≡ Menu

Start Improving Your Spoken English Today! Sign Up NOW!

Watch Breaking Bad If You Want to Improve Your American English!

Learn English with Breaking Bad

Everyone was talking about Breaking Bad.

My friends were watching it.

People at work were talking about it.

When the 5th season finale aired on Netflix, there was so much talk of it that it made me wonder why everyone is so obsessed with this TV show but I still didn’t start watching it because that’s typical me. It oftentimes takes me a bit longer to embrace new things than for everyone else, but eventually I catch up with everything in my own time.

Breaking Bad was no different.

After countless attempts to encourage me to watch it my friends gave up trying to convince me, but then one fine day (maybe it’s some sort of reverse psychology?) I just opened my Netflix page and clicked on the Breaking Bad link.

I got hooked right from the get-go 😀

This crime drama turned out to be so exciting, so captivating and so different to anything else I’d ever seen before that I just couldn’t help myself being glued to the laptop monitor for hours on end!

If I had to explain my fascination with Breaking Bad in only one sentence, this would be it:

The main characters of the show illustrate very vividly that there’s no such thing as black and white in life – sometimes good intentions may lead to disastrous consequences and bad deeds may result in something good – and the type of characters chosen by the creator of the show Vince Gilligan allow anybody to put themselves into their shoes and imagine what it would feel like to be forced into making life changing decisions and start making drugs at the age of 50 to secure children’s future or face a moral dilemma of reporting your husband or partner to the police or accept their criminal background.

Being a foreign English speaker myself, however, I have to admit that there’s a whole lot more to the show than just the entertainment.

As a non-native speaker of the English language I’ve discovered an array of added dimensions to Breaking Bad, and here’s to name but a few:

  • I can shadow the show while watching it thus learning new American English phrases and expressions;
  • Breaking Bad is great for American pronunciation development – obviously shadowing comes into the equation here as well;
  • I can imagine myself as one of the characters (and I can’t actually help it because I’ve a vivid imagination!) and I experience the film as if I were part of the real events which is great because I get to experience the life in the Unites States;
  • I’ve been also doing some English spoken self-practice putting myself into many of the Breaking Bad characters’ shoes which is great to help me acquire new American English phrases and expressions through the associated role-play.

And here’s some of the phrases I learned while watching Breaking Bad on Netflix – obviously it barely scratches the surface, but at least you’ll get to learn some of the phraseology I’ve come across during the last couple of months.

American English Phrases from Breaking Bad

Learn English with Breaking Bad

Yo – this is a slang word used very often in the program, especially by Jesse Pinkman and his associates. You can greet people by saying “Yo!” and followed by their name: “Yo, Jake, how’s things?” Or you can stick the “yo” bit at the end of a sentence just like Jesse did it in Breaking Bad when talking to Walter White: “…it’s just basic chemistry, yo!” Needless to say, it’s a slang word so it’s to be used when talking to very close friends in informal situations.

Baby shower – a celebration of women’s pregnancy and the expected arrival of the new-born baby whereby the mother is given (showered with) gifts. Truth be told, I’d never heard of baby showers before in my life, and I have to add that I’ve been living in Ireland (which is an English speaking country) for almost 12 years now. Therefore I’m guessing it’s a typical American thing, but I guess I wouldn’t be wrong in saying that you can use it anywhere in the English speaking world and you’d still be understood – after all, American English has permeated the global arena thanks to the modern media and shows such as Breaking Bad!

Weigh in here! – this phrase can be heard quite a few times mentioned in the show in situations when someone is trying to convince the other person of something, but they can’t do it because the person is question is stubbornly holding to their point of view. Then, if someone else is present, the first person asks for their help by saying something along the lines of “Can you weigh in here, please?” It simply means – “Can you please support my opinion and help me change his/her mind?”

I have a particular scene in mind where Walter’s son Walter Junior is asking Uncle Hank to help him convince someone else of something and he says: “Weigh in here, Uncle Hank!”

True that! – this slang expression simply means “that’s true!” So basically whenever you want to express your agreement with the other person’s statement, you can just respond by saying – “True that!” I picked up this expression from Jesse’s and his friends conversations; they often agree with each other by using this simple American slang expression.

Learning English with Breaking Bad

Right on! – this is how Americans (but of course, there’s nothing to prevent you from using this phrase wherever in the world you are!) respond to an statement that they absolutely agree with. I can totally imagine Jesse exclaiming “Right on, Mr. White!” when Walter delivers the first batch of super high-quality crystal meth. And please bear in mind that by no means I condone manufacturing and distribution of drugs – I simply love Breaking Bad and its characters!

