Should schools ban slang?

A Sheffield school has reportedly barred slang from its classrooms: “We want to make sure that our youngsters are not just leaving school with the necessary A to Cs in GCSEs, but that they also have a whole range of employability skills,” a spokesperson told the media. “Understanding when it is and is not acceptable to use slang or colloquial language is just one part of this.” But should schools instead focus on teaching applicable skills for jobs that will exist – and should companies look at their employment strategy if they reject candidates simply because they say ‘Hiya’?

Sheffield Springs Academy has apparently asked students to use standard English inside its gates, in an effort to help them get jobs in the future.

Quoted in the Daily Mail, Kathy August, deputy chief executive of the United Learning Trust, which runs the school, said that the close relationships the school has with business and commercial partners meant that it knew that they are not only looking at qualifications, but also how candidates conduct themselves in interviews.

“Youngsters going to interviews for their first job need to make a good impression so that employers have confidence in them,” said Ms August.

“It’s not difficult to get youngsters out of the habit of using slang.”

How will the move be policed?

But local MP and former English teacher Angela Smith questioned the move: “The school is wrong to ban slang. How will the school police this?”

She also questioned the difference between slang and dialect, and asked who would adjudicate.

‘Local dialects more trustworthy’

Quoted in the Sheffield Telegraph, Chris Montgomery, English language lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University, said: “Language is a key part of regional identity and research shows that people with local dialects are seen as more authentic and more trustworthy.”

One contributor to The Guardian’s comments section asked whether it would be more use to teach students skills for jobs which are actually going to exist, such as programming. ‘FinneyontheWing’ suggested companies that discriminate against competent candidates for saying ‘hiya’ rather than ‘good morning’ should “look at their recruitment strategy”.

Ta for the tea

“Equally, if you’re turned down because you said ‘ta’ when they handed you a cup of tea at the interview, I’d suggest having a rethink of whether or not you want to work for such an organisation,” he suggested.

What’s your view? Should ‘street speak’ be left at the school gates? And who decides when ‘slang’ becomes ‘local dialect’?


18 thoughts on “Should schools ban slang?

  1. I teach Mathematics at a school in Turkey. My turkish colleagues in my department have noticed that they understand me perfectly when I address them, but find it much more difficult to follow a conversation that I have with another native speaker.
    I believe the term is register (not being an English teacher you understand), and it changes for everyone depending on with whom you are conversing. The “rich lexicon” of twitter (how can anyone use the word “rich” here is beyond me) has become the default setting for many – and it is this that the school is trying to stifle. Replace “banning slang” with “neutral register” and it all makes sense – but may sell fewer newspapers…..

  2. Absolutely right in principle! Communication skills and professionalism are key to employers. It’s not going to destroy dialect and local accents, children need to know how to communicate to others in a work environment!

  3. I think slang works like a vicious that will be very difficult to separate as long as the young people enter in the work. In my days we could easily separate that kind of language, because even at home we had to be cautious with the words we applied. nowadays is different and if we talking about high level jobs slang could, and surely is a disadvantage.

  4. To ban slang from schools that’s another issue . Slang is a problem that couldn’t be easily eradicated from schools, since outside them the young people surly use it, so the question begins within primary schools correct at all time language errors because later is more difficult to do so. Is very difficult to try to correct slang and writing errors in community schools when the pupils reach the ages of 12 specially in some areas (with low culture level and high unemployment).In my point of view as long as pupils have huge rights they lack responsibilities.Is easy to see the differences between pupils in Poland, Portugal or UK.
    In poland the respect tend to drive high levels of learning and not the use of slang, in Portugal the levels of learning are lower than Poland yet the slang although use in community schools is far lesser than in UK. So i believe that to try to control slang means to revolution all the education system as it is in UK.

  5. We need to define slang. If we are suggesting that students do not use the language of new media then this is obvoiusly foolish as this is now world wide and embedded within all employment opps. The issue of dialect is a separate issue and is an intrinsic part of cultural identity, we then need to ask, is slang merely a code some do not understand? In order to provide our young people with the codes needed to engage within contemporary society then it should be proposed that educators should do more to engage with the same.

  6. I’d suggest having a rethink of whether or not you want to work for such an organisation,”

    You know…. it’s nice to hear that at least someone thinks that school leavers (or indeed most people) still have some sort of a choice about what sort of employment they may be lucky enough to be offered!

