The Importance of Slang and The Way to Teach it to Young Learners
Language textbooks are a good source for language learners and teachers, especially new language learners or teachers who may not know exactly where to begin. However, while textbooks are a valuable resource, they do not teach students everything they need to know when it comes to interacting with native speakers of the target language. This is because all native speakers use some level of slang in their everyday speech, in the classroom, and even in their workplace. For this reason alone, ESL students need to begin learning common slang they may hear.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Justin W. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
While young learners will not begin working in a company for at least a couple of years, there are still situations where they may come across various slang terms. The first being their teacher, who is likely a native speaker of English. At times, without thinking, the teacher may use a slang term they expect their students to know only to be met by puzzled faces. However, if the teacher devotes a class or two to learning slang, they can teach the students common slang terms so the teacher can use more natural-sounding language instead of textbook English all the time. Also, the students will sound more like a native speaker if they learn common slang.
The second situation a young learner is likely to hear and use slang is interacting with native speakers in a social setting. The native speaker will use slang and will be surprised if the other person does not. Also, someone who uses textbook language at all times may come across as condescending. In this situation, if the young learner of English knows slang it will be easy for them to understand the native speaker but they will also come across as more friendly and approachable. Of course, it is also possible for a person to use too much slang and come across as over-friendly and annoying. For this reason, the teacher should work to find the right balance of speaking textbook English and using slang.
Young learners have a short attention span and need fun and varied activities to prevent them from getting bored and losing interest. For this reason, a class or two on slang can vary classroom activity while also providing a fun and important lesson. With this, the question then becomes how does a teacher ensure teaching slang is both fun and informative for the class?
A couple of example activities the teacher can perform with the students are a “language” quiz and compiling of a slang dictionary. The “language” quiz can be performed in several different ways. The first is a matching game where the students have to match the slang term with the more traditional word or phrase. This way the students learn the slang terms but it might also cover new vocabulary as the teacher goes through the answers at the end. The second is to give the students a slang word and have them try and guess what the meaning of the word is. This can get the students speaking in English as they try and predict the definition of the slang terms. Also, points can be given for the most correct answer and also the best wrong answer.
The second activity is for students to keep a slang dictionary. To start the dictionary, the teacher can assign the students to research several slang terms and the students come back to class and all the slang terms are compiled. As the students find more through English media or interacting with native speakers, those new slang words can be added to the dictionary. The dictionary should include information such as when the word should be used and the definition.
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Slang is an important part of any language and is not often covered in textbooks. Native speakers will use slang in their everyday lives and even in more formal settings they still often use slang. This is why it is important for students to have some level of exposure to slang, to help them understand and connect socially with native speakers. However, it is important to keep in mind that not all slang will be appropriate for young learners, so the teacher should be careful about the resources they give to help students learn slang
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