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Teaching Slang and Idioms Imagine you are an ESL student who has
Imagine you are an ESL student who has studied quite hard. You have followed your courses; you have been actively participating in class activities and discussions; you have completed all assignments; you have read your texts. In fact, you feel quite prepared to travel to the English speaking world and use your English skills quite confidently. Your assumption is a logical one. You have had no indication that the proper English you have been taught is missing a large piece of the language: idioms and slang. When you arrive in the new country, you understand most of the conversations but have quite a hard time understanding seemingly nonsensical phrases and words.
This is not a situation that should occur. Teachers of English that are native speakers have all the knowledge of idioms and slang. They even use them just as much as the rest of the English speakers of the world. The problem is often that they do not recognize it. As David Burke references in his article, as some teachers resist teaching idioms and slang as impure language and a 'lower' version of English, thinking that it leads to disadvantage for the learner. However, knowing the idioms and slang that the everyday English speaker uses will actually open many doors for the English Language Learner.
Since many refusals for teaching idioms and slang comes from the idea that it is a lower level of language, it will be helpful to define both terms. Burk defines idioms as 'phrases that are commonly understood in a given culture or subculture to have a meaning different from its literal meaning.' An example of this would be the phrase 'cost an arm and a leg.' English speakers use this phrase in reference to a very expensive item, yet a learner would think it literally took one arm and one leg. Slang is defined as 'nonstandard vocabulary of a given culture or subculture. In other words, slang is typically a nonstandard word, not a phrase as is an idiom.' Examples of this include 'shaka,' 'chillin,' etc. Slang and idioms are not vulgar or obscenities as the word sometimes may connote to some. They are simply informal usages of the language that an English language learner must become familiar and comfortable with in order to truly understand the language and be integrated into an English speaking culture.
In fact, students are quite eager to learn slang and idioms. Enrollment in classes on this topic is rising quickly at institutions such as California State University, Northridge. Students have recognized the need to fill these holes in their educations while educators have taken a while to recognize the legitimacy of the need.
It is clear that slang and idioms are a part of every English speaker's day whether they understand them or not, know they are using them or not, approve of them or not. Most of us use them and/or hear them on a regular basis and they are not disappearing any time soon. New slang rises, old slang dies out, but it is always around and necessary learning for the student of English.
Burke, David. 'Without Slang and Idioms, Students are in the Dark!' ESL Magazine. http://www.eslmag.com/modules.php' name=News&file=article&sid=36 .
Teresa M'ndez. 'English as It's Really Spoken.' The Christian Science Monitor. http://www.csmonitor.com/2004/0615/p11s02- legn.html .