  7. None of the example slang terms in the article are ones that won’t be understood by the interviewer, so I don’t think it would have much of a problem on gaining the job or not. If using other slang terms, the more obscure ones like “peng” etc, then the barrier between interviewer and the interviewee will be much higher and difficulties would arise, so yes, slang needs to be kept control over. But, as a year 11 student – one of the people in question over their ability to be good mannered, I don’t think it is necessary to ban slang in schools as it is better to teach them the manners and the times when it could be acceptable to say such words, this allows them to have the good manners and be successful in the work area and allows them to have their own individuality as these words are sociolects, they make themselves as part of a group which is what they want to be.

  8. Asking children not to speak slang may not be very practical; their peers use it, their parents, family etc. What would be more useful is to teach them that we need to use different language/behaviour for different situations. ie. you need to behave differently, use formal language when attending an interview than if you were talking to your peers.

  9. Have I missed something here? Don’t we teach students to be able to choose between formal and informal English (written and spoken) according to the situation? Removing slang entirely from a school presumably belongs to the kind of thinking which also assumes that Received Pronunciation is ‘best’ and that regional accents should be eradicated if you are to speak ‘proper’ English.

    School has its formal and informal situations, therefore teaching the skills of how to judge appropriate use (time and place) seems more useful. What next – the Language Police?

  10. English is a living language, just like a tree. It changes every day. You may prune it, but you can not obey not to grow this or that way. If a sleng phrase or word doesn’t hurt others, i don’t think we should police it. Time will do.

  11. I feel somewhat discouraged and disheartened by the negative and unthinking comments on this issue.

    The matter in hand is not about dialect or accent. Rather it is about poor use of language.

    I for one have encountered this in workplace settings via customer service centre staff, some of whom can barely string a sentence together without an over reliance on street and/or social media language. This has been both deeply off-putting and invariably caused me to have to seek an explanation or clarification of what they had said or intended to say. The net effect of this is that I have on occasion elected not to use that company and in some cases been moved to write in and invite attention to the impact this had. I suspect that the incidence of complaints is what has led to the explosion of call centre staff working from a script from which they are not allowed to deviate.

    Far more tellingly it has recently come to prominence that initiatives in London and other major cities relating to understanding and influencing gang culture has led to some surprising insights. In particular former gang members who have been to prison and spent time (re)educating themselves, have chosen to work with gangs and those likely to be influenced by/lured into gang culture. They have the necessary ‘street cred’ and hence have more chance of being listened to. A key part of the message they give is that poor standards of written and spoken English directly affect your chances of employment. Yes, there are small local firms that will give people opportunities but that is because their operating profile is just that, small and local but once you step up to the medium to large regional/national employers their expectations change. Thus, if your spelling and grammar are poor you are unlikely to make interview and if your language skills are so poor that people find you difficult to comprehend; due to slang and social media speak then with a very few exceptions you are highly unlikely to get the job. The prove of the pudding has been that those teens who listened and made the decision to improve their literacy and language skills and then make a conscious decision/choice to differentiate between formal and informal settings, have found that their employment prospects have improved and the risk of drifting into disillusionment and gang activities markedly reduced.

    It is also about expectations. Young people set their own aspirations and if that is relatively low profile in a small local company then the issue of language diminishes accordingly but if they aspire to better employment opportunities with career pathways then language becomes an important factor.

    So to cut a long story short, there is nothing here about accent or dialect but poor language skills hold you back.

  12. I have recently seen a touring play called MOGADISHU which makes excellent use of very rich language. I wonder how it will be received in Sheffield!

  13. There s a time and a place for slangs and as long as they are not rude then I wouldnt see them banned in school. I d like to know how this ban could be enforced?! Teaching them that a better use of English will further their carrers/opportunities , how to conduct an interview and apply good manners in most situations are the things school should concentrate on. I would rather see a ban on flirting from year 3 !

  14. I’ve taken this test before and esrocd less Dixie than you (and I’m an Arkansas boy at heart), but I agree that y’all is a Southern term. My friend Kelly, who is from Chicago but went to college with me in the South, picked up y’all there and continues to use it, to the derision of her Midwestern friends. It’s just so useful and more graceful than the Chicagoan you guys or youse guys. In fact, y’all is usually my one giveaway to folks who otherwise don’t hear my Southern accent.

  15. I’m just 15, and I despise whenever somebody uses slang, because it is showing that we, as a growing nation, are letting people make our country look as stupid as a man telling a woman to cook; clean after him; and do whatever he says. We Americans are not that stupid. Please stop the usage of slang, and you will see slight improvement in our education, because that is the most important aspect of our lives.

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