The English We Speak: “My Bad”


My bad

English belongs to its users. In other words, you use English as a tool to express yourself. The words you choose to use belong to you, the user. If I want to understand you, I must pay close attention to the context, or the situation, in which you are talking to me about. For example, the phrase, “My bad.”

Context: Rob’s late for the studio – has it got something to do with his back? Feifei thinks so until she realises he’s using a phrase that admits his mistake without actually saying ‘sorry’. Learn a piece of English slang in this episode of The English We Speak.


Welcome to The English We Speak. Hello, I’m Feifei… but where is Rob?

Oh! Hi, Feifei, you’re nice and early – can’t wait to get started, hey?

I’m not early – you are late!

Late? No, no, no, no – we said we’d start at half past ten… didn’t we?

No – ten o’clock, Rob. Look at this text message: “Can we start earlier at ten, please?” and you replied “sure”.

Oh! My bad!

Your back? Don’t start complaining about your back just to avoid apologising.

No, not my back – my bad! I am apologising – that’s what ‘my bad’ means – it’s an American English phrase that we use sometimes to mean we accept responsibility for a mistake.

Well, that’s good to know. So you’re really saying ‘sorry’?

Well, not exactly…

Now, as an English teacher, how could we encourage students to investigate for themselves about the phrase, “My bad”? Surely, this definition (my bad = my mistake) is not the only way native speakers of English use the phrase.

Corpus Linguistics

We can teach students how to use a corpus to do an analysis. Since we are dealing with a nonstandard (slang) use of the phrase we are interested in, it would be a good idea to use the iWeb Corpus. It is a 14 Billion Word Web Corpus of contemporary English used on the internet.

We find the phrase has a Frequency of 16067. In other words, we have a phrase that is not used very often (low frequency). Nonetheless, students can do research about the phrase (in context) to find out a more nuanced, if not entirely different meaning of the phrase.

So, you divide your class into groups of 4 or 5 students. Depending on class size the number could be higher or lower. The idea is collaboration, teamwork, shared responsibility to complete an authentic task that will engage the learners. It is an integrated skills task because it will include all 4 skills: reading, speaking, listening, and writing.

The presentation of findings, in both oral and written format, could be the culminating activity.

Below are 2 results.

1. I see that now my bad. (Source: )
2. And i really sry for my bad english. (Source: )

iweb-precedent-1OK. Which example (number 1, or number 2) should students choose to investigate?

Number 1 is the correct answer. So, our students click on this link,

Where did that link come from? How did we get it?

Answer: The iWeb Corpus (available since May, 2018) provided us with the link to show the context. It is the specific web page where the phrase, “My bad” occurs.
There are three main ways of searching the corpus.

First, you can browse a frequency list of the top 60,000 words in the corpus, including searches by word form, part of speech, ranges in the 60,000 word list, and even by pronunciation. This should be particularly useful for language learners and teachers.

Second, you can search by individual word, and see collocates, topics, clusters, websites, concordance lines, and related words for each of these words. Note that some of these searches are unique to iWeb.

Third, you can search for phrases and strings. And because the corpus is optimized for speed, searches for substrings (*ism, un*able) and phrases are very fast, e.g.: got VERB-ed, BUY * ADJ NOUN, “gorgeous” NOUN — and even high frequency phrases like: from ADJ to ADJ, phrasal verbs, or NOUN NOUN.
So the students click the link. They know that somewhere on that page they will find the phrase, “My bad” being used in context. Yes, after going over the page, they find it.

The page is a discussion forum about the 2018 NBA Basketball Draft:

Speaker A: (Forum Participant): Oh Canada
“Come on guys read the article. Simmons stated he came into LSU at 217 and is now 250. He’s saying he gained 33 pounds in a year which is quite the feat but much more possible than 33 pounds in 3 years.”

Speaker B: (Forum Participant): Hype Machine
“I read that was the gain since the draft.”

Speaker A: (Forum Participant): Oh Canada
“Yah I see that now my bad. Alot of media outlets reported that but the ones quoting him have it correct. The combine officially weighed him at 239 3 months ago. Crazy how much misinformation there is out there.”

That is only one of many hundreds of examples. It is possible that nobody in the group has enough knowledge of the context to analyze the forum conversation in which the phrase appears. If the group is unable to do so, the teacher could step in to provide clues about what the NBA Basketball draft is and why a player’s weight would be an important piece of information for a team to know about a player they are considering for their team.

OK. But what if the teacher doesn’t have a clue about the NBA Basketball Draft?

Well, there are 500 examples to work with. So, give the students the freedom to choose their own examples based on their prior knowledge (Ausubel) and interests. Student choice would be a way of promoting learner independence, autonomy, and a more significant, deeper learning experience.

Finally, let me be clear. Corpus linguistics can be a lot of fun, but if it is a frustrating, tedious, and boring activity, it will not achieve the results teachers are hoping for.

Therefore, first of all, you must train the students on how to use the corpus.

Your activity, if done well, will have many possibilities for success built into it.

In my opinion, corpus linguistics is all about finding out how language is used. Since people use language differently, that means a wide diversity of possible answers for any linguistic investigation. This is not a search for that one, and only one, correct answer.

There are literally thousands of correct answers possible.

Focus on process, not product.


Free Download: ==> From Corpus To Coursebook <== Free Download

So how does the Cambridge English Corpus actually help us create course books? Dr. Michael McCarthy tells us how he used it for the creation of Touchstone English Course in his free book.

About profesorbaker

Thomas Baker is the Past-President of TESOL Chile (2010-2011). He enjoys writing about a wide variety of topics. The source and inspiration for his writing comes from his family.
This entry was posted in Education, Education Technology, Research, Teaching Tips, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s