English is All Around You! How to Bring Everyday English into Your ESL Class

English is All Around You! How to Bring Everyday English into Your ESL Class

Claudia Pesce
by Claudia Pesce 21,968 views |

Those of us who teach English as a Second Language have an advantage over other language teachers: our world has become so globalized that for many years now we have been seeking one language as common ground – and this language is English.

In the fields of international business and technology, English is the language that most people are expected to handle. From technological gadgets to famous name brands, catch phrases to song lyrics, English has permeated every society in the world today to such extent that most of the world’s population will probably come across words or names in English on a daily basis. So let’s use this everyday English to our advantage!

What is an anglicism?

An anglicism, simply put, is an English word borrowed by another language. It is more common in some areas or industries as is the case with business (marketing, cash, holding) and entertainment (reality show, thriller, backstage), for example. Each language has its own particular anglicisms, and the words often change from country to country, even if they speak the same language. This is often the case with Spanish-speaking countries – some may use the English word “bacon”, for example, while others prefer the equivalent in Spanish (panceta or tocino). For the purposes of this article, I can’t provide a complete list of anglicisms, but I can mention some of the most common throughout the world.

Anglicisms or English words students are likely to come across:

  • Computer/modern tech jargon: Most students are familiar with words like “mouse”, “click”, “app” or “tweet”. Most of these words have equivalents in other languages, but people are increasingly using the words in English.
  • Brand names: There are countless brand names that are used to describe the product itself, words like “Scotch tape”, “Word”, “Messenger” or “Walkman”.
  • Names of places, towns, streets, football clubs, etc…: Banks often include the word “bank” in their name (Citibank); shopping centers often include the word “shopping”.
  • Miscellaneous: Music words like “rock n’roll”, “jazz” or “blues”; foods like “hot dog”, “ketchup”, “sandwich” or “cheesecake”; verbs like “play”, “check in” or “check out”.
  • And the lists go on and on…

Be sure to research and use the words in English that are most often used in the country where you teach. Also beware of pseudo-anglicisms. This is when an English word is borrowed but used differently from its original meaning. For example, in some Latin American countries the word “fashion” is used as an adjective to mean “stylish” or “cool”: You are so “fashion”. But fashion is not an adjective in English! It is very important to make this distinction with your students and show them how some words in English have been deformed or their meaning changed.

Suggested Activities:

  1. 1

    Snap a Shot!

    Ask students to go around town and find signs, posters, billboards, etc…with words in English. Ask them to take a photo of the sign with their cell phone or camera. With younger students or those who don’t have phones, ask them to find at least one example and copy it on a piece of paper. They must also make a note of where they saw this: was it an ad or a store window?

    In class, students share their photos or drawings. Students must look closely at the examples and determine:

    • If it is indeed a word in English or a similar equivalent in their native language (classes and “clases” in Spanish).
    • If the word in English is used correctly: Say a store sells “bodies”. Does “body” in this context mean the same thing in English-speaking countries? (In some countries a “body” is a women’s undergarment). What if it’s “body splash”?
    • If it’s an entire phrase in English - does it make sense?

  2. 2

    Identify the Scene

    A great variation to the activity above is for you to present snapshots of signs/posters that have words in English in them. Ask students to guess where the photo was taken. Ask them to describe the context.

  3. 3


    Ask students to brainstorm words in English they may come across on a daily basis. Turn it into a game by giving them a category and seeing which team comes up with more. For example, call out “musical bands”: each team may come up with names like Pet Shop Boys, The Doors or Green Day. The only rule is that the name has to have words in English. If both teams write down the same item, each team gets 5 points, but if there is an item that only one of the teams came up with, then that team gets 20 points.

  4. 4

    Search for It in Print!

    Similar to the first activity, in this case, students must find words in English in newspapers or magazines in their native language. Once they are done searching, students come together and discuss why a particular English word was used and not the equivalent in their native language.

  5. 5

    Who Said That?

    Sometimes entire phrases in English become so popular, they are used all over the world and are easily recognized.These are usually movie quotes or parts of song lyrics. This is English content that often surrounds students on a daily basis, which at some point they learn to recognize. Pick some very popular phrases and ask students to identify who said it or where it is originally from. Here are some good options for movie quotes:

    • “Show me the money!” – Jerry Mcguire
    • “Houston, we have a problem.” – Apollo 13
    • “Toto, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” – The Wizard of Oz
    • “Go ahead, make my day.” – Sudden Impact
    • “May the Force be with you.” – Star Wars
    • “E.T. phone home” – E.T.
    • “I’ll be back.” – Terminator
    • “I see dead people.” – The Sixth Sense
    • “My precious.” – The Lord of the Rings trilogy
    • “I’m the king of the world!” – Titanic

Choose movie quotes that are more appropriate to your students’ ages (young students may not be familiar with Clint Eastwood or The Wizard of OZ).

Students may be amazed at how much English they actually use on a daily basis. Some see it, but are not entirely sure what it means.

There are fun ways to make use of the English they know, but may not be aware that they already know.

Have you ever discussed with your students the use of English words in their native language? Share below!

Enjoyed this article and learned something? Please share it!

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