PEPSI stands for Phrasal Verb, Expression, Proverb, Slang and Idiom.
Many textbooks have a lot of grammar exercises, listening practices, writing activities and vocabulary sections. However, very few textbooks teach language used outside of the classroom. Studying language only from textbooks is simply not enough. Students can do very well in the classroom, get high scores on tests, have fluent conversation with their classmates but struggle when they enter the real world. They have trouble interacting with native speakers, trouble understanding dialogue in movies or TV shows, and trouble reading newspapers or social media messages. They grow increasingly frustrated because taking traditional English classes does not help them improve. PEPSIs grew out of this frustration, it is a way to learn language that is used on a daily basis by native speakers, both in speaking and writing.
Each student will study PEPSIs differently. Students who want to focus on improving their fluency when speaking to native speakers casually should focus on phrasal verbs, expressions, and slang. Students who want to write more colorfully when they express their emotions and ideas should focus on idioms. Students who want to get a high score on the TOEFL or TOEIC speaking section should focus on phrasal verbs and idioms. Students who are interested in culture should study proverbs. Each part of PEPSI has its different uses:
Phrasal Verbs are extremely common in both speaking and writing. It is often difficult to guess the meaning of a phrasal verb, and many phrasal verbs can have multiple meanings and can be used in different ways. Another issue is that some phrasal verbs require an object (transitive), and others do not (intransitive). Some transitive phrasal verbs are separable, others are not. For instance,
Take off (pv):
1. “I want to take off my jacket, it’s so hot inside.” (meaning: remove a piece of clothing)
2. “It’s getting late, I need to take off.” (meaning: to leave, to go)
3. “I took some time off to focus on myself and my family.” (meaning: not work)
4. “The airplane took off on time.” (meaning: (of an airplane) to fly)
5. “She took 10 percent off my bill because I paid cash.” (meaning: to discount)
6. “My new business has really taken off.” (meaning: to become successful quickly)
The simple phrasal verb take off has many meanings, and depending on the meaning it is transitive (1, 3, 5) or intransitive (2, 4, 6). Phrasal verbs are very complicated and highly contextual (depends on the situation). In addition, some phrasal verbs have two prepositions (e.g. to catch up with someone), others only have one preposition or adverb.
Expressions are formal or informal phrases often used in conversation. There are many different expressions in the English language, some are easy to guess because there is a lot of context, others are very hard to guess. Using expressions fluently in the correct situation, using the right intonation and even facial expression will help students sound more natural. If you have lived in NYC for only two months, but can use various expressions effortlessly, it will appear to other native speakers that you have lived in the city for a much longer time. The danger of expressions is using them incorrectly – without the right emotion, in the wrong situation, using a strange intonation or not understanding formality.
What’s up? (e)(s): an informal expression to say, “How are you?” or “Hi.” If you say this to your boss, or someone with authority, it can be perceived as rude. This expression is more commonly used among friends.
With time and practice, it is easier to learn how and when to use expressions. If you don’t understand an expression, ask them to explain it and when they would normally use it.
Proverbs in general are not very useful in conversation for students. They are very long, difficult to remember, and only used in specific situations. However, proverbs are often found in newspapers or magazine articles to explain or describe something. Often, native speakers say only the initial part of a proverb, instead of saying, When in Rome, do as Romans do, they will just say, When in Rome. Even when people only use the first part of a proverb, the other person will understand the meaning because they are familiar with that specific proverb. Native speakers often learn proverbs through exposure, this means they probably didn’t study it in class. Perhaps they heard it many times on TV, or they read it somewhere several times, or their parents or grandparents used it a lot. And with repetition, they were able to guess the meaning and remember it.
Slang is extremely complicated because it depends on the group, generation, region, and country. Slang is highly dynamic and ever changing. It is very common in spoken English, but also increasingly used in text messaging or on social media websites such as Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. It is very difficult to predict the meaning, because a lot of times there is no relationship between the original word and the slang. A lot of students have no trouble understanding their classmates or teachers in the classroom, but take them outside, into the real world, language becomes much less structured, casual and informal. Some students might not need to use slang at all because they will use English in a very formal business setting, but they might want to learn it to understand it when they hear it used in a casual environment such as a bar or on the streets. Students must also understand that slang can sometimes be rude, offensive, or even taboo. Always ask a teacher or a native speaker if the slang is rude and in what situation they would use it mostly. Using offensive slang in an inappropriate situation may cause anger or shock. An awesome online slang dictionary is Urban Dictionary.
Idioms are high-level figurative expressions and common in conversation and writing. They are used to make language more colorful, fluently using idioms is very challenging but at the same time very impressive. Using idioms comfortably demonstrates a high level of fluency and mastery of the language. Often in examinations that test English ability such as the TOEFL or TOEIC, correctly using idioms gives you extra points for the speaking or writing sections. There are thousands of idioms in English and they can be easily grouped into different themes. Idioms are also country-specific, some idioms that are common in the United States might not be common in the United Kingdom, and vice-versa (the other way around).
The most important thing is to practice PEPSIs and language in the real world. Studying a language in the classroom is not enough. Try to find native speakers by talking to them on the streets, or use language exchange programs, or attend group meetings in your neighborhood or city (Meet Up Groups). Many of the PEPSIs you will learn, you won’t use in your daily life. Just like you don’t use all the vocabulary that you know every single day in your own language. However, learning them will help you gain more confidence, build fluency faster and understand others better.