How to say ‘Sh*t!’ in numerous different languages and lots more about the trials and tribulations of swearing in a foreign language.
I’ve been an English language teacher for 11 years and it never ceases to amaze me how fascinated people are with swearing in a foreign language.
Not all of my students, of course, ask me for tips on how best to swear in English, but a surprising number do.
There will be two or three weeks of getting-to-know-one-another, whilst learning a bit of preliminary vocabulary and grammar, and then here come the first “by the way, how do you say f**k off in English?” or “how do you say sh*t?” questions.
Swearing in a foreign language seems to be a great ice-breaker, not only between student and teacher, but also between student and practice audience. There is a comedy element to it that lightens the mood and somehow magically facilitates confidence and communication.
Personally, I am not a great fan of swearing in a foreign language or in my own language, but as a foreign language teacher I am receptive to anything that helps a struggling student (let’s face it almost all of us struggle!) to engage in and enjoy second language conversation.
I recently wrote another article about the merits of using alcohol as a foreign language learning tool. Similarly, I am not much of a drinker, but I have to recognise how awkward it can be to properly practise one’s chosen second language and the godsend that is any tool or tip that genuinely helps.
I would never want to promote excessive habitual alcohol abuse, but a couple of drinks here and there can boost one’s confidence when starting out, at least, practising speaking a second language.
It’s a similar thing with swearing in a foreign language. If discussing a few taboo words sparks up a conversation and gets people laughing and relaxed then, fantastic, that is gold dust in the quest to learn a second language.
For most people it is only a case of learning the odd dirty word or two. Others may push themselves to remember a selection of choice sentences which string together various profanities for added shock factor.
This shock factor, by the way, is not in sinisterly offending or abusing another poor person. It is all about getting that “Wow, how do you know how to say that!” type of response.
It is funny to hear a foreigner saying things you don’t expect. Especially if one manages to pull it off and produce the perfect word in the perfect moment. It shows passion and a deeper understand of the other language that is extremely endearing.
Be warned though. You could also be setting yourself up for a fall in bigging up the expectations of the other person. You might find yourself faced with a sudden barrage of breakneck native as the enthusiastic response. And if you aren’t able to match the level of your one or two quirky, consummately executed swear words, it will come as a massive let-down.
We should never forget the true nature of swearing either. You may want to use it ironically as a bit of fun, but we must always be aware that we are using offensive words even when we are swearing in a foreign language.
Swearing is a big part of language, but it’s not something to be proud of or to overuse.
Not everyone will see the funny side of your soiree in swearing in a foreign language. Some people will be plain offended. This might be because they simply dislike swearing or maybe because you didn’t manage to quite pull off your delivery.
There are numerous pitfalls. It’s not only choosing the correct word. It’s knowing exactly when to use it, in which context, in which precise moment, with which tone of voice, and to which audience.
It is a perilous challenge trying to swearing in a foreign language, one that is not for the faint-hearted. Personally I think swearing is little more than a bad habit or an indication of a lack of vocabulary. But, as I said, who am I to stand in the way of a potentially really effective ice-breaker and confidence booster.
So, here you go, here is a little introduction. Below I have listed how to say ‘Sh*t’ in numerous different languages. Enjoy!