On a recent trip to the U.S., I listened to my fellow native speakers carefully, and took language notes that I believe learners will find interesting.

The Most Overused Word

My second day there, I was in a restaurant. The server came and took my order.

Scott: “I’ll have a steak, medium, and a baked potato.”

Server: “Steak, medium, and a baked potato. Awesome.” Then he walked away.

According to my Collins Cobuild English dictionary, something that is “awesome” is “very impressive and often frightening”. So I was surprised at his choice of the word “awesome” to describe my order. After all, it was just a steak. Is a steak impressive? Possibly, but I’d have to see the steak first. And I can’t imagine one that is frightening.

I had almost forgotten that when a couple of days later, I heard someone else use “awesome” in a situation that surprised me. By the end of the trip, I had heard it used many, many times, often in situations that I would never have used that word.

So I believe “awesome” is an overused word, and perhaps misused often. Age is one factor (it was used more by younger people), but not the only one. If “overused” and “misused” are extreme, then certainly “popular” and maybe “fashionable” would be accurate descriptions.

The most frequently used expression/phrase

For any student who is interested in listening and understanding U.S. English, it is critical to understand the use of “wanna” (want to + verb) and “gonna” (going to + verb). These topics are fully covered and practiced in our Conversation Patterns course.

Two additional points before I go on. I clarify to students that it is not a requirement to speak this way, but that it is essential to completely internalize this for listening comprehension. The other point is that some students are skeptical if it is a good use of time to practice these patterns. They believe saying “wanna” and “gonna” is a sign of low education.

However, this is simply not true. “Gonna” and “wanna” are such a natural part of U.S. spoken English that you will hear business people use these expressions. You will even hear U.S. Presidents speak this way:

In this 1 minute, 41 second video, Former President George W. Bush says “gonna” twice, both between 35 and 50 seconds.

In the Conversation Patterns course, you will see that these two patterns can be combined (gonna wanna + verb). Example dialogue:

Tourist: It’s my first time here and I’d like to visit the downtown area today. Do you have any recommendations?

Resident: First time? You’re gonna wanna visit the museum. It’s great! If you’re driving, you’re gonna wanna leave early, because rush hour can be a problem.

Tourist: Actually, I prefer to take public transportation from the Hilton Hotel.

Resident: Hmm. OK, you’re gonna wanna take bus 202 and get off at Michigan and Monroe.

Tourist: Great, thanks. Oh, and one more thing. Can you recommend a good restaurant near the museum?

Resident: There are many. Let’s see, do you like Italian?

Tourist: Yes, definitely. It’s my favorite!

Resident: Then you’re gonna wanna try Trattoria No. 10. It’s right around the corner on Dearborn. It’s awesome.

Tourist: Thank you!

I’ve always known that “gonna wanna” is important, but during my last trip I was surprised to hear that pattern every day!

So the next time you listen to any U.S. native speaker (on TV, in a movie, on a trip etc.), pay attention, and you will hear these expressions.

Happy learning!