Monday, 9 February 2015

What we talk about when we talk about Authenticity

While listening to the TEFLology Podcast I happened to hear a discussion on authenticity with guest Richard Pinner. I don't know Richard but I liked what he had to say. I asked him if he'd consider doing a guest post and he agreed! The result is the rather excellent post below. :) 


At the end of 2014, I was lucky enough to be invited on tothe TEFLology Podcast to discuss authenticity. The reason I was asked is that I am doing a PhD in which I am (attempting) to look at the connection between authenticity and motivation. I am also currently working on a book about authenticity which will be available next year (all being well).  

Authenticity in language teaching is a thorny issue, and especially in English language teaching because of the nature of English’s use worldwide as an international language, with many diverse varieties. What do you understand by the term authenticity? For most language teachers, the word authentic is part of our daily vocabulary. It is stamped onto the backs of textbooks, it is mentioned when describing a particularly motivating task, and it is often used alongside other words like motivation and interest. So, just what do we talk about when we talk about authenticity?

Shadow-boxing with the definition

In his now famous article, Michael Breen (1985) identified that language teachers are ‘continually concerned with four types of authenticity’, which he summarise as:

  • 1.       Authenticity of the texts which we may use as input data for our learners.
  • 2.       Authenticity of the learners' own interpretations of such texts.
  • 3.       Authenticity of tasks conducive to language learning.

  • 4.       Authenticity of the actual social situation of the language classroom.

Following Breen, I created a visualisation of the domains of authenticity, mainly just because I like diagrams. 

Figure 1: The domains of authenticity

 This is basically what Breen was talking about, and as one can see there is a lot of overlap and yet authenticity can relate to four very different aspects of the work we do in the language classroom. What is fundamentally important here, is that a teacher could bring in an example of a so-called ‘authentic’ text and use it in a way which is not authentic. For example, a teacher could bring an English language newspaper to class and tell her students read the text and underline every instance of the present perfect aspect or passive tense, then get them to copy each sentence out into their notebooks. Is this authentic? Although for many people the newspaper is a classic example of an authentic text, what is happening in this class is anything but authentic language learning.

Authentic materials are often defined as something not specifically designed for language learning, or “language where no concessions are made to foreign speakers” (Harmer, 2008, p. 273). In the Longman Dictionary of Applied Linguistics, the definition of authenticity is covered in a short entry, and boils down to materials “not originally developed for pedagogical purposes” (Richards & Schmidt, 2013, p. 43). Are there any problems with this definition? When I speak with other teachers, this is generally the definition they come up with, unless we are in the midst of a particularly philosophical discussion, which, don’t worry, I will come to shortly. 

Henry Widdowson is one of the biggest names associated with the authenticity debate, and I had the honour of meeting him in Tokyo last year in November 2014. Widdowson made the famous distinction between materials which are authentic and materials which are genuine (1978). Basically, genuineness relates to an absolute property of the text, in other words realia or some product of the target language community like a train timetable or the aforementioned ‘classic’ newspaper. Authenticity, however, is relative to the way the learners engage with the material and their relationship to it. Hung and Victor Chen (2007, p. 149) have also discussed this, problematizing the act of taking something out of one context and bringing it into another (the classroom) expecting its function and authenticity to remain the same. They call this extrapolation techniques, which they criticise heavily for missing the wood for the trees. In other words, simply taking a newspaper out of an English speaking context quite often means you leave the real reason for interacting with it behind, which seriously impairs its authenticity. Another very big problem with this definition is that it seems to advocate the dreaded ‘native speaker’ idea, which as we all know is an emotive argument that has been discussed widely in recent years, particularly with the rise of English as a Lingua Franca and Global English.  When Widdowson made his arguments it was during the rise of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT), and as part of this methodology there was an explosion in the debate around authenticity. In particular, people writing about authenticity wanted to distance the concept from the evil ‘native speaker’ definition. But what about learning aims? What about the student’s needs? How was the debate made relevant to the actual practice of teaching? 

