The downside of years of GRADING language


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One of the first things new ESL teachers learn is that ‘grading’ your language in the classroom is very important. But what is the impact of this on a long-term basis? Some interesting points have emerged.

Firstly, grading language is simply the ‘simplifying’ of everyday speaking to suit the level of the people around you. It doesn’t mean speaking slower or louder, it just means making yourself understood at a language level that students will understand.

The real professionals will be so good at grading their language that as soon as they walk into that Elementary English class, unconsciously they have zeroed down their language to nail all the things in the vocabulary and phrases that the class will get. Slowly through the month the language moves and twists and turns depending on the ability of the class to pick up what they are saying. This isn’t a conscious thing, it’s so ‘auto-pilot’, it’s quite awesome. Then virtually 5 minutes later the teacher walks into their intermediate class and the whole language level is switched up quite a few notices to match that level too and done without even thinking.

I know there are people who can say that we as human beings do something similar all the time, changing depending on who we are talking to, formal, informal, friendly, stern, etc. That’s true, but to actually select the correct words and phrases to use to suit a listening level, really is something else.

However, the question in the post is – what is the long term impact?

Well I can tell you from my own experience that my conversation life before ESL and my conversation  life after ESL really are quite different. Before I got into teaching English I had many discussions that used much larger and more sophisticated words. Certain subtleties of language and particularly pieces of black humour are now almost non-existent. My permanent language level is pretty much stationed in the ‘middle ground’. This could be due to the fact that nowadays I also have a much wider group of friends with wider ranges of language experiences. Most have native level proficiency but not necessarily localized to one particular nationality.

This in term (I believe) has made me a far more ‘international’ English speaker. I feel that under almost any circumstances I can make myself understood, whereas before I really couldn’t understand why some people just didn’t get what I was on about, thinking perhaps it was ‘cultural’ but actually for the most part it wasn’t, it was more language related.

If you are an ESL teacher and have been one for a long time, I’m curious about your feelings about the long term impact of graded language, has it been something you have noticed? Or do you feel no different at all?

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.


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