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ESL forum > Techniques and methods in Language Teaching > Discussion Topic: Cursing in the Classroom    

Discussion Topic: Cursing in the Classroom

United States

Discussion Topic: Cursing in the Classroom
Hi All,
I have a topic I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on:
Should curse/vulgar words and phrases be discussed in an adult classroom?
My personal view:
Absolutely! I find that curse words and phrases tend to be the first words people learn in a foreign language (after hello/goodbye and please/thank-you). However, they don�t always learn the right translation or the nuances tied to the terms. So I feel it is worse to let students go on misusing and misunderstanding these words. I also feel it is an opportunity to explore and understand the culture better--to me our choice of curse words are a significant part of what defines us, our culture, and how we are seen from outside.
Now it is your turn...

9 Jun 2023      

maryse pey�

Hi Douglas,
Well, if I can avoid this I do. Of course, as far as I am concerned, I have been asked this by young and teenagers rather than by adults.
I point out the difference between "sheet" and "sh.." for example or that "bitch" is the female dog for the very 1st meaning but I am not sure I enjoy this kind of details.
Personally I have always disagreed to know or learn this kind of vocabulary. I always try not to use it and fortunately I have hardly used it till now.
But I do agree with you about the importance of being aware of knowing the nuances. Particularly with the evolution of the languages.
If I have to explain some of these words I have to understand them of course ! And I confess I have to "progress" in this field.
So if I am not asked to explain I do not introduce that topic unless some obvious misinterpretation can be done.
Verbal violence is violence whatever culture you can think of.
And I think it is very rude in fact to try to speak fluent curse sentences. Unless you want to understand completely the actual people�s intentions.
That is only my humble opinion dear Douglas.
I wish you a cosy weekend.
Hugs. Take care of you.
 Maryse. ;)

9 Jun 2023     


As hot as the subject might be, I agree with Maryse, I don’t introduce the subject unless somebody asks me. I think that explaining the meaning can be important as sometimes if you use curse words as a foreigner, you don’t really feel the strengths of the words, only if you are a native speaker. If somebody curses me in English, I really don’t feel it very much, but in German yes, as that is my mother tongue. But, on the other hand, I don’t see why we should teach violent words, and cursing others increases violence.


9 Jun 2023     

United Kingdom

Sorry Douglas, I am a cissy and a coward. I would answer questions - if from adults - on the topic, but I would be blushing like a Victorian lady in a fit of the vapours. I did notice a few years back, an eminent member on here used the f--- word on the forum and I thought oh no, she does not realise that is not acceptable, so clearly there is a need for it. As for me, once when I was a supply teacher and meeting a class of twelve year olds for the first time, I had to deliver a sex education lesson, with explicit diagrams. It scarred me!:) LOL Many teachers take this kind of thing in their stride and good for them. 

10 Jun 2023     

United Kingdom

I teach mainly adults but have started toning things down a bit on my worksheets just in case I get kids, but, on the whole, I have no problem with curse words. As Douglas said, they are some of the first words learned in languages. Mind you, you still have to be very careful. The other week I was going over some false cognates during an online class. The word "molest" usually means sexually abuse in English but "molestar" is more like "bother" in Spanish. Just as we were getting to this, my student�s 5-year.old daughter came into his room and sat on his lap. I tried suggesting moving to the next example but he didn�t seem to hear me and started reading out all the options for the meaning of the word. I was mortified although my student laughed it off and, thankfully, his daughter didn�t really have any idea what we were talking about.
Another thing is the differences between American and British English. The word "fanny" in American English has a very different meaning to the British word. And if somebody from England announces they are going to smoke a cigarette, it could sound like a hate crime to American ears. 
Now, while I have no problem with swearwords, I do avoid discriminatory language. If people start asking about it, I just tell them that I prefer not to say those words and they are better off looking them up on Google. That said, when people mention the so-called "culture wars" and how language  has evolved politically, as long as I don�t have a class of desk-thumping bigots, I am always up for that. That kind of thing always animates the students and it is very interesting to witness change in languages and the reasons why that change has come about.
Well, that�s my tuppence worth.  

11 Jun 2023     

United States

Great input so far! Thank-you.
I think Spinney brings up a good point about discriminatory language--that is an area I also generally won�t go into out of fear of fueling more hate, etc.  But I could see a situation where a  student came to me and asked what was meant by a term someone had called them. In such a case i would probably, with a lot of empathy, go into the meaning a bit, but focus more on damage control of the student�s own feelings. The other case would be where a student somehow lets out that they think a derogatory term means something other than it actually does--but then I may or may not fully disclose the true meaning and do as Spinney said and tell them to google it.