In his famous and fascinating paper, Suresh Canagarajah (1993) discusses the way students in Sri Lanka were not only ambiguous towards, but at times detached from the content of their prescribed textbooks, based on American Kernel Lessons. The students had trouble connecting the reality presented in the textbooks with their own reality, which was markedly different to say the least. Canagarajah notes that some students’ textbooks contained vulgar doodles, which he thought could perhaps have been “aimed at insulting the English instructors, or the publishers of the textbook, or the U.S. characters represented” (1993, p. 614). This connects strongly with What  Leo van Lier (1996) calls authentication; the idea that learners have to make the materials authentic by engaging with it in some way on an individual level. Van Lier’s reasoning is that something can’t be authentic for everyone at the same time, but the important thing is to try and get that balance. 

As I think this article has already shown, the concept of authenticity is not easy to define. Alex Gilmore, in his State-of-the-Art paper identified as many as eight inter-related definitions, which were:                            
                                I.            the language produced by native speakers for native speakers in a particular language community
                              II.            the language produced by a real speaker/writer for a real audience, conveying a real message (as in, not contrived but having a genuine purpose, following Morrow, 1977)
                            III.            the qualities bestowed on a text by the receiver, in that it is not seen as something already in a text itself, but is how the reader/listener perceives it)
                            IV.            the interaction between students and teachers and is a “personal process of engagement” (van Lier, 1996, p. 128)
                              V.            the types of task chosen
                            VI.            the social situation of the classroom
                          VII.            authenticity as it relates to assessment and the Target Language Use Domain (Bachman & Palmer, 1996)

                        VIII.            culture, and the ability to behave or think like a target language group in order to be validated by them

  Adapted from Gilmore (2007, p. 98)

In order to simplify these definitions I have developed a diagram to show how they overlap and contradict each other. I will use this diagram later as the basis for a continuum of authenticity in language learning.  

Figure 2: Summary of Gilmore's Eight inter-related definitions of authenticity

Another way of thinking about authenticity is from a wider perspective, something that encompasses not only the materials being used and the tasks set to engage with them, but also the people in the classroom and the social context of the target language. To better illustrate this, I proposed that authenticity be seen as something like a continuum, with both social and contextual axes (Pinner, 2014b)

The vertical axis represents relevance to the user of the language or the individual, which in most cases will be the learner although it could also be the teacher when selecting materials. The horizontal lines represent the context in which the language is used. Using this continuum, materials, tasks and language in use can be evaluated according to relevance and context without the danger of relying on a pre-defined notion of culture or falling back into “extrapolation approaches”.

As you can see, although the word Authenticity is used all the time in staff rooms and to sell textbooks, if we actually drill down into it we get into very boggy ground.

Dogme ELT and Authenticity (and motivation)

Most readers will probably be familiar with the idea of Dogme ELT, which basically tries to get away from “the prevailing culture of mass-produced, shrink-wrapped lessons, delivered in an anodyne in-flight magazine style” (Meddings & Thornbury, 2003). This movement in ELT has strong connotations for authentic language teaching and also provides a very real connection between authenticity and motivation.

In essence, the Dogme approach places a premium on conversational interaction among teacher and learners where communication is authentic and learner-driven rather than pedagogically contrived and controlled by the teacher. Choice of learning content and materials is thus shaped by students’ own preferred interests and agendas, and language development emerges through the scaffolded dialogic interactions among learners and the teacher. Relevant to our concerns here is the value Dogme places on students’ own voices and identities in these conversational interactions. (Ushioda 2011, p. 205)

In essence, Ushioda is noting that Dogme is both authentic and potentially motivating because it places the emphasis on the learners as people. 

