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Why it is Important to Teach Slang and Idioms to ESL Students

Why it is Important to Teach Slang and Idioms to ESL Students | ITTT | TEFL Blog

Teaching slang and idioms is essential for ESL students and should be an integral part of any ESL curriculum. Learning slang and expressions can help an ESL student understand better native speakers who will almost universally use some slang and some idioms in their natural speech. Studying slang and idioms can also help an ESL student speak more naturally, either compensating for a weaker English grasp or adding to a вstrong English base. The application of studying slang and idioms that have perhaps the most relevance in a classroom and to a teacher is that it can help to elucidate complicated grammar by showcasing how slang twists the language in creative and unorthodox ways.

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

Communication with NETs

First of all, understanding slang and idioms is vital for a student to communicate with native speakers. To demonstrate with an example, nearly every English dialect uses contractions in their language, though most use them differently. An ESL student being taught Canadian English who is not taught any slang or idioms will struggle to understand common phrases. For example, the name "I'm gonna giver" is nonsensical in General North American English, the dialect taught in most North American schools. This sentence in the standardized dialect would look very different, reading as something along the lines of, "I'm going to put in a lot of effort." Suppose a student is never taught slang or idioms. In that case, they will struggle to understand native speakers to varying degrees, from having slight trouble with cultural and historical references made by a formal speaker such as a university professor to potentially making it impossible to communicate with a native speaker who is less-educated, rural, or who otherwise speaks a slang-heavy dialect of English.

How to sound more natural

As a result of the former point, learning slang and idioms will help ESL students sound more natural and improve their grasp of the language. As every English dialect has different slang and idioms and every native speaker uses some localized vocabulary when they speak, an ESL student will never achieve fluency or sound entirely natural without learning this vital skill. Speech without any slang or idioms sounds stilted and overly formal and is only used in formal settings by native speakers, such as public speeches, broadcasts, and written materials. Without learning this in the classroom, a student may sound mechanical and unnatural and be at a severe disadvantage when attempting to communicate with native speakers outside of the classroom setting.

Understanding English grammar

As a final point, and most applicable in the classroom, studying slang and idioms can help an ESL student understand the English language's grammar better. Using the same example sentence from above can illustrate this point. The ruling, "I'm gonna giver," a Canadian English slang phrase, is a grammatically complex sentence when dissected. It can showcase the various mutated forms of the modal verbs that a student has learned in the classroom, such as the informal contraction, "Gonna," replacing the more formal, "Going to," to indicate the future tense. The last word, "Giver," is a homophone with the word of the same spelling in standard English but in this situation is a contraction of the phrase, "Give her." This phrase, meaning colloquially, "To apply great effort," can help demonstrate the use of phrasal verbs and the fact that words can look and sound the same but have different meanings. Finally, it can show a nonstandard way that pronouns can be used, being used in this case to encode presupposed and contextual information by assigning the information an arbitrary gender and making it a grammatical "person" that can then be easily referred to. All of this information and all of these teaching points can be covered by examining a single simple, common slang phrase. If slang and idioms are not taught in the classroom, these valuable teaching opportunities will be lost.

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In conclusion, teaching slang and idioms in an ESL classroom is incredibly valuable and should be an essential part of any curriculum. Whether it is helping a student understand native speakers or better communicate with them or even helping an ESL teacher explain a difficult grammar concept with a real-world example, the teaching of slang and idioms to English students is an absolute necessity.

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