Language Learning, Article 26, by David Bolton: Avoid the "F" Word!
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Speaking English as a foreign language: avoid the f word!

If speaking English as a foreign language is your goal, there are, as you probably already know, many ways for you to practice: read, listen to popular music, watch DVDs, and best of all, meet native English speakers in order to have good conversations with them.

These days, many people have become almost addicted to using what we call the “f word”: that four-letter word that has always been considered obscene, yet has become so common in the speech of many that some foreigners might not realize that it is not considered to be “proper”.

I’m sure you know the word I mean; I don’t want to write it out here, lest my article be thought to be improper. I have no problem with saying the “f word” if I am teaching English, and wish for my pupils to know what it means, and above all, why they should not use it. Yet I myself never use that word when I have a normal conversation. It’s not that I am inhibited, or prudish; it is merely that I know that it does offend some people, and I believe that we should speak in such a way that anyone and everyone is able to listen to us without feeling offended. This, to me, is simply a sign of good manners, and good taste.

Unfortunately, the times in which we live do not always further the cause of good taste. Many people think that by using such language, they are being “cool”. Well, if to be cool, you have to use an obscenity that millions of other people are also using, and which is therefore nothing special at all, then I’d suggest you try to find other ways to make yourself cool: for example, develop a magnetic personality, become a great conversationalist, or simply be an individual instead of following the common herd.

Now, don’t get the idea that I condemn everyone who uses that “f word”: a lot of my friends do, and it doesn’t bother me at all. However, those friends also possess a large vocabulary, and are quite capable of using that vocabulary to give good descriptions of things, situations or events.

Sadly, there are many people today who seem to have such a limited vocabulary that “f---ing” is just about the only adjective they know. Maybe you know the type of person I mean. If they describe taking a trip, for example, they might say: “I wanted to take a f---ing trip somewhere, so I went to the station, got on the f---ing bus, found my f---ing seat. Then I sat down, took out a f---ing book and decided to f---ing read until I got there."

Really! Does that word add anything at all to those statements? What is the speaker trying to prove? Is THAT being cool? No; it is simply a sign of vulgarity. Yet there are people who do speak like that, believe it or not.

As someone who has the goal of speaking English as a foreign language, you may encounter such people, and be led to believe that this is simply the way people talk. Therefore, you might think it would be good to imitate them. Don’t do it! I say this for a number of reasons:

1) When someone is speaking English with a strong foreign accent, and uses the “f word” frequently, it sounds even worse than when native speakers use it. People might get the impression that you learned English in a very low-class environment, and this could keep some social doors closed to you. This is not what you want!

2) Since your English vocabulary is probably not huge, if you get into the habit of using the “f word” instead of a variety of other adjectives, you may come to rely on it so much that you will neglect learning other, more useful adjectives.

3) If you have to write- in school, or at a job - you may NOT use that word in any case, so it’s best to cultivate a large vocabulary of other adjectives that you CAN use instead.

4) Using such a word will offend many people, especially those who are religious. Although I myself am not religious, I know people who are, and they do not like hearing that word. So when speaking a foreign language – English, in this case - why not use words that are generally acceptable, instead of offending people? Being polite is something that people everywhere appreciate!

5) Exaggerated use of the “f word” may even make you sound stupid: people might get the impression that your vocabulary is extremely limited because you are simply a rather unintelligent person who is incapable of expressing him/herself in a better way.

6) If you are a native Spanish speaker from Spain, the use of such words might not seem like such a big deal to you, since in Spain, using obscenities is much more common than in most other countries. Remember, however, that in the English-speaking world, many people are offended by such talk: the standards for what is acceptable socially do vary from place to place.

Speaking English as a foreign language is a great goal to strive for, and it will no doubt be a most rewarding experience. Along the way, you should get to know as many native speakers as possible. So don’t end up offending some of the people you meet by using the “f word”. Remember: nobody will reject you if your speech is “clean”, yet some people will certainly try to avoid you if you talk like someone who grew up in a brothel!

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