If we take a moment to see where we are with the issue of authenticity, we will realise that the definition of authenticity, although a tangle of concepts and resistant to a single definition, what it seems to be pushing at is essentially something very practical. If something is going to be authentic, it needs to be relevant to the learners and it needs to be able to help them speak in real (as in not contrived) situations. In other words, when they step out of the classroom, what they did in the classroom should have prepared them to speak and understand the target language. In order to achieve this, what they do in the classroom has to be as authentic as possible, and by implication it needs to be engaging. Essentially, authentic materials should be motivating materials.

Why should we care about any of this though, can’t we just get on with it?

I would like to bring this long discussion back to the practical realm by sharing an example from my own teaching. One very successful example of an authentic task comes from a class I taught in a Japanese University in 2011. The class was entitled Discussions on Contemporary Topics which meant I could teach more or less anything. The students expected “just another course about news and current affairs” but what we ended up doing was trying to make the world a slightly better place. The final assessment was a group video project and this is what one group produced for their final piece.

It is obvious from watching this video that what the students did here was highly authentic, in that it was personal and achieved something real. This was all their own idea as well, I just told them to make a video and offered suggestions here and there. 

Authenticity is a good thing. It sounds like a good thing and by association, anything labelled as inauthentic must be bad. However, I think that the word authenticity is complicit with many of the problems in English language teaching. Authenticity is still too often defined in a way which, either directly or indirectly, infers the privilege of the native speaker (Pinner, 2014a, 2014b). However, if we can get away from that, authenticity can be a powerful concept to empower both learners and teachers, because authenticity connects the individual learner to the content used for learning. 

So, in summary ‘keep it real’.


Bachman, L. F., & Palmer, A. S. (1996). Language testing in practice: Designing and developing useful language tests (Vol. 1): oxford university press.
Breen, M. P. (1985). Authenticity in the Language Classroom. Applied Linguistics, 6(1), 60-70.
Canagarajah, A. S. (1993). Critical Ethnography of a Sri Lankan Classroom: Ambiguities in Student Opposition to Reproduction Through ESOL. TESOL quarterly, 27(4), 601-626. doi: 10.2307/3587398
Gilmore, A. (2007). Authentic materials and authenticity in foreign language learning. Language Teaching, 40(02), 97-118. doi: 10.1017/S0261444807004144
Harmer, J. (2008). The practice of English language teaching (Fourth Edition ed.). London: Pearson/Longman.
Hung, D., & Victor Chen, D.-T. (2007). Context–process authenticity in learning: implications for identity enculturation and boundary crossing. Educational Technology Research and Development, 55(2), 147-167. doi: 10.1007/s11423-006-9008-3
Meddings, L., & Thornbury, S. (2003, Thursday 17 April 2003). Dogme still able to divide ELT.   Retrieved 4th February, 2015, from
Pinner, R. S. (2014a). The Authenticity Continuum: Empowering international voices. English Language Teacher Education and Development, 16(1), 9 - 17.
Pinner, R. S. (2014b). The authenticity continuum: Towards a definition incorporating international voices. English Today, 30(04), 22-27. doi: 10.1017/S0266078414000364
Richards, J. C., & Schmidt, R. W. (2013). Longman dictionary of language teaching and applied linguistics. Harlow: Routledge.
Ushioda, E. (2011). Language learning motivation, self and identity: current theoretical perspectives. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 24(3), 199-210. doi: 10.1080/09588221.2010.538701
van Lier, L. (1996). Interaction in the language curriculum: Awareness, autonomy and authenticity. London: Longman.
Widdowson, H. G. (1978). Teaching language as communication. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Review of ELT podcasts

2014 was a great year for EFL podcasts with several sprouting up like veritable fungi. I'm a huge fan of podcasts and think they can be a great way of learning while doing other stuff. So what TEFL podcasts are there and more importantly are they any good? 

