Thursday, 30 June 2011

Swearing in the classroom

One of those grey corners of the EFL classroom for sure.

Under our table seemed like a very appropriate location to address the issue of 'bad' language - we were taking a time out from our planned activities anyway.

To be honest, I actually feel it is quite an accomplishment as a teacher to marshall coarse language. It is a very common feature of everyday discourse, and to suggest that it isn't is to ignore a very large elephant in the room! I actually feel quite proud when my students can let a suitable four letter word go without it clattering around dangerously.

Peoples of Britain circa 600
Birthplace of fruity language?
Now I do not think teachers should set out to actually teach Anglo-Saxon unpleasantries; I doubt few do. More often than not, an adventurous student will experiment with something they heard in the street or playground, pub or TV. Then the teacher needs to use a lot of sensitivity to assess on the spot how to respond...cordon the word off with "Do not break the glass" kind if warning label? Let it go? Take offense? Put it aside & tackle it later (important if you need to find guidance on school policy/keep your job).

The fact that my students and I all selected the very same word from a large and active vocabulary in the same second or two suggests to me we got the balance right.

There were only three more earthquakes during the rest of our lesson, so the challenge was to use different expletives but only if we were under the table! Our trigger event had been a mere M3 - but the epicenter was a shallow half a mile away. Ironic, as at the time I was pulling their legs about enjoying the longest life expectancy in the industrialized world & asking them what they were going to do to save the planet.

While we checked the USGS website & Japanese Met Office for the seismic skinny, it was agreed that I swore loudest but last, as they were already under the table. Score draw?!


It has taken me 20+ years teaching to be comfortable with swearing students, so a few words of caution. Don't go there unless you have to, and even then make sure you know all the parameters of your job description. And make sure the broader picture (the rest of your class) will be OK with where you go on this touchy subject. Whatever you do, don't use bad language yourself  in class.

Context is everything!