Teaching and Learning Slangs, as an Important Part of Intercultural Pragmatics, in TEFL
Learning a foreign language well means more than merely mastering the pronunciation, grammar, words and idioms. It means learning also to see the world as native speakers of that language see it, learning the ways in which their language reflects the ideas, customs, and behavior of their society. Learning a language, in fact, is inseparable from learning its culture and since slang has great influence on the development of language, then it should be learnt by students.
Slang is a part of today’s culture and should be used, rather than ignored. It is part of how language is used and it forms an integral element of language innovation. To disregard the existence and richness of slang as a language variety would be to ignore one of the essential aspects of language. Being able to recognize this language is essential for students. After all, whether we like it or not, this non-standard English has existed for years and will continue to exist. Knowledge of slang and idioms is fundamental to non-native speakers’ understanding of the language that native speakers actually use. It is also essential for those who want to integrate into that culture; without slang and idioms, students will always be outsiders. (Burke, 1998)
Slang is a rich resource both for the negotiation of meaning and for the production of social and interactional identities linked to these meanings. Slang is particularly well suited to the construction of identity for several reasons; first, as part of the lexicon, it operates above the level of conscious awareness and thus is easily used and recognized. Second, as one of the most socially meaningful kinds of lexis, it can provide nuanced and detailed information about the speaker’s identity. And third, because it is prone to rapid change, its progress across the social terrain can be traced with relative ease. (Eble, 1996)
The foreign language that is thought at school and, afterwards, at university, is usually a neutral language referring to an abstract standard model and having merely educational goals. Yet, young people, and also students of English, often come across less neutral uses of the language, including slang, such as those found in rap song lyrics, film scripts and interviews to pop stars or football players, etc. (Mattiello, 2005)
This study was an attempt at investigating and describing the necessity of learning English slang by Iranian high school students. To achieve the purpose of the study, 333 male and female high school students of Lar (a city located in south Iran) were chosen. The researcher chose to embrace the use of written questionnaire, interview in the form of group discussions, participant observation, proficiency and slang tests as data-gathering methodologies. An important part of this study was to evaluate the high school English books of Iran, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan for occurrence of slang. The study used the following research strategies and data collection methods:
Proficiency and slang test
High school English books evaluation
Before we go for the next section which is methodology, it would be good to have a brief overview of the education system in Iran in form of the following table;
Table 1.1: Education system in Iran
Level of education
|Optional||1 year (K-12)||Pre-primary/Kindergarten||5-6|
|elementary education is free and compulsory||5 years (K-12)||Elementary education||7-11|
|Mandatory (6-8th grade)||3 years (K-12)||Lower-secondary||12-14|
|NOT mandatory. Orientation: Manual; Professional/technical; or Theoretical. Each program with its own specialties (i.e. for theoretical: math & physics; experimental sciences; literature & humanities)||4 years (K-12)||Upper-secondary(High school)||15-18|
|Optional for university students (see below)||2 years||Higher education or Technical/vocational School|
|Academic term divided in ‘semesters’ and ‘course credits’||4 years||University|
|Master degree||2 years||University|
|After an entrance exam||4 years||Doctoral program|
In order to achieve the study purpose, the researcher administered a questionnaire to high school students. This questionnaire was previously applied by Bembe (2006) in the University of Johannesburg for her M.A. study which has been modified later to be valid for iranian students under investigation in this study. It included questions regarding personal details of the participants, the reasons if they use English slang; the domains wherein they use it; how often and with whom they use it, whether it should be taught in schools, and if they use L1 slang.
Milroy and Gordon (2003) pointed out the importance of interviews in producing qualitative data that can complement the quantitative data collected and analyzed. The type of interview adopted in this study was that of group interview. The researcher conducted different interviews in the form of group discussions with 50 female students.
2.3 Participant Observation
“Participant observation is often employed by researchers to overcome observer’s paradox” (Milroy and Gordon, 2003, p.68). The advantage of this method is that the researcher is able to gain a better understanding of the language used. In this study, the researcher conducted personal observation of female youth within girls’ high schools in Lar. She observed female youth in the classes. The researcher engaged in personal observations in order to understand whether the youth use English slang in classrooms. She had observations of 6 classes and the time spent in each of the classes was 45 minutes.
2.4 Proficiency & slang test
In this study, the researcher tried to figure out whether there is any relationship between the students’ language proficiency level (regarding their overall language ability) and their knowledge of slang in English as a foreign language. For this purpose a language proficiency test and a slang test were prepared, confirmed for their validity and reliability so to be administered to students.
2.5 High school English books evaluation
Textbooks and materials used in language learning generally present a certain way of looking at the world. In an attempt on evaluating English textbooks for slang terms, the researcher investigated Iranian high school English books and compared them to high school English books of Afghanistan and Tajikistan. The reasons for choosing these countries were that they all share the same first language (Persian) and to some extant cultures, traditions.
