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How English Learning Has Changed Across Generations

How English learning has changed across generations

English is one of the most commonly spoken languages in the world. Its roots go back to the 5th century AD, and it went through many evolutions over the following millennium, from Old English to Middle English to Early Modern English in the 16th century. For most of that time, English was spoken mainly in England. Then, the rise of the British Empire in the 16th century saw English learning spread around the world as the language of trade and politics, a custom that would stay for generations to come. 

English went through another transformation in the 19th century, changing to Modern English, the language we speak today. However, along with all the technological changes of the 20th and 21st century, there has been a huge expansion in English vocabulary. 

Nowadays, English is the language of global communication, business, science, and diplomacy. It might seem strange that English is only the third most commonly spoken first language across the world, behind Mandarin and Spanish. However, English is the most common language by number of speakers – over 2 billion – when you include people who speak English as a second language. 

People have been learning English in order to communicate for many years – but the learning process has changed a lot in that time. Let’s take a look at the last few generations of English learning. 

How your grandmother learned English 

In the first part of the 20th century, school-based language learning looked the same as it had for decades beforehand. The most popular way to study a foreign language was the grammar-translation method. Students were given the grammar rules of English and a dictionary, and then they sat silently, translating sentences from one language to another. 

The audio-lingual method became more popular in the 1940s. The focus in this method was on speaking, listening, and repetition drills, where students repeated sentences over and over again. It was known as the Army method, because it was used by the US Army to equip their soldiers with basic verbal communication skills before sending them all over the world. 

How your mother learned English 

In the 1960s and 1970s, situational language teaching became more popular. It’s all about teaching English through the context of situations, for example how to order food at a restaurant, or how to buy tickets at a train station. 

The teacher would provide students with the language they needed to understand and participate in these situations. Then, they would practice the language using role plays and other classroom activities. 

This method used a communicative approach. It was definitely an improvement on previous methods, as teachers encouraged students to use language creatively and take risks, rather than focusing on achieving perfect accuracy. You can still find this method used in lots of language schools around the world! 

How you are learning English 

There have been lots of changes to the English learning landscape in recent years compared to previous generations! 

In formal education, lots of schools use the CLIL method to teach English: Content and Language Integrated Learning. This method involves teaching school subjects like science, math, or history through English. The teacher teaches the subject in English, and students engage with the material, working in groups, writing answers, and researching projects, all in English. 

The idea is to develop English language skills while also teaching academic content to learners. This promotes cross-cultural understanding, and critical thinking skills.

People are also more able than ever to study a language by themselves, in their own time. The internet is full of English language material, so autodidacts have all the resources they need to teach themselves English. 

And of course there are language learning apps like ELSA. That use AI to help learners improve their English pronunciation and speaking skills with personalized feedback and practice. The app uses speech recognition technology to analyze your pronunciation and give you targeted feedback on areas where you need to improve. It also offers lessons, exercises, and a library of over 2000 commonly mispronounced words for you to practice! 

How your children will learn English 

It’s hard to predict what the future will bring. Regarding your children’s English language learning, it’s impossible to predict the form their language study will take. But we can be certain of one thing: the use of technology to help us learn languages isn’t going anywhere! 

As VR headset costs decrease and it becomes a standard home technology, companies may increasingly create VR language learning experiences.

Last week, a new frontier in mind-reading technology was published, based on the same AI language models as ChatGPT. Maybe one day there will be a tool that translates our thoughts directly into another language! 
No matter what the future holds for the next generations, technology has changed English learning forever. So, download ELSA now to see how AI can turbocharge your English learning!

Read up on how you can better your English learning skills on our blog.

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