Duly noted – while watching Breaking Bad, I noticed that Mike Ehrmantraut often uses this phrase “Duly noted” to let the other person know that he’s got what they’re saying – basically it’s another way of saying “I got it”. This phrase, though, has the slight connotation of you probably disagreeing with what’s being said or you not actually taking the advice on board for real. There was a scene in the film where Mike was being questioned by the DEA agents and I’ve little doubt that he used this phrase once or twice throughout the conversation just to say something while in reality he had no intention to do what the agents were telling him to do.

Vetting – I learned this new English word from Mike because he was in charge of recruitment in the Los Pollos Hermanos fried chicken restaurant chain and part of his duties included vetting people which means performing background check on them to see if they’re fit for the position. Obviously, in reality he vetted many of the employees to make sure they can be trusted to be part of a massive drug operation, but nonetheless the meaning of “vetting” is pretty much the same – to perform a background check on a person.

If you would – this English idiomatic expression typically follows a request and serves as a polite addition to the sentence. I hadn’t come across this particular way of saying it prior to watching Breaking Bad and here’s an example of how you’d use this phrase: “I’d like you tell me everything that happened last night, if you would.”

…, is all – this American English expression means “it’s simple as that” and it can be attached at the end of a sentence when you explain your actions to another person, and pretty much everyone in Breaking Bad is using it at some stage during the show. Here’s a good example of how you can use it – your partner asks you if you really have to go now and leave them alone, and then you can say something along the lines of “I just have to grab milk in the grocery store so we can have coffee later on is all!”

Learn English with Breaking Bad

Out in the boonies – initially Walter and Jesse were cooking crystal meth out in the countryside (in Indian land, to be more precise) and whenever they referred to going there, they used this phrase – “out in the boonies” which simply describes a place away from civilization, something similar to the Australian “bush”, I guess.

To sling dope (dope is a generic term for drugs and can be substituted with pretty much any drug name) – “Hey, I’ve been out all night slinging crystal!” is what Jesse responded to Walter’s accusations of not making enough money from selling crystal meth they cooked. As you can imagine, it means to sell drugs on the street – so if you hear suspicious guys using the word “to sling” on the street, chances are – they’re talking about selling drugs.

You don’t know jack about – this expression means that you don’t know anything about whatever it is that follows the phrase. For example, during a heated argument you can exclaim “You don’t know jack about relationships, look at your own family and then teach me how to live my own life!” I can’t remember any specific situations in Breaking Bad involving this phrase, but I can say with utmost certainly that Walter and his son used this phrase a good few times!

Riding shotgunsiting in the car seat next to the driver. Needless to say, riding shotgun is a privilege compared to sitting on a backseat, so next time when you get a chance to sit next to the driver you can say “Now I get to ride shotgun!”

He really did a number on you, didn’t he? – this is what Hank told Jesse when he realized that Walter’s been manipulating the poor guy all along. This English idiom means to mistreat someone, to harm someone, and you can use it pretty much every time someone’s been pretty badly treated by a particular person. Imagine yourself meeting a friend who’s gotten a beating from his stepdad, for example – that’s the type of situation when you’d use this phrase.

Learn English with Breaking Bad

Ah, I didn’t think so – this sarcastic phrase was used by Jesse, for example: “I don’t shit where I eat – let’s cook in your house! No? Ah, I didn’t think so!” As you can see, it’s used when you want to stress the point of you being right about something (it also involves the other person refusing to do something). Here’s another example sentence: “Want to bet 100 dollars Yankees are going to lose tonight? Well, I didn’t think so!” (Your friend knows Yankees are most likely going to win so he doesn’t want to take up the offer.)

So there’s that – this handy English phrase can be added onto the end of a sentence where you state something that is going to have negative consequences – or an event that’s already taken place. Here’s what Walter said when he and Jesse were staring up at the ceiling where the body melted by hydrochloric acid had fallen through leaving a massive hole: “Hydrochloric acid won’t react with plastic. It will, however, eat through wood, metal and ceramic. So there’s that.”

Do it already! – while watching Breaking Bad, I realized that the simple English word “already” can be used in a totally different way. Typically we’d use it to express a complete nature of some activity, for example – “I’ve already done my homework”. Now I know that in conversational American English we can use the word “already” to urge someone to do something – basically, when we want the other person to complete the action. Here’s what Jesse told Walter to remind him that the guy kept hostage in the basement has to be dealt with – “Your job is waiting for you in that basement – fucking do it already!”

And here’s what Walter Junior told his dad because he was too annoyed with his unwillingness to face the cancer treatment: “Then why don’t you just fucking die already!”