1. TEFLology 
TEFLology is 45 mins, fortnightly podcast. The three guys who host it are, I think, lecturers in Japanese universities, which perhaps gives the podcast more of a slant towards applied linguistics, over TEFL topics. The very early episodes were quite unpolished, and there are still moment where the conversation just seems to fade out into  'yeah...mmm....right' kind of moments but they seem to be getting better at editing these out. The Podcasts is usually divided into a 'TEFL pioneers' section, TEFL news and a more general discussion of some ELT topic like DuoLingo, linguistic imperialism or TPR. Overall The podcast is well-researched and well worth a listen. In fact the level of research they seem to put into the episodes does make me fear they will burn themselves out. The podcast has recently had an impressive list of guests such as Nina spada, Widdowson and even an 'explicit' interview with Rod Ellis. It's also worth listening to for the 'home-made' jingle at the start. 

This podcast is almost the complete opposite to TEFLology. It's ESL focused rather than EFL and is hosted by two Americans,  Jean Dempsey and Stephanie Axe who I think are adjunct professors (?) at a US university. They have had a number of interesting episodes on things like 'What's the last P in parsnip' and  recap of goings on at the TESOL conference. I find this podcast interesting because I feel I get very little exposure to US TEFL culture and ideas. Obviously ELT is big over there too and I know their system is somewhat different to the UK, but I'm not entirely sure how. That said, in a number of episodes they have talked at length about catering for student learning styles and then were quite positive about prescriptive grammar, -my two pet hates.  Consequently I wrote a rather negative review of them. Since that there hasn't been another episode. I hope the two events are not related. They have reassured me they will be back in the New Year, so here's hoping. 

I thought kKCL was a pretty good podcast, with fairly high production values and a nice style. Their fifth episode was on the topic of learning styles. Guest Marjorie Rosenberg, discussed her new book with host Phil Keegan. I thought this particular episode was a good illustration of the problems with learning styles and so I wrote about it here. Unfortunately the podcast seems to have stopped after this. I hope the two events were not related. The curse of EBEFL? I hope not. Will 2015 see a reappearance of KKCL? Only time will tell.  

This podcast is the brand spanking new kid on the block. With only 3 episodes so far it may not seem worth reviewing but host Andrew Bailey has already managed to bag interviews with Scott thornbury and Ahmar Mahboob.And if that weren't enough he also got a guest anecdote from none other than the Master of TESOL himself, Mike Griffin.I f you've heard the 'freakanomics' podcast, you may feel this has a similar vibe.  This podcast is new so it's hard to say how it'll turn out but it's compact and slick and I've got this on my 'one to watch' list. It certainly has a lot of potential. 

Last but not least is ELTchat, the companion to the twitter #ELTchat. I have to include this because James Taylor would kill me if I left it out. This is a great podcast which includes well known, tweeters and bloggers like Vicky Loras, Tony Gurr and Marisa Constantinides. However so far it has only had about 12 episodes over four years and has only had one episodes in the last year (2014) which makes me wonder if perhaps it isn't in need of a bit of love and attention? James? 

Hopes for 2015
I hope some of the podcasts mentioned here are produced a bit more regularly. It'd also be great to see a podcast offering actual advice for teachers about jobs, something like "guide to teaching in..." and each week the country would be different. It'd also be nice if podcasts included more NNS as hosts and if we saw more women hosts as well.

Did I get anything wrong here? Anything I need to add? Did I miss out any podcasts you think are great? Let me know in the comments. 

Monday, 29 December 2014

So long 2014

This has been an interesting year. That, perhaps is an understatement. 

So here's my annual review of the year. 

This year 

There has been quite a bit of woo this year but a few victories as wellThe blog hit 100,000 views this year which just blows me away. Thanks to everyone who has read this stuff and put up with the typos. 

The number one spot is still the DELTA or MA post followed surprisingly by a book review about bad language. Number three is skimming and scanning and four is guessing from context. New entry at 5 is Philips Kerr's left brains and right brains in ELT

One thing I found quite interesting is that a video I made in April about how to pronounce pecha kucha has more views than even my third most viewed post. Maybe videos are the way to go? 

This is the year where blogging, talks, work and life in general caught up with me and I realised I just don't have enough time to do all the things I want to do. I've felt seriously squeezed and something has to give.  Last year I said I was going to try to write less and I managed to get from 33 down to 26 posts. I'm hoping next year this will be around 12 or so. 

