#110 - The Challenge of Teaching You 'Slang'

October 6, 2021

This episode is a response to an interesting question about slang that I got from a listener of the show.

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[00:00:00] This is the challenge of teaching you slang.

[00:00:02] INTRO MUSIC

[00:00:08] What's up, everybody. You're listening to another episode of life in English. I'm your host, Tony Kaizen. This is episode number 110. And in this episode, like I said, I'm going to be talking about the challenge of teaching you slang. 

[00:00:22] Now, this episode was inspired by Skarleth Orellana. Forgive me if I'm pronouncing your name incorrectly. She sent me a message asking me why I've said so many times that I don't like the word 'slang.' 

[00:00:34] I found this question very interesting because no one had ever asked me that before. And to be honest, I hadn't noticed that I said it so much. Now, in this episode, I'm going to do my best to explain why I don't really appreciate the word 'slang' and also why it's so difficult to teach you slang correctly.

[00:00:49] Now, when I say correctly, I mean, in a way that you will clearly understand, and that will also help you to sound more natural whenever you use it. So let's start with the reason I don't necessarily appreciate the word 'slang.' 

[00:01:01] The dictionary defines slang as a type of language that consists of words and phrases that are regarded as very informal, are more common in speech than in writing, and are typically restricted to a particular context or group of people.

[00:01:16] I guess the reason I don't like the word slang is because when most people think of slang, they think of the way black people talk. They think of an extremely informal, grammatically incorrect, hard-to-understand form of speech, the type of speech that shows you are uneducated or unintelligent, and that you probably grew up in the streets. While I was preparing this episode, I actually asked my mom what came to mind when she heard the word 'slang' and she said, “black people.”

[00:01:42] As a black American, I am many others like me have found ourselves in situations in which we had to 'tuck in' our blackness just to be accepted by a particular group of people, mainly in job interviews, at work, in business, et cetera... situations in which 'educated' white people are the boss and the ones that will decide whether or not you get a job, a bank loan or a scholarship.

[00:02:07] Now, if you come in and talk and like, “Aye wassup shawty, what's crackin', we finna get it poppin' know'm'talmbout?” The manager's going to look at you like you're crazy, or like you're stupid. Now, they might not react at the moment, but I can almost guarantee you that you won't be getting any job, bank loan, or scholarship. 

[00:02:22] In most people's minds when you talk like that, it means that you're not capable of being professional, you're not educated, and you can't be taken seriously. 

[00:02:30] For decades, people have looked down on the way that some black people talk as if it were incorrect or inferior. Almost everything about black American culture was seen as low class, vulgar, and inferior. It was only when rap music took over the world that black American culture was accepted and then imitated by people of all classes and ethnicities

[00:02:52] So the reason I don't appreciate the word 'slang' is because most of the time people are referring to a way of speaking that they see as incorrect. It implies that the way 'educated' people speak, like high-class white people, for example, with textbook grammar and pronunciation is the correct way to speak English. It implies that any other way of speaking is just street slang and it shouldn't be accepted or respected in professional settings, which essentially implies that any other cultural form of communication is incorrect. 

[00:03:23] However, I think that what most people refer to as slang is simply a different dialect they don't appreciate or understand. 'Formal' and 'informal' are rules and guidelines created by someone else, but that doesn't mean everyone is going to follow those rules and guidelines. 

[00:03:40] If a group of people have a clear and defined system of communication amongst themselves, then that system of communication is standard to them. It might not be the way you think the language should be used or spoken, but that doesn't mean it's incorrect. 

[00:03:54] Let me be clear. I understand that we must have a standard form of language that is understood universally because we all have to coexist and do business together. Anything that isn't understood universally is typically considered slang or informal speech. I'm cool with that. 

[00:04:11] I understand why, you know, we use the term 'slang.' I understand that the reason I don't appreciate the word 'slang' is pretty irrational. I guess it's just a cultural thing that's really hard to explain. And it took me a long time to write this essay because I know how I feel, but I don't know exactly what I think. In some way, I'm trying to discover what I think by writing this essay. 

[00:04:32] I'm going to make a separate episode about this topic, because there's a lot of history and culture that you need to be aware of if you really want to understand what I mean. So to summarize my point, I don't really like the word 'slang' because of its cultural connotation.

