Do you or should you correct students’ use of slang? Should students be banned from using anything other than Standard Australian English in class? Our national and state English curricula specify that students should learn to write and speak using Standard Australian English, but is there a place for regional variations or slang in class, in the school yard or in public exchanges?
Last week, The Guardian featured an article from Stan Carey, whose blog about Irish English variations was featured in one of our bonus posts in April. The piece, ‘There’s nowt wrong with dialects, nothing broke ass about slang’, responds to the decision of a school in Essex in the UK to introduce a program to stop students using slang by banning one word at a time. (You may be familiar with the language patterns they are trying to eliminate if you have seen the reality television show The Only Way is Essex.) This is not a new debate, of course. Educators were regulating the way students expressed themselves long before the concept of ‘school’ existed.
Carey contends, however, that instead of being the ‘language police’ and banning or discouraging nonstandard English in schools, we should be teaching students how to code-switch. He argues that dialects have a significant place in forming our sense of identity, that learning to code-switch can empower disenfranchised students, and that language variations add to the rich and wonderful nature of the English language. Other educators and academics contend that enforcing a standard dialect in schools is a vital step in enabling socially marginalised and economically disadvantaged students to improve their circumstances; in other words, that ‘proper’ language is the key to power.
If you teach English Language, you might share the articles listed below with your class. If you are an English teacher, it might provoke some interesting discussions with colleagues about how to deal with the potentially tricky Australian Curriculum sub-strand ‘Language variation and change’. The article also ties in with our blog post from last week, ‘What’s the kerfuffle about a queue’, which explores different ways to explore language variation in the classroom inspired by Barack Obama’s recent use of the word ‘queue’. The Carey, Drummond, Pensalfini and Snell articles and the video debate would be perfect texts for argument and language analysis tasks in Year 11.
Scroll down for a content breakdown that will help you to assess if these resources are right for your school context or class, and for a free downloadable PDF of guiding questions and writing tasks. Please note that all links below and in the PDF will take you to third-party sites.
Best wishes and happy teaching or good banter – laters.
‘There’s nowt wrong with dialects, nothing broke ass about slang’
by Stan Carey, The Guardian, 3 May 2016
Central idea: discusses the implications of a program at The Ongar Academy in the UK to eliminate the use of nonstandard words and phrases in students’ discussions and writing. He argues that teaching students to code-switch, and to understand the need to adapt their language use to suit a given context, is a much more powerful too.
Suitability: Years 10–12
‘Slang shouldn’t be banned … it should be celebrated, innit’
by Rob Drummond, The Conversation, 3 May 2016
Central idea: advocates for encouraging students to embrace language variation and explicit teaching of context in determining appropriate language use. He also discusses the constantly evolving nature of English.
Suitability: Years 10–12
‘Aussie slang is as diverse as Australia itself’
by Rob Pensalfini, The Conversation, 24 June 2014
Central idea: discusses the origins and evolution of some uniquely Australian slang
Suitability: Years 9–12
‘Should schools ban slang from the classroom?’
video debate with Lindsay Johns and Michael Rosen, The Guardian, 9 December 2013
Central idea: a five-minute debate regarding the banning of ‘street’ slang in schools.
Suitability: Years 8–12
‘Children and language: Taalk propa? Hadaway wi ye’
by David Almond, The Guardian, 9 February 2013
Central idea: a response to a Teeside school that tried to ban the use of local dialect; written phonetically by a children’s writer from the north-east of England. The piece might need to be read aloud for Australian ears to understand.
Content warning: contains some mildly coarse terms that might not be appropriate in some classes or contexts.
Suitability: Years 9–12
‘Saying no to “gizit” is plain prejudice’
by Dr Julia Snell, The Independent, 10 February 2013
Central idea: discusses the Teeside banning of dialects in schools as a ‘war on dialects’ that can further marginalise vulnerable students.
Suitability: Years 11–12