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Challenges of Teaching Slang and Idioms

Challenges of Teaching Slang and Idioms | ITTT | TEFL Blog

How important is it for EFL learners to learn slang and idioms? Let’s clarify what is slang? What is an idiom?

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Laura B. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.

Informal Language

Slang is an informal language and should be used only with people one knows very well. Slang can change constantly, appear today, disappear within month or year and some words have been used by English speakers since medieval times.

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The History of Slang

The earliest use of the word “slang” (eighteen century) referred to the vocabulary of “low” or “disreputable” people. Later, in the early nineteen century, it was considered below the level of standard educated speech. A Scandinavian origin of the word was proposed.

The creators of today’s slang are teenagers, musicians, artists, prisoners, some historical events. Why there is a need in society to express yourself through informal English? To be humorous, to be derogatory, to make a shocking statement, or to express one's belonging to a certain ethnic, social or age group. Here are some examples of slang: chick - a young woman, out-to-lunch - crazy, stoned -intoxicated, pissed-off-angry or annoyed.

Confusion Breeds Confusion

And here they are EFL learners, equipped with the formal English language in the society with slang, confused in informal situations, sometimes embarrassed, watching Hollywood movies or TV shows, at the workplace. Yes, it is important to learn and understand slang, to know how to respond, to react in an appropriate way to avoid confrontation or to be engaged in a friendly conversation with native English speakers or to advance in the workplace. It is for enhancement of English fluency, for reading and understanding contemporary literature, watching movies, TV, understanding the native speakers as an insider.

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Cultural Boundaries

The knowledge can break the existing cultural barrier between EFL learners and native speakers. Though, once the EFL learner feels comfortable using it, let him make sure to use it in the circle of close friends. Since slang comes and goes, it requires constant improvement, learning of new slang words. There are different opinions in native English speaking societies regarding the use of slang in standard educated speech. The knowledge of it is useful for both native and non-native speakers for the reasons explained earlier, not necessarily the use of it.

On the other hand, there are idiomatic expressions - informal phrases whose meaning can’t be understood from the ordinary meaning of the words in it. They are influenced by culture as well. They are used in all languages, by different social groups. It is estimated that there are at least 25000 idiomatic expressions in the English language. Some English idioms have equivalents in different languages. They enhance our speech with different shades of emotions, advance our knowledge of historical events or geographical territories they’re originated from. If understood by ordinary meaning they might create absurd pictures such as “hold your horses”. This expression means wait a moment.

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I think the teaching of slang and idiomatic expressions should be a part of the ESA learning process for advanced and highly motivated EFL learners in the Activate Stage of the process. The learners could prepare brochures to include slang and idiomatic expressions related to different spheres of life, human traits, and situations. Theatrical role play may be used by EFL learners as members of different social groups using slang in their everyday communications. These will enhance the fluency of the language and bring fresh air into routine grammar and vocabulary learning process.

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