[00:04:48] Most of the time, at least in the U.S., slang refers to the way some black people speak. It refers to 'nigga talk.' But, like I said, I'll talk much more about that in a future episode. 

[00:05:00] So now, let's talk about why it's so difficult to teach you slang correctly. The U.S. is a gigantic country. We have many different cultures and ethnicities here, and we all have our own ways of communicating.

[00:05:14] What that means is we have different words and expressions that are only used in certain regions of the country. And in those regions, the words and expressions are only used by certain groups of people. 

[00:05:25] The things we say here in the South are different from the things they say up North or on the West Coast. And not only that, but there are certain things that only certain groups of people say in the South, the North, the West and the Midwest. There are some things that are universal, but there are many things that simply are not. 

[00:05:43] So I don't believe that it would be helpful for me to teach you individual slang words or expressions without context. Words without context don't have much meaning or they can have multiple meanings. 

[00:05:55] And to give you context, I would have to explain the cultural dynamics of a region, city, and or neighborhood for you to truly understand the meaning of the word, how it’s used, when it's used, who uses it and why. 

[00:06:08] The fact of the matter is the U.S. is different from many other countries in the sense that we don't all belong to the same ethnicity. We have people of African, Latin, Asian, and European descent here. 

[00:06:21] These groups of people were systematically segregated for many years, and in some ways they still are very segregated. And one of the results of this segregation was the creation and the evolution of multiple American cultures. 

[00:06:34] This is something that people don't consider when they ask me to teach them slang. So my question to them is always, “Slang from where? Slang from which culture? Which dialect?” 

[00:06:45] America is a big country. And although we all understand each other, for the most part, we don't all speak and interact in the same way. 

[00:06:53] And the other challenge is teaching you slang is helping you sound natural when you use it. There are many people who understand slang perfectly fine, but when they try to use it, they end up sounding really unnatural, which kind of defeats the purpose of using slang in the first place. 

[00:07:08] A lot of people don't really understand that it's not just what you say, but it's how you say it. So you can learn all the slang in the world and still not sound anything like a native speaker, because you haven't learned how to talk, you've just learned what to say. 

[00:07:25] That's one of the reasons I tell people that it's cool to learn slang because it'll help you understand natives more when we're speaking. However, you don't really need to learn how to use slang, at least, not while you're at a beginner or intermediate level. And I say that because it's really hard to sound natural, just speaking basic English. So trying to add slang to your speech when you haven't even mastered the basics just slows you down

[00:07:48] So just remember that it's important to learn slang and informal expressions because you will hear them all the time in the U.S. but you should also remember that culture influences all languages. So if you're going to learn slang, make sure you understand the culture behind it.

[00:08:03] This will give you a richer understanding of the language and the people who use it to communicate. 

[00:08:09] Peace.

[00:08:10] OUTRO MUSIC

[END OF PODCAST]


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[00:00:00] This is the challenge of teaching you slang.

[00:00:02] INTRO MUSIC

[00:00:08] What's up, everybody. You're listening to another episode of life in English. I'm your host, Tony Kaizen. This is episode number 110. And in this episode, like I said, I'm going to be talking about the challenge of teaching you slang. 

[00:00:22] Now, this episode was inspired by Skarleth Orellana. Forgive me if I'm pronouncing your name incorrectly. She sent me a message asking me why I've said so many times that I don't like the word 'slang.' 

[00:00:34] I found this question very interesting because no one had ever asked me that before. And to be honest, I hadn't noticed that I said it so much. Now, in this episode, I'm going to do my best to explain why I don't really appreciate the word 'slang' and also why it's so difficult to teach you slang correctly.

[00:00:49] Now, when I say correctly, I mean, in a way that you will clearly understand, and that will also help you to sound more natural whenever you use it. So let's start with the reason I don't necessarily appreciate the word 'slang.' 

[00:01:01] The dictionary defines slang as a type of language that consists of words and phrases that are regarded as very informal, are more common in speech than in writing, and are typically restricted to a particular context or group of people.

