Teaching Slang and Idioms To undertake and complete an ESL course


To undertake and complete an ESL course would normally allow the successful student to gain benefit from the ability to access the English speaking world. By covering the four domains of speaking, understanding, reading and writing a student would be able to undertake activities such as answering conversational questions, following a menu and writing a cheque. However, many students who have completed a course containing these four basic domains of language learning would continue to struggle when attempting to fully interact and participate with other 1st language English speakers. The main reason for this would be that they have not included in their studies the learning of slang and idioms that frequent the communication of 1st language English speakers.

This higher level language learning of slang and idioms would then allow students greater access and ability to communicate at the same level as other English speakers and undertake fundamental activities such as following newspaper articles/TV programmes, participating in humorous conversations and understanding song lyrics to name a few. Unfortunately educators do not always recognise the need to include the teaching of these higher level language skills of slang and idiom as part of their teaching.

Idioms such as 'pull your socks up', 'I've got butterflies in my stomach' and 'it's raining cats and dogs' would normally interpreted literally by the inexperienced English language learner and thus would cause embarrassment as they failed to realise the intended meaning of 'try harder', 'I'm nervous' and 'raining hard' of the above stated examples. Slang is used by all speakers of English and can be specific to their individual profile. Slang is used in business, the media, for example, 'kids' (for children), by teenagers, for example, 'I'm landed' (for happy) and the elderly, for example, 'leccy' (for electric). To be able to interact with all those that use slang it is important for students to become accustomed with the most commonly used terms because they would otherwise miss fundamental aspects of the interaction if they are not familiar with the terms.

There are increasing teaching materials available on the market for teaching idioms and slang such as those by Winslow Press, which highlights the increasing need to introduce this aspect of language to all those wishing to learn. Actual examples of American movies and song lyrics could also be used as a way of introducing slang and idioms to students together with encouraging students to bring in their own examples of phrases they do not understand in the context they arise from. This is a particular problem with idioms and slang because their intended meaning often has no relevance to the context in which they are used. Students will often have to use rote learning of the true meaning of slang and idiom most commonly used before they can be understood in context. But as slang and idioms often have an informal and humorous tone to them, the teaching of them can provide a light hearted break to the often formal teaching of basic speaking, listening, reading and writing lessons. Also, once learnt, the students will benefit from increased confidence in being able to fully interact and communicate rather than just simply being a passive participant in English interactions.

In conclusion, the current approach to the teaching of language using the typical four domains of language should be reviewed. Teachers and students need to view language learning as a complete holistic approach where the focus is on functional communication. This approach would then need to encompass in each of these domains, a higher level language element where the use of slang and idioms when speaking, listening, reading and writing is a fundamental aspect.