Appropriacy in Language Learning

As one of the important aspects of language acquisition and use, appropriateness has many considerations. For instance, should foreign language instructors teach learners how to use an appropriate form of the target language and how to make a distinction between appropriate and inappropriate usage of speech? If they teach, what kind of consequences they should expect?

Slang and swear words are the reality for every language. Knowledge of this kind of speech gives learners an awareness to produce appropriate speech. It made them know “what to say to whom in what circumstances and how to say it” as Hymes (1927) remarked. Besides this, he also underlines the relationship of appropriateness with linguistic and sociocultural competence in the same study. According to Dewale (2008), second language learners need to have awareness of the full range of sociolinguistic and sociopragmatic variants and know to use them by considering different situations. He also adds:

“A comparison between patterns of variation in the L1 and those occurring more or less comparable situations in the TL is most useful. Teachers can develop an awareness of culture-specific norms of appropriate behavior in the TL if no comparable norm exists in their L1.”

Dewale (2008) also suggests that applying consciousness-raising activities in foreign language classrooms as useful and effective methods. Therefore, he points out sociolinguistic and sociopragmatic competence and says that those should be focused from the start of the acquisition process.
Teaching the distinction between appropriateness and inappropriateness also helps to Communitive Language Teaching. In this approach, native language use is very limited and language is considered as primary speech but also other skills are thought from the beginning. The purpose of communicative orientation is communication which also contains learning about the culture of the target language. The importance of teaching appropriateness on this approach is showing itself when it comes to using the target language in its natural environment. Pragmatic background of this approach raises awareness on this issue by using authentic samples of spoken discourse. This awareness also helps to the acquisition of intercultural communication competence in language teaching classrooms.
How necessary is to know rudeness, disrespect, and impoliteness as realities of daily communication in language classrooms? Because as we all know, impoliteness is likely to be experienced by interacting with native language speakers. However, interacting with another user in the target language context is not an option for every learner. On this basis, it is possible to say that the necessity of inappropriate speech in language classrooms can change on English as a Foreign Language (EFL) and English as a Second Language (ESL) settings. Learning the target language as a second language gives an opportunity to discover the natural atmosphere of the language. Second language learner always has easier possibilities to interact with locals. For this reason, it is not essential to be neglected in English as a Second Language (ESL) classroom. Nevertheless, when it comes to English as Foreign Language (EFL) settings, instructors should teach learners reacting appropriately when they confronted with any form of inappropriate usage.

Besides all these, there are some methodological, theoretical and ethical considerations. Different individuals may interpret quite differently when they faced with appropriate or inappropriate usage. Alongside the sociocultural aspects, learners must make allowance for this possibility. Methodologically, appropriateness in language classrooms presents a quandary between researchers. Toya and Kodis (1996 as cited in Dewale, 2008) report that the acquisition of rude language is a sensitive issue because of its possible danger and probability of misunderstanding involved in these kinds of expressions. According to Dewale (2008), it could be argued that knowledge of slang and (some) swearwords constitutes an essential part of sociocultural competence in the target language and should, therefore, be taught, albeit with the necessary words of caution. When it comes to the instructors, all the questions turn to ethical considerations. Dewale (2008) explains this that way:

“…any foreign language teacher is faced with the ethical question whether or not to teach L2 learners words and expressions that are considered inappropriate in polite conversation, and whether or not an L2 learner should be equipped with the linguistic and pragmatic means to be consciously impolite. The final ethical question lies with the L2 user who decides to deviate from the local norm.”

He also adds that from the instructor’s point of view, it is safer to teach grammar rules than expressions with lethal illocutionary effects. However, the point is not to teach this list of expressions, an English as Foreign Language (EFL) learners may go to the natural environment of the target language and broadened their repertoire, but still, be unable to make a distinction between appropriateness and inappropriateness. The judgment of appropriateness depends on the context of interaction. The reasoning of appropriateness is already a quite difficult situation, in case of a foreign language is especially hard for learners. As we mentioned before, sociopragmatic, sociocultural and sociolinguistic competences have a crucial part in the extent of judging appropriateness. As Dewale (2008) pointed out:

“It may seem unfair that there always seem to be more ways to be unconsciously inappropriate in a foreign language rather than consciously appropriate. However, this should not discourage foreign language learners to take the plunge and become confident L2 users.”

In this case, instructors have an important role to raise learner’s self-reliance. They must be aware that being unable to apply target language as much as a native speaker for a while is an ordinary situation. For this reason, they should try to use an appropriate form of target language without hesitation in making mistakes and causing misunderstandings. Another incumbency for instructors on the appropriate speech is to make a differentiation on English as a Foreign Language (EFL) classrooms’ settings and English as a Second Language (ESL) classrooms’ settings. They have to be conscious of teaching appropriate usage has a specific fundamental role in English as a Foreign Language classroom. It is not easy to be involved in the natural atmosphere of the target language and experienced appropriate and inappropriate usage of it for foreign language learners. This usage can be achieved through using social media, films, TV series, advertisements and news as material by instructors.

All aspects considered, mean by appropriateness in language use comprise sociolinguistic skills, intercultural communication competences and pragmatics in foreign language teaching. Besides all the quandaries, teaching appropriate speech has an important mission to make foreign language learner a part of local usage in the target language.


Dewale, J.M. (2008). “Appropriateness” in foreign language acquisition and use: Some theoretical, methodological and ethical considerations. International Review of Applied Linguistics in Language Teaching (IRAL).
Hymes, D. (1972). On communicative competence. In Sociolinguistics. J.B. Pride and J. Holmes (eds.), 269-293. Harmondsworth: Penguin.