Teaching Slang and IdiomsLearning english
is challenging in and of itself, but learning a dictionary full of words is not enough to really understand it because native english
speakers colour their speech with a myriad of slang words and idioms.
Slang is defined as vocabulary used that is nonstandard and is specific to a particular culture or subculture (Burke, 1998). Slang words can, but do not necessarily have an alternative literal meaning; examples of slang include words/phrases like 'cheesy', 'dodgy', 'ticks me off', 'boob-tube', 'pulling my leg', etc.
Idioms are defined as a group of words established by usage within a culture or subculture, but the meaning is not deducible from knowledge of the individual words (Burke, 1998). Examples of common english
idioms include expressions such as: 'a blessing in disguise', 'beating around the bush', 'close but no cigar', 'putting all your eggs in one basket', 'head over heels', etc.
There has been debate within the ESL teaching community as to whether or not slang and idioms should be taught in the classroom. However, it is important for students to learn this type of language because a failure to do so negatively impacts the students understanding in social, academic and vocational settings (as cited in Wu, 2008). Slang and idioms are used by everyone regardless of social class; they can be found in movies, tv shows, news broadcasts and everyday conversations. There is slang that is used universally among english
speakers, for example 'to get a second wind', 'to pig out', 'to get canned', etc. Then there are subcategories of slang used by specific groups such as teens, rappers, different trades, economic groups and social groups (Burke, 1998). Even businessmen have their own subcategory and are notorious for creating a jargon of their own; this type of slang often includes sports jargon. For example, someone could be told to 'take the ball and run with it' or that they are 'down to the wire' or that 'that's one strike against him/her', etc. Not understanding and being able to use slang and idioms will ensure that ESL students will always remain outsiders (Wu, 2008). Therefore, if students are going to master the english
language, they need to learn slang and idioms.
Understanding a word or phrase is aided by the contextual cues surrounding it. Thus it is important that students be taught slang and idioms in a meaningful context. Stories or dialogues can be used to teach students the intricacies of idioms and slang because they can be interesting and entertaining while providing context for students to deduce the meaning. Because of the nature of idioms, stories with illustrations can further facilitate students understanding (Wu, 2008).
Burke (1998) recommends that when presenting slang and idioms, that a natural dialogue be used that includes no more than twelve slang words and idioms so as not to overload the students. After reading the dialogue, a fun activity is making the students guess the meaning and emotion based on the context. The students can then go around the classroom using the slang and idioms in response to questions to really cement in the meaning.
A game that has been found to be very successful in teaching slang and idioms within the classroom is the Slang and Idioms Concentration Game (Burke, 1998). To start, the class is divided into two teams and 36 cards are laid out in six rows of six. On the front, the cards are labeled with a number from 1-36, on the back, half the cards have a slang or idiom and the other half have the meanings. To play, students must match the slang or idiom with its meaning. Only one student can choose at a time taking turns between the teams. When a match is made, the person who chose it, with the help of their team, must use the term in a complete sentence. If they are unable to do so, the other team gets a chance to steal the point if they can use it correctly in a sentence. Working as a team has the benefit of creating a bond among team members so students are more willing to take chance and make mistakes.
Burke, David. (1998). Should we teach english
slang to ESL students? Retrieved
on February 08, 2011 from http://www.worldlanguage.com/Articles/2.htm.
Wu, Su-Yueh. (2008). Effective activities for teaching english
idioms to EFL
learners. The Internet TESL Journal, Vol XIV, 3.