Teaching Curse Words

Today’s post was supposed to be Coursebooks – part 2. However, I’m having problems uploading the videos I want to use, so it has been postponed until next week.

Instead, I’m going to tackle a topic that is somewhat related to my first post. Last year I was teaching a language course for teachers (C1/C2) and someone brought up the subject of curse words. There was enough interest in it that I promised to base a lesson on swear words, including some practice.

This is what I came up with. Please don’t read any further if you are easily offended.

To begin with, I think it’s important to make the distinction between a curse word and a (gay/racial) slur. I use an ESPN article as an example of how serious slurs are. Some adolescent students seem to think it’s OK to use slurs, because they are common in rap songs. As I have mentioned before, a big part of teaching English is teaching about the culture that comes along with the language and using slurs is not acceptable.

To introduce the topic of curse words I use a Snippet in which British Comedian Stephen Fry gives his opinion on what words we shouldn’t use. The while-watching questions are:

  • What point does he make about the use of swear words?
  • Would you say he is in favour of people using them?
  • What words shouldn’t we use, according to him? Why?

The first curse words I introduce are the seven dirty words, which are either avoided or bleeped in Broadcast TV. I put the teachers in pairs and asked them to try to guess what the are.

Curse wordsI also like to mention the words ‘ass’ and ‘damn’ at this point. Although you may come across these two on broadcast TV (in a show such as The Big Bang Theory, for example), they could be considered curse words as well.

Because I was working with a group of teachers, I decided to create a Cambridge-like activity using curse words. This type of activity is no longer used in the CAE/CPE exams, but I think they are still good fun in this context. In pairs, the teachers were expected to find one word that would complete all three sentences.

Curse words_2

The answers are ‘shit’ and ‘ass’, respectively. It’s interesting to note that ‘know your shit’ actually has a positive meaning.

We now move on to the most common curse word in English, with a pretty funny video. The while-watching questions are:

  • What feelings can the word fuck can be used to convey?
  • What grammatical categories does it belong to?
  • In what situations can you use it?

One thing worth mentioning here is that this video has some misspelt words.

I have the impression that people generally know a lot of American curse words, because of films and TV series, so I thought it would be a good idea to introduce some British swear words as well. I start the video from the 1:20 mark and use these questions:

  • What British swear words does he use?
  • What do they refer to?
  • How can you use them in a sentence?

To finish things off, I ask the teachers to make a short list of curse words they would like to try to use. Then I put them in pairs and ask them to do a role-play situations where they might curse. Some examples are:

  • You are driving and another car bumps into the back of your car.
  • Your computer is playing up and you lost all of your most important files.

You can also ask them to come up with situations in which they would curse. I’m sure some funny stuff would come up.

Thanks for reading.

5 thoughts on “Teaching Curse Words

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