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Should Colloquial or “Urban” Language Ever be Used?

Should Colloquial or “Urban” Language Ever be Used? | ITTT | TEFL Blog

Some form of Slang language is universally used all around the world. Almost all countries have words and phrases that could be identified as ‘slang and so, when is it appropriate to use this type of language? Is it a good idea to let students be exposed to slang language whilst they are studying English at a formal level and as a non-native English speaker? There are many instances where some slang form of English should and should not be used, here are a few examples with discussion.

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

In the workplace

In one’s place of work, there will be those to whom speaking formally would be more appropriate, e.g., talking to your boss or clients. These conversations should preferably be more professional and so the slang form should be avoided. When actually in the workplace, the familiarity between you and your immediate colleagues will develop informally and thus slang terms may become more acceptable.

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Public services

Using public (transport) services can range from the daily bus commute and a trip to the hospital for medical treatment. On the morning bus journey to your local town and place of work or study, you may get familiar with your bus driver and in time you may start greeting each other using slang terms instead of formal greetings.

Hospitals are not places one would like to visit regularly and are necessarily maintained as very professional establishments, using formal language for the most part. If slang words or phrases are used during consultations with doctors or other medical staff, they may not be familiar with this form and misunderstandings can occur leading to the consequences of a false diagnosis.

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Abroad (on holiday)

When on holiday, we will probably find that the town locals or tourism workers have most probably learned some English and this will almost certainly include some slang too. When conversing with these locals we sometimes find it amusing to hear them using the same slang terms that we might use back in our hometown and this can become a short way of making new friends. Speaking some slang with them would probably be acceptable but we should also speak correct English too, as these non-native learners should be allowed to learn some formal English words and phrases, too.

Family and friends

When speaking with close friends and/or family, it can be very easy and natural to revert to using slang expressions, change pronunciations and even change the tone of our voices, possibly even sounding like a completely different person from the one we are in our normal, professional daily lives. The obvious reason for this, of course, is because of the familiarity we will have developed with those individuals.

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What are the advantages and disadvantages of using slang as a form of language?

Using slang is a form of speech that can promote cohesion within a community because language is an integral part of the culture and the use of slang can demonstrate whether or not a person is native to that area. Sharing a common language and cultural habits, formal or otherwise, can be a sure way to build a stronger relationship with the other people that inhabit our world.

It should be noted that excessive and gratuitous use of slang can result in discrimination of one form or another and can result in the users as regarded as being ‘common’ or ‘uneducated’ even though this may not be the case.

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Is it correct to allow students to learn some form of slang?

As a source of reference, dictionaries and thesauruses are invaluable tools when teaching a language and they are updated frequently, quoting new slang words and phrases as they come into popular use. In my opinion, therefore, I think that it can be appropriate that more mature students should be exposed to some small amount of slang language, whether it be a few phrases or words that are most commonly used. The introduction of these slang forms should only be introduced with the utmost care and it should be emphasized that the slang terminology should only ever be seen as an alternative and very occasional means of communication and never as a replacement for conventional and formal language.

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Completion of a language course (In this case, English) students they will be much better equipped to travel internationally, whether it is to England or to a seaside resort in Spain where there will most likely be some form of formal English/slang in common use and this should help to make the student more confident and relatable when away from home.

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