Should you teach French swear words?

should you teach French swear words in class

Your students have probably asked before: can you teach us French swear words? It can be tempting when teaching a foreign language to give students a “crash course” in the many slang words, especially those of a more risqué nature. While this may seem like an entertaining way to engage with language, there are several reasons why it is important for teachers in most situations to avoid teaching students swear words in their target language.

The Risks of Teaching Swear Words

The first and most obvious reason not to teach French swear words is that they are just that—swear words. They should not be used casually or around people who might find them offensive or inappropriate. This means that if you do choose to teach them, you need to make sure your class is prepared for the responsibility of understanding and using these terms in an appropriate context. If this isn’t possible—if your students are too young or too inexperienced—it’s best not to introduce them at all. This would include most students in high school and definitely students in middle school and younger!

Another risk of teaching French swear words is that it could lead to an uncomfortable situation for both the teacher and the student. If a student misuses one of these terms, it could reflect poorly on the teacher as well as potentially offending someone else nearby. As such, it is important for teachers to exercise caution when introducing swear words into their lesson plans. Most school districts are also not thrilled about students learning swear words and it’s almost certainly not part of the curriculum.

What about French swear words in media?

Often, there are situations where it is possible that French swear words will make their way into your classroom. It may be in a song or a YouTube video that you want to share with your students. It might be a scene in a movie. How can you deal with these situations if you’ve told students that you won’t teach them swear words?

I always weigh the benefits of the media against the use of the swear words. If it’s a great song and it has one swear word somewhere in a verse, I’ll probably use it. I won’t go over all of the lyrics in that case – just the first verse and maybe the chorus. Chances are, your students won’t even notice it. If it’s a movie with a few swear words, you can skip that scene. I have found that my students generally are too busy reading the subtitles and they won’t hear the swear word anyway!

Your students will probably learn French swear words anyway – how can you discourage them from using them?

Despite the risks associated with teaching swear words, it is highly likely that they will still be learned by students outside of school or through interactions with native speakers of the target language. After all, slang terms are often part of everyday conversations between native speakers, so chances are good that students may pick up some new vocabulary even without being taught directly by their teachers! Many students play online video games and have the chance to talk to native French speakers and they will definitely pick up swear words in this manner!

So how do we keep students from using their shiny new French swear words in our classrooms? First, having specific rules about language use can help. You can explain that just as your class rules don’t allow for swear words in English, you also don’t allow them to use French swear words either.

While you have some control over whether or not these words are used in your classroom, you don’t have control over what students do outside of your classroom. Because I want my students to use the language properly and not get into trouble because of it, I take a little time to explain why I don’t teach French swear words and why they probably shouldn’t use them.

First, I ask them WHY they want to know these words. Do they want to know when someone is swearing at them? Or is it just so that they can get away with being naughty by using secret words that other people won’t understand? Often, it is the second reason. I gently point out that the whole point of language is communication – and if you are using French swear words to say something nobody else understands, what is the point? You aren’t communicating with anyone!

Second, I explain to them that while some words may have translations into English, they may not really have the same meaning. There are words that are VERY strong in English but not quite so bad in French, but if you don’t really have a good understanding of the language and different registers, you may use a word you really didn’t mean to. If you don’t know with 100% certainty how strong a particular word is, you probably shouldn’t use it to avoid offending those around you.

Third, I tell them that if they do use French swear words with a native speaker, they had better be sure that they are using them correctly AND have enough skill in French to be able to continue the conversation after the swear word. Otherwise, they risk looking very foolish!

If they don’t know how to use the words correctly, the reaction they get is not likely going to be the one they hoped for. My husband is not a native speaker of English, although he is fluent. He knows how to swear, but if he gets very angry or flustered, he sometimes makes mistakes. If you are angry and make a mistake in your swearing, those listening might laugh at you instead of taking you seriously.

And let’s say you do use the swear word correctly. The French person is probably going to respond to you. Will you understand them? Will you know what to say in response to them? Are you just going to repeat the swear word over and over? Again, this will likely get you a response different than the one you were hoping for. After you’ve repeated your one magic word 3 or 4 times, the person is going to give up on having a conversation with you.

On a personal level, I don’t really have a problem with swear words – whether they are French swear words or any other language. But I do think that they are best used sparingly and correctly. Studies have shown that swearing can help alleviate pain or release some of the frustration we may feel. Sometimes a well-placed F-bomb accomplishes something that 1000 other words might not. But for our students, they definitely don’t belong in beginning level courses and I would say that they should be saved for only the most advanced students – the ones who will know when to use them and how to use them properly.

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