Article Swear words: Do they have a place in the EFL classroom?


Is it considered taboo? I think so for the ears of young learners or high school students but perhaps not for adult EFL students. My article arises in part out of a series of queries I received over the last several months by some of my adult ESL students. One was a request by a few to teach them some North American swear words. Another was to clarify the meaning of a swear word and its use. Another was a comment by a student noting an abundance of swear words in Hollywood movies. But I think it was when I was asked to explain the meaning of the word 'jerk' when it came up in the context of a lesson that I was teaching that got me to write this piece.

Why shouldn't adult EFL students have some introductory lessons on swear words if only to caution and counsel them on their offensive nature and meaning and inappropriateness in polite conversation? I have discovered that many of my adult students are exposed to cursing and swearing because they listen to American rap and/or hip hop artists and/or watch Hollywood movies. The prevalent use of swear words in Hollywood movies, American television shows like the Jerry Springer Show, by rap artists like Emimem, and in literature is perhaps a sign of their growing acceptance in North American society. I think the transition started in Hollywood in the late sixties with the relaxation of the Hayes code.

As you know, language is the means we use to express our thoughts, emotions, desires, frustrations, and hopes. Swearing is part of expressive language. It is irrational: yet, it forms part of speech and idiomatic language. It has the intent to shock, hurt and wound. Todays most common swear words are those that have something to do with the sexual functions and the sexual organs of men and women. I can remember as a child when blasphemies were popular. But ask yourself. Are you a person who tends to use swear words every now and then? I confess. I have on occasion. They occasionally slip out unexpectedly. I would venture that many let out a swear word in a moment of crisis, stress, frustration, or anger. If adult EFL students partake in North American/Western culture, they are going to hear and pick up swear words. Why shouldn't our adult EFL students have a lesson or two on swear words and provided with instruction on their appropriate and inappropriate use in conversation.

After giving the matter some thought, I've decided that I think it's okay if only that swear words are not misused in some innocent way by our students. Now, if only I can convince my employer to let me include swear words on the syllabus.

Copyright (c) 2005 Stefan Chiarantano- All rights reserved

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Pretending that swear words don't exist is ignoring a genuine part of the language.
There may well be cultural issues with teaching such language, but if there aren't any such issues, I don't see why not, and have happily dealt with swearing when students have asked about it, though I haven't done specific lessons on it.

On the site forum, we have had a number of questions raised by students, asking about words they don't understand, or usage. There has never been a problem with it- it hasn't encouraged people to start swearing in posts and has been handled in a mature and responsible way.

We have now added a page containing slang, swearing, etc, to our members' area:

We added a filter so that people can choose to see explicit content of not.

teachars shud be able to wosh a childs mawth out when they swear and be able to cane them.

that's what the foreign students ask for on day one - then they go and get tattoos and pierced and drunk and some even get arrested!

I do not see a problem in teaching swear words to efl students as long as they are mature enough to choose whether they use them or not.

I've been teaching an ESL series on English idioms (specifically Americans ones), and up until this point I stuck to innocent phrases. But during my research I came upon so many idioms with swear words and just watching movies, TV, etc. I hear them everywhere! And so I finally decided that I was doing students a disservice by ignoring them because they are so often used! So just yesterday I published the first of a short series within the series on idioms involving swear words, but I put a big warning at the beginning so that people could click away if they wanted to.

On the site, we moved ours into the Member Area, so that they weren't publicly available and then put a filter on that people had to uncheck to see them. That way, no one can complain that we are shoving them down their throats, nor that we are avoiding them.

Hi all,

I think Stefan (and tdol) made some interesting observations. Pretending profanity or taboo language does not exist is useless (profanity or taboo language exists in every known language).
I would love you all to check out my lecture and notes on this very subject.

You can find the link here:
Please come back here to post any comments – as I enjoy reading the posts on this site.
Have a great day,

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