In February I spoke at BALEAP, then IATEFL in April. The IATEFL talk led to six more offers of talks, an interview and other bits and bobs. Much to my amazement Philip Kerr and Mike Swan kindly allowed me to reproduce their work here. I can only hope next year is as interesting as this year has been. 

Next year 

Last year I made a resolution to start a 'try this it works' series but actually only managed to get one post out (well one and a half).Next year I'll try to post a few more of these. 

This year I wrote " I'd like to ask anyone who is an expert/knowledgeable in a particular field, be it motivation or vocab to get in touch. As I said earlier, it's impossible for anyone to know everything and with that in mind I'd really like to start having some guest bloggers, particularly those who can offer teachers practical advice based on research" And I can report that thus far a grand total of 'no one' has taken me up on this offer. If you can help, or know someone who might be able to, please get in touch (Glare)  

Also next year i hope to try to fulfill, a least one of Mike's Xmas wishes

I've spent a good deal of my Xmas reading about Chomsky, and so expect a series on him next year. Doesn't that sound thrilling?  

Ideally in 2015 will be more videos. Watch this space.  

I also currently have 50, count them 50, draft posts. I'm hoping some of these make it to publication, such as 'how to write better tests', 'is creativity teachable?' and 'the Nirvana fallacy'. 

Also in 2015 I will be speaking at IATEFL. This will be my 'difficult second album'. I'm presenting with the wonderful Nicola Prentis and I'm very excited about this because if the talk isn't very successful I can blame her. (pretty clever, huh?) 

Hope you all have a fantastic 2015. Thanks for reading. 

Monday, 15 December 2014

A note on meaning

The post on practice took a long time to write for two reasons. Firstly I couldn't work out whether or not the literature on SLA was saying grammar could be improved through practice or not. To be honest, (despite Geoff's best efforts) I'm still not entirely sure (hence the dodge in that particular post). 

The second reason was the concept of 'meaning'.  Most of the experts I read insisted that practice should be 'meaningful' and that mechanical practice was to be avoided. Only Swan and DeKeyser seemed to hint that this might not entirely be true. Swan noted that:
Students of the Violin typically mater double-stopping or positional playing by working in the context of a progressive syllabus, often in ways that are far removed from 'natural' performance. Trainee airline pilots and surgeons similarly follow progressive courses of instruction involving relatively 'artificial' activities. (one would perhaps not wish to travel on a plane whose pilot had been left to acquire the skills landing naturalistically...) (2012:97)

And Dekeyser, after noting how practice is somewhat shunned in ELT, writes:
Practice is by no means a dirty word in other domains of human endeavour, however. Parents dutifully take their kids to soccer practice, and professional athletes dutifully show up for team practice, sometimes even with recent injuries. Parents make their kids practise their piano skills at home, and the world’s most famous performers of classical music often practise for many hours a day, even if it makes their fingers hurt. If even idolized, spoiled, and highly paid celebrities are willing to put up with practice, why not language learners, teachers, or researchers (2008:1)
Despite these comments, I decided to bite the bullet and go with the majority view, after all, practice that is 'meaningful' certainly couldn't hurt.

The weekend after post was published I saw Jim Scrivener talking about Demand High. He argued that practice needn't be meaningful and could be entirely mechanical, and still effective. He didn't cite any sources to back this up but it did give me the uneasy feeling of cognitive dissonance. You see my own language learning experience makes me think practice can be entirely mechanical and yet effective. The second thing niggling away in my head was the question of what 'meaningful' means. 

On the face of it it seems pretty straightforward. A meaningful activity is presumably one that has some actual relevance for the student. So practising writing resumes in English would be meaningful for someone studying business English, whereas just writing out sentences about cats sitting on mats would not. But does this only work with activities students 'may' need in the future? What if they never write a CV? Do they only need to believe that the activity might be useful for them at some unspecified point in the future? 

