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What is Happening in English and How Much Does it Matter?

What is Happening in English and How Much Does it Matter?

Workshop by Professor Michael Swan

 On April, 12th distinguished scholar of English Language teaching and linguistics Professor Michael Swan held two inspiring workshops at Interntional Burch University. In the first workshop entitled "What is Happening in English and How Much Does it Matter?" Professor Swan mentioned several important facts.



Systems reorganise themselves:

Must is slowly becoming less common; got to / need to are becoming common.

May is developing a new use: That was crazy thing to do - you may have killed yourself!

Earlier this sentence would sound like this: That was crazy thing to do - you might have killed yourself!

Going to has become more and more common over the centuries.


Unimportant distinctions disappear:

First-person shall is on the way out. So is whom.

Who did you vote for? instead of Whom did you vote for?

Like is moving into the territory of as.

Like you said instead of As you said. He looks like he has a problem.

Heading for somwhere is turning into heading to somewhere.


Sounds weaken and disappear: 

I better go home now. 

You wanna come with us?

I dunno.

We got a new dog.


New forms come into the language:

In reported speach instead of said we use like

He was like "What do you mean?"

Guys instead of people

Are you guys ready?


Prestiege varieties influence others

British railway station is becoming train station under American influence.

British plural concord with collective nouns (e.g. The team are playing really badly) is probably becoming less common under American influence.


Mistakes spread through the language:

Season's Greeting's    

Women's' Services

It sunk without trace.

Words change their meanings.

Refute is often used to mean 'deny'.

Prevaricate is often used for 'procrastinate',

Flout is often used to mean 'flaunt'.

In the end, some mistakes become correct. (Most of today's grammar is yesterday's mistake.)

a concerted effort 


This is very reliable data.


Some 'mistakes' aren't: it's just that the rules are not completely true:

Lloyds Bank... has opened a Home Loan Account for you on 19th May.

I'm loving it. - verb to love in progressive form


Some 'mistakes' are prefectly correct in the right place. Spoken grammar is not written grammar:

John and me saw a great film yesterday.

If you'd've asked me I'd've told you.


Language change and variation are natural and inevitable:

Languages don't degenerate. They change, like landscapes.



As language teachers, how do we handle the changes that are going on now in English?



The changes we see are ripples on a vast ocean.



We need to know what's new, whether or not we need to teach it.

We can stay informed with the help of:

  • younger people
  • up-to-date pedagogic resources:

                - good grammars and usage guides

                - good monolingual and bilingual dictionaries



  • We can only teach a small part of a language anyway, so prioritisation is essential: concrete on what matters most. The things that are changing may not all be very important.
  • Native-speaker competence is not a realistic aim. Native-speaker usage is a valuable model, but not a target.
  • Perfectionism can be disastrous. Good enough is good enough.
  • Correctness is important, but we must always ask:

             - How much do we need?

             - How much can we achieve?

             - How much can we afford?

  •  Remember: rules are approximations. The language hasn't read the grammars.
  • We must help learners to understand all of this.