[00:01:16] I guess the reason I don't like the word slang is because when most people think of slang, they think of the way black people talk. They think of an extremely informal, grammatically incorrect, hard-to-understand form of speech, the type of speech that shows you are uneducated or unintelligent, and that you probably grew up in the streets. While I was preparing this episode, I actually asked my mom what came to mind when she heard the word 'slang' and she said, “black people.”

[00:01:42] As a black American, I am many others like me have found ourselves in situations in which we had to 'tuck in' our blackness just to be accepted by a particular group of people, mainly in job interviews, at work, in business, et cetera... situations in which 'educated' white people are the boss and the ones that will decide whether or not you get a job, a bank loan or a scholarship.

[00:02:07] Now, if you come in and talk and like, “Aye wassup shawty, what's crackin', we finna get it poppin' know'm'talmbout?” The manager's going to look at you like you're crazy, or like you're stupid. Now, they might not react at the moment, but I can almost guarantee you that you won't be getting any job, bank loan, or scholarship. 

[00:02:22] In most people's minds when you talk like that, it means that you're not capable of being professional, you're not educated, and you can't be taken seriously. 

[00:02:30] For decades, people have looked down on the way that some black people talk as if it were incorrect or inferior. Almost everything about black American culture was seen as low class, vulgar, and inferior. It was only when rap music took over the world that black American culture was accepted and then imitated by people of all classes and ethnicities

[00:02:52] So the reason I don't appreciate the word 'slang' is because most of the time people are referring to a way of speaking that they see as incorrect. It implies that the way 'educated' people speak, like high-class white people, for example, with textbook grammar and pronunciation is the correct way to speak English. It implies that any other way of speaking is just street slang and it shouldn't be accepted or respected in professional settings, which essentially implies that any other cultural form of communication is incorrect. 

[00:03:23] However, I think that what most people refer to as slang is simply a different dialect they don't appreciate or understand. 'Formal' and 'informal' are rules and guidelines created by someone else, but that doesn't mean everyone is going to follow those rules and guidelines. 

[00:03:40] If a group of people have a clear and defined system of communication amongst themselves, then that system of communication is standard to them. It might not be the way you think the language should be used or spoken, but that doesn't mean it's incorrect. 

[00:03:54] Let me be clear. I understand that we must have a standard form of language that is understood universally because we all have to coexist and do business together. Anything that isn't understood universally is typically considered slang or informal speech. I'm cool with that. 

[00:04:11] I understand why, you know, we use the term 'slang.' I understand that the reason I don't appreciate the word 'slang' is pretty irrational. I guess it's just a cultural thing that's really hard to explain. And it took me a long time to write this essay because I know how I feel, but I don't know exactly what I think. In some way, I'm trying to discover what I think by writing this essay. 

[00:04:32] I'm going to make a separate episode about this topic, because there's a lot of history and culture that you need to be aware of if you really want to understand what I mean. So to summarize my point, I don't really like the word 'slang' because of its cultural connotation.

[00:04:48] Most of the time, at least in the U.S., slang refers to the way some black people speak. It refers to 'nigga talk.' But, like I said, I'll talk much more about that in a future episode. 

[00:05:00] So now, let's talk about why it's so difficult to teach you slang correctly. The U.S. is a gigantic country. We have many different cultures and ethnicities here, and we all have our own ways of communicating.

[00:05:14] What that means is we have different words and expressions that are only used in certain regions of the country. And in those regions, the words and expressions are only used by certain groups of people. 

[00:05:25] The things we say here in the South are different from the things they say up North or on the West Coast. And not only that, but there are certain things that only certain groups of people say in the South, the North, the West and the Midwest. There are some things that are universal, but there are many things that simply are not. 

[00:05:43] So I don't believe that it would be helpful for me to teach you individual slang words or expressions without context. Words without context don't have much meaning or they can have multiple meanings. 

[00:05:55] And to give you context, I would have to explain the cultural dynamics of a region, city, and or neighborhood for you to truly understand the meaning of the word, how it’s used, when it's used, who uses it and why. 

[00:06:08] The fact of the matter is the U.S. is different from many other countries in the sense that we don't all belong to the same ethnicity. We have people of African, Latin, Asian, and European descent here. 

[00:06:21] These groups of people were systematically segregated for many years, and in some ways they still are very segregated. And one of the results of this segregation was the creation and the evolution of multiple American cultures. 

