Teaching slang and idiom is not only important to allow students to be able to communicate in a real world situation, but it can have a positive effect on motivation because students have a desire to communicate with native speakers and, as Lieb states,
both relevancy and authenticity…If students feel that what they are studying is relevant to their everyday lives, and usable when communicating with native speakers, they will be more motivated to study…Its more colourful and descriptive terminology…[and] engages minds through humour, sarcasm and cynicism.'
However, there has always been controversy surrounding teaching idioms and slang in the efl
classroom. Dimitrios Thanasoulas states,
‘As for teacher
s, it seems that they would be better off without [idioms]…on refl
ection, this stands to reason. By virtue of there being a great, overwhelming difficulty on the student's as well as on the teacher
's part in tackling indisputably "thorny" and abstruse idioms…”'
I feel this citation shows the attitude of many teacher
s that teaching slang and idioms is too difficult and overwhelming, can be inappropriate and that time could be spent more productively elsewhere. Instead of simply condemning these teacher
s, I think we should take into account their experience and consider the reasons why some teacher
s avoid idioms and slang in the classroom.
Primarily, teaching the mechanics and function of the language is the primary concern of the efl teacher
. Time is often limited in efl
courses and students do not want to feel they are wasting their time learning something they may never use. teacher
s often feel time spent elsewhere will have a greater impact on learning. This means that idioms and slang are often kept for upper-intermediate level. Though there are far fewer learners at this level, it means learners do eventually have a chance to learn idioms and slang whilst improving their awareness of the language, in the reading of authentic texts.
Moreover, some idioms and slang are inappropriate for classroom use. Some would be culturally offensive or not appropriate to teach to young learners
. Slang can also be inherently offensive. It includes pejorative, homophobic, racist and sexist jibes which, in my opinion, should only ever be taught with extreme caution and only where absolutely necessary.
In addition, most idioms and slang are subject to regional and national variation, and depend on generation and social group. As Anne Merritt states, ‘It might be futile to memorize phrases that are rarely used, or are used only with a certain generation of people.' This problem is compounded by the fact that there are so many different pieces of vocabulary and phrases to teach. Idioms and slang is an area of language, which is by nature ever evolving. Terms grow outdated and new ones are coined, meaning that even for a native speaker we often come across new words that the “cool kids
” are using these days. Moreover, with the growth of english
as a second, or foreign, language we must also consider the interaction between non-native speakers of english
. It is unlikely that two non-native speakers would use idioms and slang together at all. Thus making some idiom and slang useless for some learners. This means that as efl teacher
s we must be selective in what we teach.
Karen Smithey argues that “Idioms are not as common as we native speakers think they are.” She suggests a “Google Fight” activity where students are given a list of idioms and bet using monopoly money on which will have the most hits on Google. (You type in the phrase inside speech marks to get an exact hit). This shows students how frequently used certain idioms are and, therefore which are the most useful to learn, and is also a fun and engaging activity, which will connect with ‘the internet generation'.
I argue that learning slang and idiom has a great impact on a student's understanding of the english
language. However, as efl teacher
s we should take into account other's experience and advice to fine tune and adapt our own teaching. We must be selective about what we teach, ensuring that our primary concern is teaching the mechanics and function of the language. We should base our slang and idiom teaching on how and where the learner will use english
, bearing in mind the frequency of use and whether the vocabulary is appropriate for the age and background of the learner.