Philippines, barely anything is translated from English to a local language. I could say I have a decent level of business English and have never struggled expressing myself during meetings and when writing emails. I have even conducted in-person and online trainings before. For almost a decade, I have worked with people all over the world from countries like the US, UK, Germany, India and France. Of course, my business English skills are far from perfect, but I am really comfortable using it in formal contexts.

Last year, I moved to Malaysia where I got to work with local Malaysians and Indian expats. That was my first time actually interacting with people in English in non-business contexts and on a daily basis. At first, I was really uncomfortable with the way Malaysians and Indians speak everyday English; in a manner which is usually called "Carabao English" in my country.

I eventually got used to it though, until I had to move to Europe for a new job when I realized how "unconventional" Malaysian and Indian (spoken) English were. I currently live with Europeans, all of whom are non-native English-speakers but are very fluent with the spoken language. Interacting with them on a daily basis really pushed my language skills to the limits: I started using properly-constructed compound sentences and the right adjectives and adverbs, and have stopped using non-English words as substitutes when I struggle with their English counterparts. I started stuttering, speaking really slowly, and often find myself using the wrong or inconsistent tenses.

I understand people usually start using English in daily contexts then struggle using it in more formal contexts. How do people deal with this struggle but in the opposite direction? How long will it take before I get comfortable using English in non-formal contexts?


  • First of all, this question is not really in the proper forum. Second, whatever people speak, they speak. Let's not judge them. That said, the game you are playing (language is a game) requires you to speak a standard form of English, so, I suggest you watch good programs in English and turn on the sub-titles for deaf people so you can read it while it's being said. And be careful, except for actual English people, Europeans make a lot of mistakes in English. Good luck!
    – Lambie
    Sep 26, 2020 at 15:36
  • 1
    @Lambie sorry if I sounded like I am "judging" anybody. That was just my opinion based on how my ears were trained. Also, my English comprehension is not the problem, it's my ability to express myself in informal spoken English.
    – Lester
    Sep 26, 2020 at 17:51
  • No worries. As I said, try and listen to programs in good English with close captions. Even series on Netflix or other services can be good.
    – Lambie
    Sep 26, 2020 at 18:25

2 Answers 2


I think the important thing to realise is that English (or anything really) is a living language - the way it's used varies by a huge amount from region to region (even town to town), generation to generation, culture to culture. With English especially, there are so many speakers all around the world that there are many variations - and they're all equally valid. There's no "correct" way to speak informal English, and you've just learned a different variant than the people you're currently interacting with.

And I think in many ways learning informal English is going to be harder than learning formal English - the latter has agreed upon rules, consistent styles you can follow, even standard pronunciation models if you're learning it as a foreign language. Informal language is so much more fluid, more playful, it breaks "the rules" while having its own. There's such a wide range of expression, so many accents, so much cultural background in the words and phrases people use.

Honestly the best thing you can do is immerse yourself in popular culture, get used to hearing and using the kind of language you're being exposed to. You can already speak English, so you just need to connect the sounds and phrasing people are using to the concepts you already know. If you're comfortable, ask people to speak a little more clearly, or explain what they said, so you can get used to it (and so they can be understood too). It'll just become more natural over time!

And really, don't worry about speaking informally yourself at first. Practice it, but don't feel the need to actually speak that way with others if makes you unable to express yourself properly. You won't sound strange if it's not your first language, and as you get more used to informal language, you'll be able to throw a few words or phrases in there, and eventually you'll be a natural!


There is no rule saying you must use informal English.

The point of communicating is to get thoughts in your head into someone else’s head. If you can do that speaking formal English, then you are successful. Likewise, if you can understand others’ formal or informal English, then you are successful.

The main difference with informal English is that we take this idea to an extreme, relaxing nearly every rule that does exist as long as the basic goal of being understood is still accomplished.

As you spend more time immersed in informal speech, you will inevitably begin to pick up and use new vocabulary and speech patterns that are simpler, faster and easier even though they may not be strictly grammatical. Let this happen naturally over time by mimicking your friends, pop culture, etc., rather than making it a conscious process. Just don’t try to use them in formal contexts.

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