English Slang and Idioms: Why to Teach Them The slang and idioms of the English


The slang and idioms of the English language and so numerous and nebulous in usage that they are often skipped over by TEFL teachers in an attempt to simplify things for their students. With grammar, vocabulary, situational language, and pronunciation who has time to deal with slang, right' Wong. In actuality, as important as having a grasp on Standard English is, knowing idioms and slang as well as how and when they are used is just as important for a student who wishes to speak English fluently. The sad fact of the matter is that no native English speaker uses Standard English; we all speak using words and phrases that make little sense when there literal definition is used. Even something as basic as 'cool' can be confusing out of context, without knowledge of English slang, how is a student to know that someone isn't talking about the temperature' Before we go any further lets take a moment to define the difference between slang and idioms. In his article, 'Without Slang and Idioms, Students are in the Dark' David Burke proposes the following definitions:

Slang: Nonstandard vocabulary of a given culture or subculture. In other words, slang is typically a nonstandard word, not a phrase' Slang words may or may not have alternative literal meanings.

Idioms: A phrase that is commonly understood in a given culture or subculture to have a meaning different from its literal meaning.

With these definitions words like 'cool', 'hot', or 'phat' are considered slang, while phrases like 'tick me off', or 'back to basics' are idioms. Both make their way into casual conversation regularly, and if a student is to truly fit into an English-speaking environment, they will have to understand them. An argument one may use against teaching slang and idioms is that they are the hallmark of lower society, and not seen in the working, or higher-class world. This, of course, could not be further from the truth. The business word is chock full of idioms that would make no sense to a non-native English speaker. Phrases like, 'run with it', or 'fielding questions' are common are casually used all the time in offices. What would someone not educated about English idioms think of the phrase, 'think outside of the box'' It makes no sense at all without its definition! If one were teaching students English to help them enter the world of business, they would be doing them a disservice to leave out the slang and idioms that are so often used there. There is yet another place where idioms and slang are starting to emerge as a major form of communication. The words and phrases are relatively new, but can be seen and heard anywhere in the world. In the past decade or so, the language of the Internet has evolved into something incomprehensible to the Standard English speaker, and yet it is the easiest way to access English culture and native speakers. Acronyms like 'LOL', 'WTF', or, 'ROFL', make up a large portion of the Internet language, and are completely meaningless without some knowledge of Internet slang. In order for a student of the English language to truly excel and have access to every place English is spoken, they must have knowledge of English slang and idioms. The business world, casual conversation, and even the Internet are full of these words and phases that will throw off anyone who isn't prepared in class for them. To not teach students slang is to rob them of a key part of the language.

Sources: David Burke, 'Without Slang and Idioms, Students are in the Dark!'

Dimitrios Thanasoulas, 'An Introduction to 'Befogging' Idioms'