TEFL Teaching slang and idioms.

A few weeks ago I went up to my Japanese friend and told her ?Good Afternoon? in Japanese. She smiled and told me that while correct, Japanese people don?t usually greet each other in that manner. I thought it was odd because that?s the way I learned it back in my university days. She equated it to saying, ?How many times do you greet your friends by saying, ?Good Afternoon? or ?Good Evening??? After thinking about it, I realized that I rarely use the standard ?Hello? or ?Hi? but rather ?Hey? or ?What?s up?? While completely acceptable and understandable for Native English speakers, I didn?t know that this simple greeting could cause a bit of confusion.

When I taught English in an elementary school in Korea, I had a co-teacher whose English abilities were quite good. We often had many conversations about life, culture, food, and other topics. So it came as a surprise when I heard from a mutual friend that he always gets confused when I say, ?What?s up?? when I see him. It was then I realized the importance of slang and idioms in the English language.

Because English is full of slang and idioms, it is imperative that students who wish to learn English learn them. It is impossible to have a conversation with a native English speaker, watch TV, or watch a movie without being bombarded with nonstandard words.

People study English for a variety of different reasons. Whether it be to socialize with people from another culture, make new foreign friends, or the prospects of a better job, it would be impossible to accomplish these goals effectively without learning at least a few basic slang and idioms. Because of the nature of English, a student cannot simply know the definitions to the words ?get? and ?canned? and know that that phrase means to get fired. Slang and idioms are used all the time, but can be hard to identify because they have been so perfectly assimilated.

Greetings, small talk, questions, and even saying goodbyes all may use slang and idioms. ?Hey? ?What?s up?? ?Let?s bounce? ?Peace out? are all sayings that are common in everyday speech. If learners of English are unable to comprehend these sayings, it will be difficult for them to become closer to native English speakers. It is quite possible for them to feel even more like an outsider. Not only in a social sense, but even in business talk, slang and idioms are used. If an executive gives the order to ?Get the ball rolling? or ?Get on top of things? how else would a nonnative English speaker know what to do in this situation if not taught what these sayings mean.

As educators, it is our responsibility to adequately prepare students. Whether it is for conversational use or business use, without teaching students slang and idioms, we are omitting a large part of the English language. Most students have only one English teacher, so where else can they learn this important aspect of English but from us. To not teach them slang and idioms would do them a great disservice. ?Can you dig it??

Author: Albert Kim

Date of post: 2007-04-18