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What Is Missing In School English Lessons?

What Is Missing In School English Lessons?

The English language is complex, but it becomes even more so when we consider the differences informality. In most classrooms for second language learners, the ‘formal’ version of English is taught. This is important so that students learn the grammar and vocabulary necessary for proper speaking and writing skills. However, the use of ‘informal’ language with slang and idioms is just as common in everyday life and can vary depending on the region. Both offer unique benefits to the learner, but only the formal style is generally taught in class.

Formal Language

More often than not, language lessons focus on the formal use and structure of the English language. This is essential to establish a clear understanding of the rules and structure of formal English. For example, when writing an email, letter, or in a job interview, the non-native speaker must be able to come across as knowledgeable and professional. If a new English speaker were to communicate informally or come across too nonchalant in those circumstances, they would not be taken seriously. On the other hand, if these students were to only use formal English in day to day conversations and casual interactions, they would be seen as less personable or cold. This is why anyone attempting to learn English must go beyond the traditional style of the language without disregarding it entirely.

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The Importance of Casual Language

While it is relevant to have a strong grasp of formal English for work and other more professional contexts, it is just as imperative to be able to speak in more casual situations. Informal English can be heard in a wide range of scenarios, from mingling at a party or having a friendly conversation with the grocery store clerk. Native English speakers often combine or shorten words in a way that could confuse those who only know classroom-style speaking. For example, someone may ask “Whatcha doin’” instead of “What are you doing?”. The speaker may understand after a time and with context clues, but it may not be immediately apparent to them. On the same note, informal English can even be used in writing (e.g. text messaging). While some informal English is taught in the classroom, it is often done through listening activities and is not nearly enough to prepare students for this kind of communication. These students attempting to read every-day, short-hand texts would be lost.

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Slang and Idioms

Hand in hand with informal English are slang and idioms (expressions that mean something different than the words’ actual definitions) which teachers often overlook. Sometimes this may be for good reason since many slang words come and go with the ever-changing fads of the internet. However, there are many idioms and even some slang that are frequently used and should be addressed in language lessons for students to be better prepared for real-world situations. For example, someone saying “It’s water under the bridge,” or “I’m on the fence,” are not being literal. To a new English speaker though, this would be confusing unless the person saying it explained what they meant. This can be embarrassing, especially when the non-native speaker has an otherwise perfect command of the language.

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All in all, the importance of using informal English as a tool to learn the language is too often overlooked. Both formal and informal lessons need to be included in language courses so that students have a more well-rounded education and immersion into English for any situation. Additionally, informal English lessons must include some slang and idiom vocabulary that is relevant to the time and region. Teaching formal English should take priority since it is the correct and proper form, but some time must be set aside for the other elements as well. So long as more teachers begin to adapt their lesson plans to introduce students to more informal styles of the language, non-native speakers will find more confidence in communicating outside the classroom.

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