Trinity uncovers the new slang that worldwide Gen Z wants to master when learning English

22 Jan 2024
  • Beef, NPC (non-playable character) and Pop-off are the most queried slang terms
  • Almost half want to speak with a GenAm accent instead of a British accent
  • ‘Elvis has left the building’ totally perplexes a third of Gen Z English language learners
  • Study helps Trinity College London develop new AI powered learning app to help five to 14 year-olds learn English

‘Rizz’, declared word of the year 2023 by Oxford University Press, is just one of the many new slang terms that Gen Z students from around the world aim to master when learning English, according to a new study.

The most queried slang terms among EFL (English as a Foreign Language) learners are ‘beef’ (an argument), NPC (a boring person), and ‘pop-off’ (to go crazy).

Also making the shortlist are ‘dead’ (boring), ‘salty’ (upset), ‘safe’ (good), and ‘drip’ (cool or fashionable clothes).

About the research

The research by Trinity College London – an international English language exam board – says that 71 percent of Generation Z learners ask their teachers to explain slang and multicultural English phrases they encounter on social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram.

The survey of 505 specialist English language teachers revealed that 80 percent of Generation Z students now acquire a significant proportion of their language skills watching social media. As a result, 67 percent of teachers say they now incorporate multicultural English (MCE) slang into their lessons to accommodate some of the more unconventional vocabulary encountered by their students.

The impact of streaming

The prevalence of MCE terms like 'bruv' (a close friend), 'no cap' (telling the truth), 'bare' (very, a lot, many), and 'fam' (also a friend) suggests a significant influence from gritty TV shows like Netflix’s Top Boy on the English learning of international Gen Z students. According to teachers, 74 percent of their Gen Z students now pick up a substantial amount of their English skills by watching global streaming TV.

However, when it comes to the English-language value of watching 'Top Boy,' teachers appear to be less certain. Among the top TV shows recommended by teachers to help Gen Z students with their English comprehension, the leading choices are 'Friends' (62 percent), 'Stranger Things' (44 percent), 'Sherlock' (39 percent), 'Downton Abbey' (32 percent), 'Game of Thrones' (29 percent), 'High School Musical' (29 percent), 'Gossip Girl' (26 percent), 'Grey's Anatomy' (20 percent), 'Glee' (19 percent), and 'Bridgerton' (17 percent).

Results of the survey

With seven out of ten of the recommended TV shows originating from the United States, the accent that Gen Z students tend to favour may not come as that much of a surprise. According to teachers, nearly half (45 percent) of their students opt for speaking English with a GenAm (General American) English accent, while just 30 percent prefer a British-focused accent.

The research was commissioned by Trinity College London to help better understand younger English language students while developing its new Skill Up! learning app which uses AI powered innovation to help five to 14 year-olds learn English. With teachers saying that 94 percent of Gen Z find their English studies more enjoyable when it includes quizzes, puzzles, and interactive exercises, the Skill Up! app uses gamification techniques and an inbuilt AI listening and pronunciation tutor to help develop speaking, reading, and listening skills.

“The findings highlight the evolving nature of language in a connected world and the growing impact of social media and popular culture on language acquisition among Generation Z”, says Dr Ben Beaumont, head of English language teacher education, Trinity College London. “The rise of streaming TV services and the popularity of specific shows have turned language learning into a dynamic, multimedia experience for Gen Z.”

Difficult words and phrases

The survey also shows that while English has a great ability to absorb new words, 59 percent of Gen Z face difficulties when coming across obsolete technology-related phrases. The teachers who participated in the study highlighted phrases like 'dialling a number,' 'broken record,' and 'winding-up' as particularly challenging.

And idioms, especially those with historical references, also bemuse many born after 1996. The teachers reported that the turns of phrase which cause the most difficulty for Gen Z, are 'Elvis has left the building,' 'Cock and bull story,' 'Neck of the woods,' 'Get someone's goat,' 'Have a bone to pick with someone,' 'Best thing since sliced bread,' 'Sacred cow,' 'Earworm,' 'Monkey business,' and 'The tail wagging the dog'. Almost a third (29 percent) of teachers said that they don’t frequently use idioms when teaching Gen Z students, given the difficulties experienced.

Dr Beaumont added: "Our study highlights the nature of language learning in today's interconnected world, where social media and popular culture play pivotal roles. It's essential to keep pace with Gen Z’s language journey and offer engaging ways for learning to blend seamlessly with their multimedia experiences.”

The 20 new slang words & phrases that worldwide Gen Z want to master when learning English

1 Beef (argument)   
2 NPC (boring person)
3 Pop-off (go crazy) 
4=  Dead (boring)
4=  Salty (upset)   
6 Safe (good)
7= Drip (fashionable clothes)   
7= Peng (something good)
9= Bruv (a close friend) 
9= No cap (telling the truth)   
11 Buff (strong/attractive)
12= Bare (very, a lot, many)
12= Fam (friend)   
12= Rizz (good at chatting up or flirting)    
15 Flex (show off)
16 Link up (to meet up) 
17  Shook (scared)  
18= Gassed (to be excited) 
18=  Wet (uncool, boring)
20 Bait (obvious, or well known)

Trinity College London commissioned the survey among a sample of 505 EFL (English as a Foreign Language) teachers currently teaching Gen Z students.  Online fieldwork was undertaken between 21 November and 10 December 2023 among one of the largest data sets of EFL teachers. The research was overseen by Gerard Kelly & Partners, a specialist education marketing consultancy.

More about Skill Up!

Skill Up! is an AI-driven app to help 5-14 year olds to develop their English skills, developed by Trinity College London – a leader in English language provision and assessment.  The app’s gamification techniques, which include quizzes, puzzles, and interactive exercises, encourage students to learn English in a fun and enjoyable way.  Listening to stories aids comprehension and helps build new vocabulary, while associated activities and exercises develop oral communication skills, enhance spelling, and improve sentence construction.  It also includes an inbuilt AI listening and pronunciation tutor that gives learners both instant feedback on pronunciation and assistance with challenging words.

The technology means that the app adapts itself to each student's learning pace and ability.  The vast library of story content – all designed by Trinity’s specialist educators and academic team – covers the needs of every young learner, from students with special needs to those preparing for Trinity GESE exam levels (Graded Examinations in Spoken English).

Trinity has also developed a special Skill Up! teacher dashboard that allows teachers to monitor and keep track of the progress of both their classes and individual students.  The user-friendly interface helps teachers identify areas for improvement, provides insights that can feed into future teaching and lets teachers update parents on learning objectives and the results being achieved.

Teachers and language schools interested in finding out more about Skill Up! should email




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