My pops means “my dad”. Basically in American English you can refer to your dad as “pops”, and I spotted this word in Breaking Bad when one of Jesse’s friends – Skinny Pete – was telling Jesse that his dad could fix up his house: “My pops is a contractor or something…”

Touch base – this English idiomatic expression means to talk to someone in order to find out what’s going on, to talk things through. It’s what Jesse told Walt when he visited him after their first big adventure when they were forced into killing two drug dealers. Walter asked him: “So why you’re here?” to which Jesse responded with: “Well, you know – to touch base.”

When life throws you a curve ball – this is a sports (baseball, to be more specific!) related English idiom I’ve learned from Breaking Bad. This particular one originates in the baseball practice of throwing a ball with a spin which makes it fly in a distorted trajectory thus being very hard to catch. So, as you can imagine, if taken figuratively, this expression describes dealing with a very difficult situation. If you’ve watched this TV show (if not – I WARMLY suggest you do!!!), you’ll know that Walter’s as well as Jesse’s lives are full of very, very difficult situations indeed, so you could say life throws them curve balls all the time!

Fat stack is a huge wad of money of 50 and 100 dollar banknotes carried around by drug dealers, and that’s how Walt and Jesse were usually paid when selling drugs. As a matter of fact, you’d rarely see money being handled any differently in Braking Bad – only fat stacks! And here’s a phrase from the show:I’m out there making fat stacks man!” I can’t remember exactly who said it, but I think I wouldn’t be wrong in saying that it must have been either Jesse, Skinny Pete or Badger.

I’ll give you that! – this expression I picked up from Breaking Bad is used when you have to acknowledge a person’s bravery and skills, even though you might not agree with them in general terms. For example, when Walt created an explosion in a drug lord’s den and demanded money upfront for the crystal meth he and Jesse were going to cook, Tuco (the drug lord) might have very well said “You’ve got balls, I’ll give you that!”

**********

I hope you’ll learn at least some of these expressions, and I also hope that if you haven’t seen Breaking Bad, you’ll watch it at some stage in the near future. I promise you won’t regret it – after all, Breaking Bad has gone into the Guiness Book of Records as the most popular TV show of all times!

Is Breaking Bad Easy to Understand?

Personally I was watching Breaking Bad with the subtitles on.

“Why?!” – you may ask. “Isn’t your English comprehension good enough, Robby, for you to understand what people talk about in a TV show?!”

Well, you see – the thing is, I’m not ashamed of admitting that sometimes I do require some help to understand fast speech and slang.

Way too many foreigners will e-mail me questions such as – “Robby, what’s wrong with me, there are some movies I only understand 70% of the language used, but I’ve been learning English for a decade now, why is it happening to me?…”

My stance has always been and always will be – JUST ACCEPT IT

I’m not feeling bad about it, but instead I’m resting assured in the knowledge that someday I’ll probably be able to watch any English program without subtitles, and for the time being reading what I can’t catch from the speech and also pausing the show to look up certain things online is totally fine by me 😉

And by the way, that’s where the Netflix streaming service comes in very handy because you can pause, stop, rewind and jump from one episode to another with ease thus adjusting your TV watching experience to your individual English comprehension level ❗

On the finishing note, let me tell you that learning new English phrases and expressions while watching an interesting TV show such as Breaking Bad really helps you memorize them and facilitates long-term retention of the new phraseology.

Why?

Simply because your brain associates specific phrases with particular scenes from the show thus making it easier to use them in real life!

And if you do some spoken self-practice on top of that whereby you actually make sure to use those phrases, I guarantee you’re going to make them part of your active vocabulary for sure!

Robby

P.S. Would you like to find out why I’m highlighting some of the text in red? Read this article and you’ll learn why it’s so important to learn idiomatic expressions and how it will help you to improve your spoken English!

P.S.S. Are you serious about your spoken English improvement? Check out my English Harmony System HERE!

English Harmony System

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Pingback: American Pronunciation: “You Don’t Know Jack About!”()

  • Thanks!

  • amied hussain

    that was great

  • Why American English? Well, I simply LOVE the American accent and all the rest: http://accentadventure.com/love-american-pronunciation/

    Speaking of something else – I’ve been also doing some British; you may want to check it out here: http://accentadventure.com/120-mins-of-self-practice/

  • Jacque

    Why American English? I know it has the easiest phonology, but anything else?

  • Thanks so much for the comment!

