Slang is the use of informal words and expressions to describe something or someone. Slang is vocabulary that is meant to be interpreted quickly but not necessarily literally.
Slang changes fast; here are examples of current 2015 slang which, could well be out of date by the time you read this!
You’re mine forever, bae.
Don’t be so basic with your wardrobe.
He keeps on asking me for a date; how thirsty can one guy be?
Often slang is used within a certain group or in a certain area. Young people’s slang is different from old people’s slang; the slang of New York is different from the slang of California and so on.
Slang differs from Jargon in that the latter tends to be technical and describing something for which there is no other word; slang on the other hand is often a substitute word or phrase often used to hide the real world from an outsider or to claim membership of a certain group.
Thus criminals use slang so the police can’t understand them; teenage gangs use slang to recognize each other and so that parents won’t understand, etc.
Although not all slang is taboo, a lot of people regard it as somehow substandard or poor English.
Teaching Slang in TEFL
Should slang be taught in class? Different teachers have different opinions; one issue is that slang changes much, much faster than mainstream language and the slang known and used by a teacher is often from a different era than the slang the students are likely to encounter. And speaking “wrong” slang marks out a person from the crowd.
Perhaps the best approach is to teach the meaning and usage of a particular piece of slang as it arises in class or if the students are likely to be exposed to slang at all. Classroom time can be more profitably used teaching English the students will need rather than English they may never use or which may be out of date.
So if you come across slang with your class in, say, a music video then by all means teach it, but we’d suggest not having a single lesson on slang per se.
However, slang shouldn’t be confused with idiom which is part and parcel of everyday language and should be included in the classroom.
The Slang Video
The video shows a clip from the Horrible Histories television show where some Tudor slang is used to present the news. It is unintelligible to modern ears, sounding like a different language to English entirely.
NB the video is followed by a short sketch on spelling in Tudor times which is also quite interesting!
Taboo Words and TEFL – swearwords or taboo words in TEFL
Jargon in English – similar but different to slang
Teaching Idioms in TEFL – about idiom in the classroom