[00:06:34] This is something that people don't consider when they ask me to teach them slang. So my question to them is always, “Slang from where? Slang from which culture? Which dialect?” 

[00:06:45] America is a big country. And although we all understand each other, for the most part, we don't all speak and interact in the same way. 

[00:06:53] And the other challenge is teaching you slang is helping you sound natural when you use it. There are many people who understand slang perfectly fine, but when they try to use it, they end up sounding really unnatural, which kind of defeats the purpose of using slang in the first place. 

[00:07:08] A lot of people don't really understand that it's not just what you say, but it's how you say it. So you can learn all the slang in the world and still not sound anything like a native speaker, because you haven't learned how to talk, you've just learned what to say. 

[00:07:25] That's one of the reasons I tell people that it's cool to learn slang because it'll help you understand natives more when we're speaking. However, you don't really need to learn how to use slang, at least, not while you're at a beginner or intermediate level. And I say that because it's really hard to sound natural, just speaking basic English. So trying to add slang to your speech when you haven't even mastered the basics just slows you down

[00:07:48] So just remember that it's important to learn slang and informal expressions because you will hear them all the time in the U.S. but you should also remember that culture influences all languages. So if you're going to learn slang, make sure you understand the culture behind it.

[00:08:03] This will give you a richer understanding of the language and the people who use it to communicate. 

[00:08:09] Peace.

[00:08:10] OUTRO MUSIC

[END OF PODCAST]


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Transcript

[00:00:00] This is the challenge of teaching you slang.

[00:00:02] INTRO MUSIC

[00:00:08] What's up, everybody. You're listening to another episode of life in English. I'm your host, Tony Kaizen. This is episode number 110. And in this episode, like I said, I'm going to be talking about the challenge of teaching you slang. 

[00:00:22] Now, this episode was inspired by Skarleth Orellana. Forgive me if I'm pronouncing your name incorrectly. She sent me a message asking me why I've said so many times that I don't like the word 'slang.' 

[00:00:34] I found this question very interesting because no one had ever asked me that before. And to be honest, I hadn't noticed that I said it so much. Now, in this episode, I'm going to do my best to explain why I don't really appreciate the word 'slang' and also why it's so difficult to teach you slang correctly.

[00:00:49] Now, when I say correctly, I mean, in a way that you will clearly understand, and that will also help you to sound more natural whenever you use it. So let's start with the reason I don't necessarily appreciate the word 'slang.' 

[00:01:01] The dictionary defines slang as a type of language that consists of words and phrases that are regarded as very informal, are more common in speech than in writing, and are typically restricted to a particular context or group of people.

[00:01:16] I guess the reason I don't like the word slang is because when most people think of slang, they think of the way black people talk. They think of an extremely informal, grammatically incorrect, hard-to-understand form of speech, the type of speech that shows you are uneducated or unintelligent, and that you probably grew up in the streets. While I was preparing this episode, I actually asked my mom what came to mind when she heard the word 'slang' and she said, “black people.”

[00:01:42] As a black American, I am many others like me have found ourselves in situations in which we had to 'tuck in' our blackness just to be accepted by a particular group of people, mainly in job interviews, at work, in business, et cetera... situations in which 'educated' white people are the boss and the ones that will decide whether or not you get a job, a bank loan or a scholarship.

[00:02:07] Now, if you come in and talk and like, “Aye wassup shawty, what's crackin', we finna get it poppin' know'm'talmbout?” The manager's going to look at you like you're crazy, or like you're stupid. Now, they might not react at the moment, but I can almost guarantee you that you won't be getting any job, bank loan, or scholarship. 

[00:02:22] In most people's minds when you talk like that, it means that you're not capable of being professional, you're not educated, and you can't be taken seriously. 

[00:02:30] For decades, people have looked down on the way that some black people talk as if it were incorrect or inferior. Almost everything about black American culture was seen as low class, vulgar, and inferior. It was only when rap music took over the world that black American culture was accepted and then imitated by people of all classes and ethnicities

[00:02:52] So the reason I don't appreciate the word 'slang' is because most of the time people are referring to a way of speaking that they see as incorrect. It implies that the way 'educated' people speak, like high-class white people, for example, with textbook grammar and pronunciation is the correct way to speak English. It implies that any other way of speaking is just street slang and it shouldn't be accepted or respected in professional settings, which essentially implies that any other cultural form of communication is incorrect. 

