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10 sayings you need to know before you work in the NHS

NHS Nurses in UK learn British idioms

If you want to hit the ground running on your first day within the NHS, you might need to navigate some very British idioms spoken by both patients and fellow healthcare professionals alike. We’ve pulled together 10 often spoken, but quite confusing phrases to help you get started.

Another great way to ensure you have the right language skills to succeed from day one is by downloading and reading through the OET Living the Language guide.  You’ll find information on phrases, values and processes unique to the UK that will help you be Day One ready.

1. “Fancy a cuppa?”

Meaning: Would you like a cup of tea

Did you know that people in the UK drink over 60 billion cups of tea every year? With so much being drunk, you might be invited to grab one with fellow colleagues.

It’s a great way to make friends, practise your English and network with colleagues. It’s also used to help people when they’ve been having a bad day or have received some bad news.

2.“I’m knackered”

Meaning: “I’m very tired”

Gasping for breath after a hard run or long work out, you might hear someone say: “I’m knackered”. It simply means they’re tired.

Give it a try the next time you’re trying to catch your breath and someone asks how you are.

3. “Oh, sorry”

Meaning: I’m being polite

Sorry is a pretty common word in the UK and to really hit the ground the running, you will need to master when to use it.

In England, sorry is used to apologise about the rain or if you have accidentally walked into them. It’s important to use it often, even when something is not your fault.

4.“A real dog’s dinner”

Meaning: A mess or fiasco

Sometimes called a “dog’s breakfast” this saying means something is a mess or has been messed up.

Parents will say it to their kids after inspecting their rooms, voters will say it about politicians and hopefully, you won’t hear it while you’re at work!

5. “You’re full of beans!”

Meaning: You’ve got lots of energy

If you’ve had a few coffees and you fly into your morning shift, you might hear someone make this comment. If you see someone highly enthusiastic about an upcoming event or activity, you might even say “they’re full of beans”.

6. “I’m gutted”

Meaning: To be sad or devastated

Football fans who have just watched their team lose to a rival will almost always be gutted.

If you must break bad news to someone in your role, you might hear them say they’re gutted with the results.

7. “That’s a load of rubbish”

Meaning: I don’t believe you or it’s a lie

As the British tend to call garbage or trash rubbish, they’ve also created a phrase where it refers to an idea or issue that could be a lie or not of high value.

Walking around a supermarket, you might hear someone proclaim that “This supermarket has the best prices” as a passer-by mumbles: “That’s a load of rubbish”.

8. “Don’t beat around the bush”

Meaning: Just be direct

To beat around the bush is to avoid saying what you mean, especially if it is uncomfortable. English people, in particular, can shy away from uncomfortable discussions, so you might hear this if you’re working for NHS England.

9. “Actions speak louder than words”

Meaning: What you do is more meaningful than what you say

You might have run across this idiom outside of the UK as it’s now common throughout the English-speaking world. It illustrates the idea that the actions you take in relation to something are more important than what you say about it.

Another term is ‘lip-service’ which means you only talk about but never take any action on it.

10. “It’s raining cats and dogs”

Meaning: Heavy rain

It rains a lot in the UK, which is why they have a never-ending supply of slang, idioms, phrases and words to describe rainy weather.

You might hear someone on the bus say it or a colleague at work. Both are examples of small talk, a handy way people in the UK pass the time and build relationships.

If you want to learn more about communication in the UK, you can find a wide range of professional language tips and common speaking patterns in the Living the Language guide.

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