Monday, January 7, 2019

To teach or not to teach ... 'bad' words

Recently, I viewed a very funny video about the many meanings of 'shit.' Although I have taught such common four letter words in the past, I wondered how my colleagues and friends (native English speakers and non-native English speakers) would respond to a query about teaching 'shit' to my intermediate-level adult students at a community college. Out of 10 people who responded via FB or email, not one of them waivered. They all said, "Yes, you should teach bad words." One even said that it is my 'responsibility' to teach them.

Here's the video. The performer is Finnish and definitely has a great sense of American English. I don't know if he was a comedian in his native country, but he definitely tickles my funny bone.

What do you think?  I did show this video to my students, and most of them (a dozen) enjoyed it. However, a few didn't seem to 'get' it. When you explain humor, it somehow kills it, so I had a brief follow-up reaction/reflection talk, advising caution (especially to the young adult males in my class) when attempting to use this kind of language with native speakers.

I agree it IS my responsibility as an instructor of English to non-native speakers to teach them awareness and self-consciousness when using four-letter words that can be seen as obscene or irreverent. I also want them to understand that context is extremely important - how powerful a definite or indefinite article is in changing the meaning of an expression. As a student of many foreign languages (Spanish, French, Quechua, Japanese, Arabic, Lingala), I find it easy to put myself in the position of my students. I would want to know these words in other languages I have studied to greater or smaller degrees, so that I might understand if someone is insulting or complimenting me.  It is up to each student to take what I've chosen to give, store it in memory, or throw it away.