Teach English in Liu SumuZhen - Wulanchabu Shi — Ulanqab

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Perhaps one of the least discussed areas of English as a Second Language instruction is the domain of slang. While not essential to being able to effectively communicate in English, knowledge of slang and is highly useful to English Language Learners due to the frequency with which it is used in day to day conversation by native speakers. Whether the learner is seeking to improve their English for academia or the workplace, slang is everywhere. To further clarify what can be considered slang, linguists Bethany Dumas and Jonathan Lighter identified four defining criteria of slang: reduction of formality, demonstration of group familiarity, taboo terminology, and substitution of a word that might cause discomfort (Dumas & Lighter, 1978). According to Dumas and Lighter, if a word or phrase meets at least two of these criteria, it can be considered slang. Underscoring the importance of slang for a more complete understanding of English, studies have shown that ESL individuals have had difficulty understanding native speakers due to their use of slang both in the workplace and in academic settings. In a study from Queens University in Kingston, Ontario that was conducted on ESL engineering students, most students reported difficulties in understanding colleagues in the workplace due to the slang they used (Homuth & Piippo, 2011). Another study, conducted by Junyan Huang, found that 50% of students involved in the study reported having trouble understanding lectures when professors used slang (Huang, 2004) Even more important than in academic and professional contexts is the role slang plays in informal and social settings. ESL students are often taught only the academic/formal versions of English which can make social inclusion more difficult as they struggle not only to communicate on a more informal level, but also to understand their peers and the slang they use. Learning appropriate and correct usage of slang can help an ESL student develop more natural sounding English which will also help them in establishing in-group status in social settings. A fair question arrived at at this point is how best to teach slang to ESL students? Given that slang is a non-static entity (one need only look at the slang from 10 or 20 years ago and compare it to the slang of today), how can an instructor teach relevant and current slang while also equipping students to learn slang that the instructor themselves may not be aware of? In these instances, preparing the students to teach themselves may be one of the best approaches. While components of formal slang instruction can be added to lessons to help to explain and lay the groundwork for understanding common slang terms, introduction to popular slang dictionaries and databases (such as urbandictionary.com) will prove even more valuable to ESL students as these tools allow them to also discover the meanings of slang terms they encounter outside of the classroom. Assigning homework that incorporates listening to certain songs or watching clips from movies that employ different elements of slang also encourages students to learn to utilize these tools on their own as well as serving to foster continued self-discovery of new terms and phrases. References -Slang in the ESL Classroom, Kristin Jatkowski Homuth and Allison Piippo -Is Slang a Word for Linguists?, Bethany K. Dumas and Jonathan Lighter -Voices from Chinese Students: Professors’ use of English affects academic listening, Jinyan Huang