3. Data analysis & conclusion
The written questionnaire was aimed at Iranian high school students who were not L1 speakers of English. The majority of participants were living in Lar aged 15-18 with different levels of education (grade 9-11). Males indicated that they are more eager to know and use slang than females. Of 36 high school students who got better results on slang test than the rest, 58.2% indicated that they learnt slang from reading books, 45.4% from music and 44.4% from TV. They were free to choose more than one option from the list so there was no limitation in the choices they make. In the current study, it was found that high school students use L2 slang mainly to be creative and for fun. From the statistics it was obvious that the respondents often use slang at school with friends but they do not use it at home with their siblings, adults, or in formal situations. Of 333 students who were selected for this study, 284 responded to the question regarding their idea about the necessity of learning slang and 69.4% agreed that it should be taught by teachers and consider it necessary for EFL students. Of 298 students, 96% said they use slang in their L1 which shows a high percentage. Of 290, 95.2% were eager to learn English slang. They also mentioned that slang terms and expressions are interesting to be presented in school books (e.g. in dialogues, vocabulary list, etc.), TV programs, language institutions and magazines to some extent. They believed that L2 slang terms and phrases shouldn’t be forbidden in schools, institutions, media, etc. because slang is an inevitable part of any language which is frequently used by the natives.
From group interviews, the researcher found that these youth are very eager to learn such style of English and use it with their friends and teachers at least during their English courses. They believed that it would be fun and interesting to learn slang terms and expressions besides the Standard English.
Data gathered from observations of students in English classes and informal conversations with English teachers revealed that slang words and expressions almost have nothing to do with the learning and teaching process in Iranian high schools. After spending 45 minutes in each of the classes during their English course, not a single English slang word has been heard from students or teachers. Some teachers believed that if slang terms are to be used in English high school books to some extent, the lessons, where you can find nothing but some fixed grammar points, dialogues and vocabulary, become more attractive and fun for teenagers and help them learn English differently.
Comparing the results of the proficiency test with those of slang test, it could be inferred that the students who got better results in proficiency test, performed better on slang test as well. There was a direct relationship between the mean scores of schools and the number of students who performed better on slang test. It means that the schools with the higher mean scores had larger number of students who got better slang test results and the schools with lower means had lower number of students who knew slang.
The data gathered from English high school books evaluation made it clear that no slang terms had been observed in textbooks of Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Iran. It is apparent that no attention has been given to teaching and learning this register of language in Iran as well as Afghanistan and Tajikistan .
John McWhorter (2001) makes strong arguments for the fact that this type of language exists, and that it is no less valid than more formal language. However, he believes that this acknowledgement is the first important step to successfully teaching slang and informal language. He also believes this language is important to teach, if only for the reason that it exists and is used naturally by most native speakers. Mattiello (2005) suggests that “first, a passive knowledge of slang is often vital for understanding conversation in the media and real situations and may allow learners to identify people’s origin and their belonging to a social group or place; second, some active knowledge of it will also allow learners to act in everyday life, to socialize and to create intimacy with their peers; third, some aspects of slang will make the learners’ speech vivid, colorful and interesting, and will get them closer to the expressive trends and styles of native speakers.”
From the data analysis and results it could be concluded that foreign language learners should acquire an extensive knowledge of the language they are specializing in (here English), which means becoming familiar with its different aspects, varieties, and levels of speech. As Bierman declares in 2008, the goal of speaking like a native speaker is common to many people learning a foreign language. Informal phrases, bad grammar and slang are all inherent in the language used every day by native speakers and therefore needs to be added to our foreign language curriculum. Slang is therefore worth special attention in education system and students must be well aware of it. This study is parallel with researches accomplished previously by different people. They came to this conclusion that slang better be accepted, analyzed, and taught so that becomes applicable by foriegn language learners. The results of this study show students’ lack of knowledge in this particular area. During L2 learning process, if students do not get familiarized with slang, they definitely face critical problems leading into intr-cultural misunderstanding.Consequently, it may cause hinderence in their individual communication with others. As slang is related to pragmatics, its educational implications should be considered both in classrooms and books.
- Bembe, P. M. (2006) The Use of Slang Among Black Youth in Gauteng, MA Thesis, University of Johansburg.
- Bierman, R. (2008) The Place of Informal Language in the Middle- and High-School Foreign Language Classroom, B.A. thesis, Middlebury College.
- Burke, D. (1998) Without Slang and Idioms, Students are in the Dark, ESL Magazine, September/October.
- Eble, C. (1996) Slang and Sociability: In-group language among college Students,The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill.
- Mattiello, E. (2005) The pervasiveness of slang in standard and non-standardEnglish, in E. Lonati (ed), Mots Palabras Words: studilinguistic 6, pp. 7-41. [http://www.ledonline.it/mpw/]
- Mattiello, E. (2008) An Instruction to English Slang. Milano: Polimetrica.
- McWhorter, J. (2001) Word on the Street: Debunking the Myth of a “Pure” Standard English. Da Capo Press.
- Milory, L. & Gordon, M. (2003) Sociolinguistics: Method and Interpretation.USA: Blackwell Publishing.
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