Why learn Slang?
As explained in the post concerning accents, I will focus on local slang in some future posts. On this one though, the emphasis will be on why learn slang.
Whether they be Cockney English, Marseillais, or Irish, I love them all! It’s grand to crack a joke with the right slang term but more importantly, it’s also a sign that you have a keen interest in the culture you study.
Words are words but accents, slangy terms or idioms are also about attitudes!
Wherefore learn slang my dear?
I love learning slang terms and the linguistic peculiarities of the places I go to. Back then, I used to hang out with jolly Irish people and that was grand! Here is to you fellas! ^^
As a person coming from South of France, hearing someone with an accent from Provence reminds me of my roots but can also make me laugh quite a bit. Self-derision is definitely a part of such a journey. We have our own slang and if you are interested in our patois, you would probably try not to sound too much like an “estranger”.
Depending on the words you plan to learn, slang might be considered as coarse, colloquial, or even derogatory. It is true that most offensive words should not be used if you are willing to stay on friendly terms with someone. However, learning how to use such a vocable wisely enables you to grasp underlying aspects of a culture as well.
It doesn’t mean you have to be vulgar or anything. Just that you are clever enough to be able to play with the language and use the right term at the right time.
This is finesse.
Cracking a joke is not so much about the plot per se but also about the way you tell it. Honing this skill will result in a certain mastery of language, and of course, adaptation ability.
I don’t ask you to be a barrel of laughs here. What I want to emphasize is that the way a linguist uses slang speaks volume on his ability to speak, behave and adapt. Obviously, you don’t want to solely study slang. As an interpreter, this is particularly important. Etiquette and finesse matter.
What learning slang is really about
The slangy part may be the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. And come to think of it, your knowledge of slang might reveal certain things about you and your personality:
- You got so interested in a culture that you decided to learn some slang, whether it was for fun or to learn how face any embarrassing situation. So it shows dedication and interest. It takes you out of your comfort zone. You decided to learn and acted accordingly. It means you genuinely are open-minded. Congrats, you are starting to soak up the culture and you’re on the right track!
- If you use slang for the first time, odds are you will make mistakes and that is completely normal. Indeed, practice makes perfect. It takes practice to say the right thing at the right time and those who tried their hands at it long enough know that with slang, things can get dicey. It is like a double-edged sword. Things can turn sour and one faux-pas can trigger hostilities. Courage must be involved here somehow. As a result, your good command of slang proves you have been practicing a language for some time already. So, keep strengthening your confidence!
- Once someone feels at ease with the language and can speak formally or be a bit more colloquially if the occasion arises, it means they can adapt. Human relationships are all about adaptation, aren’t they?
- The ability to know when and how to be less formal with people without sounding rude or impolite is deeply connected to the grasping of that tacit and underlying part of a culture. That’s already a great achievement in itself. Once you’ve reached that level, you might cast yourself as more than just well-read… I, for one, always reckoned the point of knowledge is to be used concretely and thus confronted with reality to see what is real or not, what works or not. Knowledge must be applied and be factual. Being well-read doesn’t matter and is of no avail if you cannot interact with people on the things you learnt.
How I got to learn slang
Personally, I got into languages thanks to a few things. Among which:
- Music: Growing up in the 90s, I loved listening to bands like the Offspring, NOFX, Blink182, which went on air in MTV, back in the day. I used to listen to a lot of rap songs (Eminem, Ugly Duckling, Blackalicious, Jurassic5, etc.) and learnt many of their songs, studying the slang they used and so forth, so I could rap and sing as fast as them. It’s good for your diction! As I write this I just happen to remember that line “Artificial Amateurs Aren’t At All Amazing” (xD) from the Alphabet by Blackalicious – if you don’t know that song, you should definitely google it! – and remember another good expression, i.e. to “call the (piped) piper” (used by Eminem but I don’t remember the song). Therefore ,we can learn from anything if we’re curious enough! Wouldn’t that be music to our ears? 😉
- American TV shows: Malcolm in the middle, Married with children, SouthPark and other shows were also a great help, besides laughing my head off.
- My desire to travel: English being one of the most widespread language in the world, this one was a no-brainer.
- My interest in traditional martial arts: This made me approach certain terms and notions in Japanese and Chinese, as well as new ways of seeing the world. Do you know that wearing a green hat/cap in China is a big no-no? Adding different ways of seeing things might broaden your perception – of a colour or yet, any other matter.
All those things made me who I am and I am glad it enabled me to fine-tune my abilities.
In today’s world, we might be snowed under with megadata of information and our main difficulties lie in perceiving what is true from what is not – amid all that chunk – whereas, just 20 years ago – that’s the old me speaking now – dictionaries and real interactions were all we had.
Let’s consider ourselves lucky to be able to reach such an amount of vernacular data and tap into it!
Well, that’s it for my introduction on the benefits of learning slang. Should you think of other ways slang might help you hone your linguistic skills, please feel free to share them with me! I’ll add up your line if necessary.
I will post dedicated slang vocabulary columns in Cockney, Irish, French, and Chinese – among other things – soon enough. So, stay tuned!
Later, gator 😉
Posted on February 3, 2021 by Mat.