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The Importance of Teaching Slang and Idioms to ESL Students

The Importance of Teaching Slang and Idioms to ESL Students | ITTT | TEFL Blog

Every language has its own rules and way of speaking. People that share a common language are united not only by the way they communicate but also in cultural experiences. Using language, whether it is sign language or spoken language, helps individuals experience the world differently. Teaching slang and idioms are an integral part of learning any language. For students learning slang and idioms is an extension of language learning, it offers a way to communicate better and it helps students experience the world through the native speaker lens.

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

First Stages of Language Learning

For starters, an ESL classroom, students learn and practice to read, write, listen, and speak a foreign language. The ultimate goal is for students to become fluent in the target language. Teaching slangs and idioms is an extension to the speech portion of language learning. Apart from learning how to “properly” speak a foreign language, students need to learn slang and idioms. The aforementioned will give students a wider range of vocabulary and associations. It is also a fun way to not only expand the student’s vocabulary but also improve the students’ overall comprehension of the language. Which leads to my next point.

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Language Usage

Communication is one of the main uses of language. We want to be able to tell another individual how we feel, what we want, what is going on, etc. Language allows us to communicate with everyone from young children to adults. Slang and idioms are sometimes generational but can transcend generations. From a very young age, native speakers are exposed to a language or way of communicating that is not found in textbooks. More specifically, for English speakers, some certain slangs and idioms are both a reflection of past generations and also a reflection of the current environment. For instance, in the 1990s and 2000s, young adults used slangs such as “let’s bounce” and “home skillet”. For ESL students, the previous terms will not make much sense or they might often take them for their literal sense. By teaching slangs and idioms to students it helps bridge that gap in understanding and even avoid misunderstandings. The student will get a better understanding of the native speakers as well as be able to communicate more effectively.

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The History of Slang

Furthermore, in the 1990s and early 2000s, many young adults used slangs that were directly influenced by pop culture. One of the best examples is “as if” from the movie Clueless. The movie defined the 1990s in a lot of ways from the hair to the clothing to the speech. Because slangs and idioms are often tied to cultural experiences, it teaches students about a particular moment in time or even generation. When students learn about slangs, they are given a key to unlock the world around them and sometimes even a world that no longer exists. The slang term “bye, Felicia” which stems from the 1995 film “Friday” can be used as an example. To understand what is meant when “bye, Felicia” is said, it is not mandatory to have watched the film but watching the film gives you access to a better understanding of the meaning behind the slang and the context in which it was used. When it comes to idioms, context is key. In idioms, the sentence without context bears no real meaning and sometimes does not make sense. However, when used in the context of an English speaker, for example, the idiom “to steal someone’s thunder” has a very specific meaning.

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In closing, teaching slang and idioms is a very important part of teaching English as a Second Language. Teaching slang and idioms immerse students into the language completely allowing them to make sense of common yet not easily understandable words and phrases. It can make all the difference when students are speaking to a native speaker because it will allow them to experience a different part of the language learning process. Students will feel as if they are a part of the experience. They can interact with native speakers more confidently and without “skipping a beat”.

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