African American Vernacular English Usage in ESL

African American Vernacular English Usage in ESL

As English as a Second Language (ESL) learners become more comfortable with the language, they often find that they need to expand their vocabulary beyond what they have learned in the classroom. One tool that can help with this is the use of online dictionaries such as Merriam-Webster, Oxford, and Cambridge. However, many of these dictionaries do not provide a phonetic transcription of the word, making it difficult for non-native speakers to pronounce the word correctly. This is where the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) and the AAVE (African American Vernacular English) can come in handy.

AAVE, also known as Ebonics, is a dialect of English spoken primarily by African Americans in the United States. It has its own unique grammatical rules, pronunciation, and vocabulary. Although it is often stigmatized and associated with uneducated or lower-class individuals, it is a legitimate form of English with a rich cultural history.

One of the benefits of using AAVE for ESL learners is that it often provides a more accurate representation of how words are pronounced in American English than traditional dictionaries. For example, the word “ask” is typically pronounced with a long “a” sound in American English, but many ESL learners might pronounce it with a short “a” sound based on their knowledge of phonics. AAVE, however, often represents this sound more accurately as “ax”.

In addition to providing a more accurate representation of American English pronunciation, AAVE can also help ESL learners understand the use of idiomatic expressions in everyday conversation. AAVE is known for its use of idioms such as “gettin’ the hang of it” or “bustin’ a move”. By learning these expressions, ESL learners can better understand the nuances of American English and feel more confident in their ability to communicate with native speakers.

Of course, it is important to note that AAVE should not be used exclusively as a resource for ESL learners. It is only one dialect of English, and it may not be appropriate in all situations. Additionally, some AAVE words and expressions may be considered offensive or inappropriate in certain contexts. ESL learners should use their judgment and seek guidance from their teachers or tutors when using AAVE.

The use of AAVE can be a valuable tool for ESL learners who are looking to expand their vocabulary and improve their pronunciation. By understanding the unique features of AAVE and its cultural significance, ESL learners can become more confident and fluent in their use of American English.


Rickford, J. R. (1997). Suite for Ebony and Phonics. Language, 73(4), 749-776.

Smitherman, G. (2000). Talkin and Testifyin: The Language of Black America. Wayne State University Press.

Wolfram, W. (2007). American English: Dialects and Variation. Wiley-Blackwell.

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