Teach English in Dazhasi Zhen - Aba Zangzu Qiangzu Zizhizhou —

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Although I personally try to avoid overusing slang and idioms, having grown up being told by my parents and numerous educators that it made me sound uneducated in the first case and like I was trying too hard in the second, I cannot deny that both have their place in the ESL classroom. Throughout my ESL teaching career, I mostly exposed my students to formally written or spoken excerpts that, despite having perfect grammar, often struck me as sounding incredibly unnatural. It was not the content that was bizarre so much as the tone in which it was delivered: flat, literal, and fully lacking in any of the color and elaboration that idioms and slang afford the English language. While my students may have been able to understand it, I could not help but think that they would be highly unlikely to ever come across anything delivered in such precise English in a real-world setting. More recently, during my career as a standardized test preparation writer in South Korea, my Korean coworkers would often send me lists of English expressions, wanting to know which were the most commonly used and when I, as a native speaker, might use them. Although many of those listed would be perfectly acceptable for use today, being mostly of the proverbial sort, others were very much out of date. Having to explain to my colleagues that it would be rather strange for the company’s target audience, 20-something college students, to refer to someone as “the cat’s pajamas” without sounding like they had time-traveled from the turn of the 20th century will be forever seared into my mind as one of the more humorous interactions I had at that job. My point in relaying the above anecdote is that language is constantly evolving. While the written word might remain more or less the same over long periods of time, and difficult or archaic vocabulary can always be looked up at one’s leisure, the way we speak changes from one generation to the next—and sometimes even faster. In fact, as a 35-year-old, I can honestly say that I often find myself reading posts on social media and pausing because I’ve encountered something written in the dialect of far younger Millennials. I suppose I can always look up what slang words like “fleek” and “thot” might mean and become informed that way, but honestly, if I ever move back to North America from Asia and someone addresses me using slang that I am unfamiliar with from the last decade, I guarantee that I will be confused and unsure of how to respond. Likewise, any ESL student who has been taught to believe that English-speaking people always communicate in a perfect, uniform version of the language would no doubt be entirely dumbfounded. Of course, I do not propose that ESL students learn slang that will undoubtedly go the way of the dodo before the ink is dry (see what I did there?) due to its use by a relatively tiny segment of the population. Rather, the expressions they learn should be relevant to what they ultimately hope to accomplish. For instance, if the student’s sole goal is to better communicate with his English-speaking coworkers at work, I believe he should probably limit his education of idioms to modern business-related turns of phrase. If, on the other hand, the student has reached a level where he understands most formal language and is ready for the next step because he wants to live abroad or learn to read between the lines in works of creative literature, learning slang and idioms could help him to understand the many nuances of English communication.