    You’re 100% correct in what you’re saying spoken English self-practice being pretty much the same as going to gym and training your body in terms of physical performance – after all, your mouth is a muscle and you may read my article here dedicated to this topic: http://englishharmony.com/mouth-is-a-muscle/

    Speaking of English comprehension – I’m really glad you’ve come to realize that it’s absolutely normal not to be able to understand 100% of what you hear in English. As you rightly pointed out – it’s a life-long process, and at the end of the day, 100% comprehension isn’t even possible among native speakers, so there’s that.

    Now, when it comes to your question about what to do when you don’t clearly understand what’s being said, in my opinion there’s nothing better than subtitles. You’re saying that it’s not always a solution because you’d pronounce the text with your possibly incorrect pronunciation.

    Well, here’s the deal.

    You can pause, rewind the re-play that sentence over and over again. Surely by doing so you’ll eventually be able to match words in the subtitle with what you hear – and the very same goes with mimicking. Do it a sufficient number of times – and you’ll get the pronunciation as close to the original as humanely possible.

    And please bear in mind – perfection isn’t your goal.

    You might get the pronunciation a bit wrong in your first attempts, but I’d say – just keep at it!

    If you persist at it for long enough, you just can’t fail to succeed, and here’s a very relevant article/video I want you to read/watch in relation to this topic: http://accentadventure.com/fast-accent-reduction/

    So to sum this up: don’t think that if you don’t get it right from the get-go, the wrong pronunciation pattern will get somehow “wired” into your mouth. I don’t believe those who say you have to make it perfect because bad habits are difficult to erase. I’m a strong believer in practice making it perfect, and any mistakes in your spoken grammar, sentence structures and pronunciation tend to smoothen themselves out – for as long, of course, as you keep working hard on it!

    Hope it sheds some light on the matter,

    Best Regards,

    Robby

  • Juhapekka

    These American English phrases in this article and also phrases and expressions in your previous post “68 Industry Specific English Expressions & Phrases for Non-native English Speakers” are surely useful because the more we memorize them the more fluent and natural our English becomes. Though your previous post was about specific industry related-language, many of them
    were still quite general by nature belonging to general knowledge and that’s why I think they are useful even if you don’t work or study in this or that specific industry. So, keep adding new more or less general or specific phrases and expressions and even much more specific expressions. I have also thought about spoken self-practice and its oddness or weirdness and I have concluded that after all it should be completely normal to train your mouth muscles alone for foreign languages because it’s normal and recommended in all other activities where you use your muscles: it’s completely recommended to train your fine motor skills alone in football or tennis (even though they are team sports), go to gym alone to train your muscles and it’s very common and completely normal strengthen your muscles or tendons by jogging and running alone but if you tell that you speak with yourself, people think that you have lost your mind. This attitude towards spoken self-practice and also fear to make mistakes when speaking with other English speakers are obviously two of the main reasons why foreigners can’t speak English. If you don’t speak English sufficiently with others and you don’t either speak with yourself because it would be ostensibly mad, then due to the lack of the practice of the fine motor skills of your mouth it’s no wonder that you can’t speak fluent English. After realizing this I have tried to change my attitude and do some spoken self-practice among memorizing expressions and speak with other English speakers as I’d do in my native language but it’s hard to form new habit and start to think differently in English. Despite of this I’m going to keep my practice going regularly and I know now that my English improves at least a little bit every time when I practice my spoken English and also listening comprehension skills.

    By the way, it was somehow reassuring or relieving to hear that it’s not abnormal to not understand spoken English sometimes.
    Actually before, I thought that there could be something wrong in my ears or in my comprehension potential to understand foreign languages or I thought that I have so used to my native language that I can’t learn to understand foreign accents anymore. Nowadays I know these thoughts were completely untrue because I have already improved a lot. Language learning is a long and time taking process but if I keep practicing, I can improve in the every aspects of foreign language.

    But I have had some problems when I have tried to shadow or mimic movies and therefore I have questions for you, Robby: If I can’t hear some sentences sufficiently clear, I can’t either repeat them. This is some kind of vicious circle where you can’t repeat it because you can’t hear it and you can’t supposedly hear it because you can’t produce those kind of English sounds by yourself. This and also other vicious circles are very difficult to break. Have you any suggestions how we could break the circle? Or is accepting the problem, being patient and keep practicing only solution? And in this shadowing case should I only ignore those sentences and simply go on or should I pause a movie and review those sentences until I can hear and repeat them clearly or should I do something between those two options? Using English subtitles as help isn’t solution at all because I’d only pronounce English subtitles with my possibly incorrect unnatural pronunciation! I know these are difficult questions but it’s worth of it to think about them.

    Hopefully you got my points and questions clearly enough but thanks very much again, Robby! Your articles have always been at least somehow relevant or useful for me and your previous articles have been also great.