12 Jun 2023     


I do not work with many adults  and the subject has never really come up but I do find some teenagers and young ones from 8 years and above use these words to "express the emotion" in English. They claim that they use the swear words in their native tongues as well and they feel that grown ups over-react to the use of such words which is quite unfair and even pointless as no ill will is intended in most cases. 
I do not allow the use of such words in my class at all either. I have though devoted sometimes half the lesson in suggesting polite acceptable alternatives to such language. For example , in place of what the ****, say why on earth! and so on. I feel Ignoring this isn`t the solution because we, as very well meaning teachers, can help them understand what they actually might be saying without intending to, and also help them say it more politely.  :) :) :)

15 Jun 2023     

United Kingdom

I think Gurnoor makes a good point about teaching alternative swearwords or phrases as they can be very inventive and also have strange and wonderful origins. Also, teaching adults and teaching children tends to put one in a certain position regarding these kinds of issues. I usually teach adults but, every now and then, I get a couple of kids foisted on me. When that happens, I have to double check any of the material that I have created and plan to use, just in case. I once got a rather angry review of one of my phrasal verb worksheets in ISL Collective because I had written a story about an actress who had won an Oscar for playing a sex worker in a film. That teacher can go whistle for all I care (it clearly states it is a worksheet with adults in mind) but I have since had to change the story in that worksheet as I wanted to use it to get a 12-year-old through her First certificate exam, and that story would not really have been appropriate for her.
Another thing to think about is habits and customs that are fine in one�s own culture but perhaps not so in others. As such, nowadays, I tend to avoid mentioning alcohol use or relaxed sexual attitudes, just in case it drops some poor teacher in it because of the moral and ethical norms of their society. My older worksheets were not so considerate, I am sorry to say.
By the way, some of the words and expressions that are used to replace swearwords, have some very interesting origins. "Blimey" was a way of saying "May God blind me," back in the Middle Ages. It became a lighter, and far more acceptable little curse word all on its own. The adjective "bloody" used to amuse the Americans by just how offensive it was to the British (not anymore). But that used to mean "the blood of Jesus." And some of the modern avoidance words can be both mildly diverting or mildly irritating. I love the Irish "feck" word which, I thought was just invented for TV, until I visited Ireland and heard it in use. Wonderful! And the American "shut the front door!" is equally wonderful. Mind you, for some strange reason, perhaps for the lack of imagination, I find "of my gosh," painfully irritating.
Anyway, I had better pause it there. I would not want to give Lynne an attack of the vapours!

17 Jun 2023     

United Kingdom

He he  and in real life, I curse like a trooper! I did not know about blimey, thank you for that, Spinney. I like Gurnoor�s idea as well. I find oh my gosh really annoying too, it makes the speaker sound very posh and very silly. I have some friends I would not say bloody to, although it seems harmless enough, it still packs a punch. My sister always says for crying out loud! instead of for f�s sake! but it is rarely used nowadays. It is strange how language changes. I think we have lost a lot of slang over the last twenty years or so. I have an ex-pat friend who has lived in Belgium for forty years and she says a few really quaint things and she always uses shall and shan�t, instead of will and won�t, which is really dying out, except shall to make questions. And she never swears! I have to watch my ps and qs with her. There should probably be an apostrophe between ps and qs, but it looks such a mess. I wish they could sort that out. 

21 Jun 2023     


Wow!  That was interesting reading!  Didn�t know about "blimey" either, thanks Spinney.
Most of my teaching was with adults and towards the end of my career, young adults. The younger ones would often try shocking me with swear words but I always tried to play it down eitherwise they would use it to disrupt the class or me!!  Difficult groups, they were!
I have lived in France for 42 years and remember some of the first words I heard or learnt here and they weren�t all from Molière!  It�s true slang and swear words in another language don�t mean much to a foreigner. When I first arrived in France, I remember unintentionally taking a parking place that someone else wanted (she should have been quicker!!) and she swore at me.  Of course I didn�t understand what she said so I just said: "Merci!" and that made her even angrier.
Another thing I�ve noticed over the years is that I�m completely out of touch with new English expressions, etc and still tend to bring out those I used back in 1981 so I suppose I must sound strange to young Brits!  Well, old anyway.  Ooops, I am!

2 Jul 2023     

United States


9 Jul 2023     

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