Many people joke that a language learner will always learn the ‘bad’ words in a language first. In English, we call this ‘swearing’ or ‘bad language’.

You won’t find these swear words in any course book or hear them from your teacher at school (hopefully!), but these are words that you’ll hear on the street, in bars and in the movies, so the chances of coming across them are quite high.

Firstly, it’s important to be aware that these words can be used in many different ways, with many subtle differences. It’s not only what you say, but how you say it, where you say it, and who you say it to.

Swearing in front of women and children is usually taboo; this is also the case in most business situations. Some people choose to use softer alternatives, like saying “sugar!” instead of “sh*t!” when something goes wrong.

Translation can, as usual, be dangerous because the translation might be more accepted in the other language. I very often hear Germans using “f*ck!” in the way they would use “Scheiße!” in German, but the F-word is much, much stronger to a native English speaker than “Scheiße!” is to a German.

So is it a good idea to learn these words? I would say yes. I’m not saying you should ever use them, but it’s definitely useful to understand them.

To help you in your cultural adventure, here’s a link to a very famous sketch about the F-word. Please don’t watch it if you’re easily shocked!