How to deal with non-conventional language?

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September 25, 2014 by k. liz

This post for you is a pondering. I’d love to hear some thoughts on this question, and see how the ESL world plans to approach the phenomenon of a quickly developing language.

About a month ago, my family was on a trip to Turkey to visit some old friends. While we were on a ferry, a Turkish girl started interacting with my son, and before we got off of the boat, she asked us:

Can I selfie with him?

IMG_5078I smiled to myself, made a note of the funny usage of ‘selfie’ and carried on with the trip.

But, since I’ve been back, I’ve been wondering how to actually approach this phenomenon in the classroom. Whether they are new words or simply non-conventional words, like “ain’t” or “d’oh” {both of which are in Merriam-Webster!}

What would you do? Would you explicitly teach these words in a related unit {including them in your negative contractions, for example}, teach a unit of unconventional words including all/most of them at once, or bypass teaching them altogether?

I’m guessing that I would generally choose the first option, incorporating these words when they fit in with a relevant unit, but then again, I would be choosy in this and I certainly wouldn’t choose all of them. For example, the word “ain’t” really grates on my nerves, so I would instinctively not teach it. But then again . . .

This is what made me realize that you can’t completely bypass these words, because they are quickly becoming more and more a building block of language. {Think: selfie, twerk, meme, hipster, friend as a verb . . .} We don’t want to teach students a language that will leave them stranded when it comes to pop culture.

But, at the same time, how necessary is it that we explicitly teach this language? This language may well be the most accessible language to our students, and the language that they can most easily learn without intervention or guidance from us.

What do you think? How would you address these words? Let me leave you with a few questions to provide your student with to evaluate words that fall into the non-conventional category:

What is the definition?

What part of speech is this word?

What collocations is it used in?

Give an example sentence.

What environment is this word appropriate for?

Is there a more formal alternative to this word?

word usage


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