Teach English in HuAndun Zhen - Lianyungang Shi

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Is Teaching Slang and Idioms Important for ESL Students? A language is an extension and reflection of culture. Learning a language entails opening oneself to the culture and nuances from where the language comes from. It has been said that people who learn a language by immersing themselves in its day to day form and use, usually learn the language faster. There are many debates about the importance of slang and idioms when learning a language. Formal learning platforms will normally avoid slang and idioms in order to protect the student. In formal learning spaces, students usually learn a language for formal and professional use and the use of slang and idioms can detract from that objective. Learning a language in a formal set up is naturally appropriate however I believe that a language cannot be fully appreciated in a vacuum, one as to open themselves up to the humor, intricacies and character of the language. “If you keep an open mind and play your cards right, your proficiency in English will soon be something to crow about,” (Laflin, 1996). According to New Webster’s Dictionary (1993), an idiom is a construction, manipulation or expression of language that may have a different meaning to its literal meaning or usual use. Three examples of English idioms are “see eye to eye,” “add insult to injury,” and “call it a day.” These are very common and useful idioms in the English language. Idioms give an impression of fluency and proficiency. If an ESL student manages to factor idioms into their English it will increase their ability to paint vivid pictures and allow them to speak with effect. Idioms can also be grouped or categorized to their English structure (Murali, 2014). The categories can range from numbers, animals, food, similes, verb plus object and preposition plus noun just to name a few. When ESL students get exposed to the different categories that contain idioms they also get to experiment with the flexibility of the language. Idioms are figurative speech and sometimes the literal understanding of an idiom can be quite absurd but exposing ESL students to idioms can at times remove rigidity and learning constraints. The students can appreciate that the language is malleable and expressive. Below are some examples of a few categories: Color - “feeling blue” “shades of grey” “black and white “ Similes - “fit as a fiddle” “brave as a lion” “strong as an ox” Animals- “raining cats and dogs” “wild goose chase” Verb plus object- “say it with your chest” “speak your mind” Preposition plus noun- “tip of the tongue” Slang is informal language often used in speech by small or defined sections of people. Slang is evolving and often stands as an identity giving feature. Usually slang will exclude people who do not identify with that group. Slang can be very particular however some terms can be extremely universal and it is this type of slang that should be taught to ESL learners. In the advent of social media and digital evolution the world is becoming smaller and social, business and entertainment platforms are becoming integrated. If our goal is to ensure that ESL students are able to genuinely and fully use English in a functional sense, we have to as educators, ensure that they are exposed to universal slang. Some slang has been so integrated into day to day English to the extent that it would be a disservice to not teach it to an ESL learner, especially those that want to use English comfortably in conversation. Some examples of universal slang are “cool,” “what’s up,” “messed up,” and “chilling.” An ESL student could find themselves using one of these terms in an office set up whilst communicating with colleagues. They are not formal words or phrases but this does not mean that they are excluded from formal spaces. It is also important to note the proliferation of popular culture into mainstream commerce and advertising. Exposing ESL students to slang can sometimes ensure that they are constantly learning and understanding content even when they are not necessarily in a formal learning environment. It is important to teach slang and idioms to ESL students however within reason and with care. As this write up has established, learning slang and idioms can be very helpful and advantageous for ESL students however the teacher does have to put in time and care to make sure that the content taught is useful, culturally sensitive and as universal as possible.