[00:03:23] However, I think that what most people refer to as slang is simply a different dialect they don't appreciate or understand. 'Formal' and 'informal' are rules and guidelines created by someone else, but that doesn't mean everyone is going to follow those rules and guidelines. 

[00:03:40] If a group of people have a clear and defined system of communication amongst themselves, then that system of communication is standard to them. It might not be the way you think the language should be used or spoken, but that doesn't mean it's incorrect. 

[00:03:54] Let me be clear. I understand that we must have a standard form of language that is understood universally because we all have to coexist and do business together. Anything that isn't understood universally is typically considered slang or informal speech. I'm cool with that. 

[00:04:11] I understand why, you know, we use the term 'slang.' I understand that the reason I don't appreciate the word 'slang' is pretty irrational. I guess it's just a cultural thing that's really hard to explain. And it took me a long time to write this essay because I know how I feel, but I don't know exactly what I think. In some way, I'm trying to discover what I think by writing this essay. 

[00:04:32] I'm going to make a separate episode about this topic, because there's a lot of history and culture that you need to be aware of if you really want to understand what I mean. So to summarize my point, I don't really like the word 'slang' because of its cultural connotation.

[00:04:48] Most of the time, at least in the U.S., slang refers to the way some black people speak. It refers to 'nigga talk.' But, like I said, I'll talk much more about that in a future episode. 

[00:05:00] So now, let's talk about why it's so difficult to teach you slang correctly. The U.S. is a gigantic country. We have many different cultures and ethnicities here, and we all have our own ways of communicating.

[00:05:14] What that means is we have different words and expressions that are only used in certain regions of the country. And in those regions, the words and expressions are only used by certain groups of people. 

[00:05:25] The things we say here in the South are different from the things they say up North or on the West Coast. And not only that, but there are certain things that only certain groups of people say in the South, the North, the West and the Midwest. There are some things that are universal, but there are many things that simply are not. 

[00:05:43] So I don't believe that it would be helpful for me to teach you individual slang words or expressions without context. Words without context don't have much meaning or they can have multiple meanings. 

[00:05:55] And to give you context, I would have to explain the cultural dynamics of a region, city, and or neighborhood for you to truly understand the meaning of the word, how it’s used, when it's used, who uses it and why. 

[00:06:08] The fact of the matter is the U.S. is different from many other countries in the sense that we don't all belong to the same ethnicity. We have people of African, Latin, Asian, and European descent here. 

[00:06:21] These groups of people were systematically segregated for many years, and in some ways they still are very segregated. And one of the results of this segregation was the creation and the evolution of multiple American cultures. 

[00:06:34] This is something that people don't consider when they ask me to teach them slang. So my question to them is always, “Slang from where? Slang from which culture? Which dialect?” 

[00:06:45] America is a big country. And although we all understand each other, for the most part, we don't all speak and interact in the same way. 

[00:06:53] And the other challenge is teaching you slang is helping you sound natural when you use it. There are many people who understand slang perfectly fine, but when they try to use it, they end up sounding really unnatural, which kind of defeats the purpose of using slang in the first place. 

[00:07:08] A lot of people don't really understand that it's not just what you say, but it's how you say it. So you can learn all the slang in the world and still not sound anything like a native speaker, because you haven't learned how to talk, you've just learned what to say. 

[00:07:25] That's one of the reasons I tell people that it's cool to learn slang because it'll help you understand natives more when we're speaking. However, you don't really need to learn how to use slang, at least, not while you're at a beginner or intermediate level. And I say that because it's really hard to sound natural, just speaking basic English. So trying to add slang to your speech when you haven't even mastered the basics just slows you down

[00:07:48] So just remember that it's important to learn slang and informal expressions because you will hear them all the time in the U.S. but you should also remember that culture influences all languages. So if you're going to learn slang, make sure you understand the culture behind it.

[00:08:03] This will give you a richer understanding of the language and the people who use it to communicate. 

[00:08:09] Peace.

[00:08:10] OUTRO MUSIC

[END OF PODCAST]


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