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How Important is Slang and Idioms in Language Learning?

How Important is Slang and Idioms in Language Learning? | ITTT | TEFL Blog

For a native English speaker, it is easy to understand as they are commonly used every day in casual conversation. But for ESL students, this type of informal English might as well sound like Mumbo Jumbo! (Make no sense). That’s because most students are taught proper, textbook English like:

“[name of person], are you going anywhere today?” “No. I’m just relaxing at home.”

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

Consider the same sentence in slang

“Dude where ya hanging?” “Na man just chilling”

To an ESL student, the above conversation would be hard to comprehend.

The same goes for Idioms.

“I am so happy today”

The equivalent as an Idiom.

“I am over the moon”

Is this person on drugs? Or are they an astronaut? It's hard for an ESL learner to know.

With all the above aside there are some types of ESL learners that need a more condensed understanding of slang and idioms.

high school students

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Business students generally need correct textbook English as,

  • Grammatical English is the international language of communication and therefore the international language of business.
  • Proficient in the correct use of the English language, in your business is extremely important as a tool for success on the international stage.
  • Miscommunication, error, and misunderstanding can be the downfall of international business.

However, certain types of Idioms are used in business every day,

“In the Black” Profitable “People person” A person who has great social skills “Crunch the number” To do a lot of calculations “Put on the back burner” means that a project is less important at the moment. “Have a lot on my plate” means you have a lot of work and responsibilities at the moment.

These are just a few examples of business Idioms that are used regularly in the business environment. Another aspect of both slang and Idioms is that they can be regional and generational expressions.

Regional

Different countries have their saying and expressions and even within countries a slang word may be used extensively in one area, but a different word could be in use in a different region or state. For example, in the USA a slang word for a friend is” Dude” where in Australia you are more likely to hear the word “mate”. Then in regional outback Australia, that word will change to “Cobber”. These changes are vital to understanding if you are going or working in a specific country or region.

university students

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Generational

Slang words in particular change with generations as words that I used back when I was a child are now not in use and words my sons use today, I have never used before. For example, in the 1970s teenagers used words like “spaz” or “Bogan” to describe a person. Whereas today they are not heard, and words like “sick” or “not” are used to describe how great something is.

I am not saying that proper correct English should be overlooked, as I believe that correct understanding of reading, writing, and speech of English should be taught well before going into the dark grey world of slang and Idioms. But to keep in mind that any teaching of slang and idioms would need to be carefully chosen for the class that you are to teach, and the following criteria would need to be considered.

  • Reason for English travel or business etc.
  • Where are they working or traveling too? Country and or Region.
  • Age of student child, teen, adolescent or adult.
  • Level of English knowledge beginner, intermediate or advanced.
  • Types of slang words and Idioms.
  • Length of time spends in-class teaching this unit.

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In concluding there is no simple rule as to how much slang and Idioms need to be taught. It all depends on what is been taught. It is however clear that some general understanding is needed so that a student that is working or traveling in the English speaking world will at some time encounter these words and or phrases.

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