Is language going to the dogs?

English Dictionaries

Two articles I’ve read recently prompted me to dig out this old lesson plan from oblivion and share it on the blog. They were:

  1. What are the correct rules of English grammar? by Michael Rundell, which you can read here
  2. What’s the future of English? by Keira Ives-Keeler, which is available here

I am quite tempted to comment on both of the above posts, but I will leave the discussion on correct grammar rules, what they are and whether they exist for a different time and place (6 months later I finally got around to writing about this and you can read my article here).

I have used this lesson plan mainly with advanced students, but also once with a 1-1 intermediate student. It takes about 60 minutes.

The listening material can be found here.

Main Aims:

By the end of the class the students will be better able to:

  • identify the main topic of an academic lecture
  • use content schema to facilitate comprehension
  • listen for details and take notes
  • react to an academic text in a personal way


Before you listen discuss these questions in threes/pairs. Think both about English as well as your first language:

tough day for mr. newman :-<

  • Do you think that language is really going to the dogs (i.e. becoming less ‘correct’)? Why?
  • Do you think in the past people used to speak more correctly?
  • Have we become too careless about the way we speak and write? Can you give any examples?
  • Who are prescriptive (to prescribe) and who are descriptive (to describe) linguists and how do they differ? How might their opinions about language correctness differ?

Listening for gist

Task 1. (4:10 – 6:40)

Listen to the extract from a lecture by Professor John McWorther entitled Is language going to the dogs? What’s his opinion about strict grammar rules? Do you agree with him?

Zine Study XIV: [language]

Listening for details

(IDEA: before listening assign one or two sentences per student, after listening put the students in groups to share answers)

Look at these examples from everyday colloquial English. The underlined parts indicate possible grammar mistakes. Listen and make short notes on sentences 1-4:

  • who thinks these sentences are incorrect and why?
  • What does John McWorther think?
  1. That’s a store I would not go to.
  2. It is considered incorrect and uneducated to continuously split infinitives.
  3. If a student comes before I get there they can slip their test under my office door.
  4. The new rules are impacting the efficiency of the procedure.

Reaction to the text: speaking

    • Have you ever made the above “mistakes”?
    • Do you think the sentences should be considered incorrect? Why (not)?


(IDEA: be prepared to find the parts students would like to listen to; get the whole class to decide on maximum 2 specific parts – otherwise some students will “switch off”)

Are there any parts you’d like to listen to again? Be specific about what information you’d like to hear and what was problematic (e.g. connected speech, vocabulary). Decide in pairs.


Look at the examples below and decide what might be wrong with the underlined words.

  1. This is the man who I saw.
  2. I haven’t done nothing.
  3. The amount of people that go to cinema every day has decreased in recent years.
  4. This line is for people with 10 items or less (an actual sign in Tesco supermarkets).

What do you think prof. Mc Worther would say? Do you think the sentences are really incorrect?


  • Do you still think language is going to the dogs?
  • Do universal, unalterable rules exist? If not, should such rules be imposed?
  • Who is to decide what is correct and what is not?
  • Should we care at all about the way we speak or write? Why?


6 thoughts on “Is language going to the dogs?

  1. this site is very efactive n informativ
    i like it very much
    but i think ppl learn english because its internationl languge but alslo most of ppl inculed me do so many mistak in spell so please notice it too with languge


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