Teach English in ChengguAn Zhen - Zhuzhou Shi

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In order to establish the importance of teaching idioms and slang to ESL students we must consider a number of elements relating to the learner. Age, culture, motivations, life experience and language level are all relevant factors in the decision to introduce a student, or group of students, to informal language. I would argue that the most important of these considerations is the motivation for the student to be learning English as their second language. In understanding why somebody is studying a language and the purpose for which they will use said language, the teacher can better determine the benefits of the student learning relevant slang and to what degree it should figure in lesson plans. For example, for an adult student wanting to learn or improve their English for the purpose of travelling, making new friends abroad or communicating with a partner, gaining an understanding of slang terms, or even popular culture references would prove to be a practical and pertinent skill. On the other hand another adult student looking to enhance their vocabulary to expand their career prospects, would be better suited to a more formal language based lesson plan incorporating a small number of specific topic based colloquialisms or jargon. The amount of informal language a student uses in their day to day interactions when speaking their native language, is another factor to think about. This can more often than not be correlated with the learners age. Teaching casual terms or phrases to a younger student, perhaps an early teen learner who might naturally feel unmotivated in the classroom, could be an excellent way to spark an interest and create a more engaging environment. Moving away from the formalities of teaching a language, such as grammatical structures or language functions and enabling a student to focus on something they find much more relatable, will boost a young learners confidence allowing them to have more fun with speaking English. A lesson structured around popular music, films or blogs would be relevant here. Something that has become much more prevalent in language and therefore relevant to teach to learners of English, are acronyms and abbreviated language. More specifically language and vocabulary know as text-speak, commonly used on social media platforms and in online communication mediums such as instagram and instant messaging. Common examples of these being ‘OMG’ and ’LOL’. It’s important to keep up with the way casual language and therefore slang is developing, particularly with younger generations, as OMG and LOL would once have only been appropriate in written text, drawing attention if said out loud, however now, both can be heard used freely in spoken communication. It’s neither possible or desirable to cover everything so it is therefore vital to be aware of the particular elements of slang language which will offer the biggest advantage to each individual student. In what country the student will be using the language, for instance, should be a consideration when writing a lesson plan. Slang vocabulary in Australia widely differs from that used in America or the UK. In Australia, for example, money is often referred to as ‘bucks’ and notes are referenced by their colour - a ‘lobster’ meaning the orange coloured twenty dollar note. Americans can frequently be heard referring to money as ‘green’ and US dollar notes have become known by the image depicted on them - a hundred dollar bill being called a ‘Benjamin’. And in the UK a huge array of words such as ‘dough’, ‘dosh’, ‘coin’ or even ‘bread’ can denote money. It is important to also note that dialects and thus informal language also changes from city to city in these countries, bringing even further nuance to the English language. Using TV programs as points of reference is an interactive way to highlight this idea to students. From my personal experiences when living and travelling abroad I have found that being able to grasp a handful of colloquialisms in local languages made my daily interactions with drivers, food venders and sales assistants, for example, a great deal easier and a lot more natural. Casual dialects and even cultural references are inherently used more frequently in verbal communications, and I therefore felt as though I was welcomed and treated as an equal, and sometimes even as a friend, because I had been able to share in these informalities. Being able to construct coherent and formal sentences, to tick all the education boxes as far as grammar, punctuation and sentence structure, form the foundation of all language learning, however once a student is out of the classroom, coming into contact with none formal language is unavoidable. For example an advertisement on the underground or a taxi driver are both likely to use much more relaxed vocabulary than that found in a textbook. For an ESL student, being familiar with common, everyday words such as ‘What’s up?’ or ‘ASAP’, which are used by native English speakers daily, will prepare them for real world social interactions. It is evident that teaching and learning idioms and slang is undeniably important and should definitely be part of the language covered by an ESL teacher. Studying a controlled amount of not only slang words but colloquialisms, idioms and acronyms can add an element of fun to an otherwise traditional subject, increase a students independence and willingness to put English to use with strangers, help to avoid confusion outside the classroom and enhance a students ability to communicate more fluently and naturally in a variety of circumstances.