Is it possible for a language to become outdated? Daniel Tammet (2018) answered this question in Every Word Is A Bird: “Language never stops.” “Language evolves over time to reflect the way understanding and beliefs change” (Lellman, 2021). Some expressions that were common a few years ago might not be so common now. This has made choosing good materials more challenging when it comes to real-world language learning.
So, why is it challenging?
The major concern is that ESL learners might not have the ability to understand whether the language is appropriate or not. Learners have easy access to a variety of language learning materials due to the spread of the Internet. They are able to use their mobile phones, laptops, or tablets to google: “How to say … in English”. When learners search for these answers, how do they know if the language is in current use or if the expression is still appropriate? One student brought up an interesting expression she had found in an article about grocery shopping: the wife. She was confused about the definite article. In context, “the wife” was absolutely correct. However, I had to point out that it might be offensive to refer to a spouse in this way as women’s social status has improved since the article was published. This is a perfect example of outdated language being inappropriate. There are a number of expressions that are considered offensive nowadays; I occasionally hear my students use some of these words in class. As an ESL instructor, I understand what my learners’ intentions are, but what if they said that to someone outside the classroom?
Another challenge is that the speed of material revision hardly matches the speed of language changes. With the acceleration of technological change, everything is evolving so fast. What was once considered popular and was consequently used in a textbook is no longer understood by younger generations. I once taught a speaking and listening class about following instructions. The topic was about how to share pictures on MySpace. They were confused before we even dove into the topic, asking “What is MySpace?” I explained that it was like Facebook. Then, they asked again: “Why don’t we use Facebook to talk about this?” I didn’t have an answer. That was the book and lesson plan I had at that moment.
Similar questions have been asked in my class occasionally about technology, social issues, world problems, etc., and a similar dilemma has appeared repeatedly. It is challenging for ESL instructors to teach real-world language use without up-to-date, real-world language learning materials. But who can keep up with the pace and develop good, up-to-date learning materials? With YouTube, ESL Library and other online learning platforms, ESL instructors are able to come up with solid learning materials. However, the number of hours and effort put into searching for materials is countless, and ESL instructors might still fail to find systematically designed and up-to-date resources.
Language never stops evolving, and because of the Internet, the pace of change has only increased. This is a major challenge for teachers who want to provide their students with relevant and up-to-date materials because finding these resources represents significant time and effort.
Have you had similar experiences with your students?
Tammet, D. (2018). Every word is a bird we teach to sing: Encounters with the mysteries & meanings of language. Hodder.
Lellman, C. (2021, February 11). Describing better: Outdated language: Countway Library. Describing Better: Outdated Language | Countway Library. Retrieved March 5, 2022, from https://countway.harvard.edu/news/describing-better-outdated-language
One thought on “Language Never Stops”
Thanks Bei, You make some very good points and provide a lot of food for thought. Over the past fourteen years, as an ESL teacher, I have experienced the problem of finding meaningful and up-to-date resources. Also, I agree that it’s very time intensive to do so.
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