But dig a little deeper and this becomes less clear. 'Meaningful' is not a well- defined term. If a student is keen to improve their spelling, for instance, and you have them write out certain words x times is this meaningful practice? This is the very definition of mechanical practice yet the student actually has problems with these specific words. A student who can't pronounce the /v/ sound may benefit from practising minimal pairs such as 'bat/vat, bent/vent' but should we put these words into a sentence or only choose words which are relevant for that particular students? It's not clear. At least not to me. 

According to a speech therapist friend of mine, the above exercise is actually fairly common procedure for kids with pronunciation issues. Another point is that  the information in that post came from not only TEFL sources but those in general education too, the word 'meaningful' only appeared in TEFL literature. So could it be that mechanical practice can work for athletes and musicians, but not for language learners? Is this a likely scenario? 

I talked to a prominent EAP academic about this and her reply surprised me a little. I expected her to list all the research data that supported the idea of 'meaningful' practice but instead she told me she thought it was 'basically just a metaphor', - something to signal a marked contrast between audio-lingual ideas of stimulus response and newer more fashionable notions of best practice. If true, this is a great example of ideology trumping evidence - something that I think is quite common in education in general. 

So what do you think? Does practice need to be meaningful? Does that word even mean anything? 

Saturday, 6 December 2014

The importance of experience

I often talk about evidence on this blog (the name is a giveaway) but experience also has an important role. My various experiences as a language learner shape everything I do. Like most everyone, I generally get my opinions initially from my emotions, not from anything empirical. 

For example, I studied GCSE French in school because I used to love French in secondary school. I thought I was pretty good at it. Clearly my teachers disagreed. A few weeks into the course I found out I was in the bottom class and dropped out. I figured I'd never be any good at languages so I did music instead.

To this day, while the rational part of my brain tells me that levels are necessary and important my experiences makes me hate them. 
I studied a lot!

In summer 2000, I started my first teaching job in Japan with zero Japanese. In winter 2004 I passed the 1 kyu (now N1) Japanese test, the highest level of the test. This isn't to brag...well, OK, it is , yeah me! But it's also to say that everything about that experience colours my attitude toward teaching. I've done, what many of my students set out to do. I'm the "after" photo of slick advertising campaigns. and everything I do is filtered through the prism of being a language learner.

Firstly, I had no classes. I didn't attend a school, have a textbook or get a tutor. This makes me suspicious about the value of these things. That's right, I'm suspicious of the value of people like me. Research suggests that Instruction can aid language learning but It's also possible that teachers can potentially also do a lot of harm to students. So another conclusion from my experience is that an ineffectual but 'nice' teacher is much better than a teacher who bores students or embarrasses them. 

I also never found out what my 'learning style' was, I didn't know which was my dominant 'intelligence' nor did I meditate on the 'here and now'. What I DID do was study a lot of Japanese words with flash cards, listen to a ton of people talking and singing in Japanese and tried to speak (and drunkenly sing karaoke) as often as I could; Lots of input, lots of studying, lots of practice and high levels of motivation and encouragement.  

Every week I see articles extolling the virtues of the flipped classroom, reflective practice, discovery learning, Dogme and technology. Many of these posts are passionate, articulate and convincing but my experience tells me they are also often peripheral and "A balance is needed between ancillary concerns and the central language teaching priorities that they are ancillary to" (Swan, 2013:170). In order to learn a language students have to learn the language

The problem with all this is though is that experience, isn't always a great guide for what we should be doing. What worked form me may not work for someone else. I've seen some kids come out of 6 years of grammar translation classes with great English. Experience is powerful but it can also mislead us. We can see what we want to see, and also be unwilling to change our minds. And yet many teachers happily accept 'experience' as a good enough justification for just about anything. But this argument cuts both ways. 

I know many English teachers who, while claiming to know the best way to learn a language have failed to do so themselves, despite many years abroad. If 'experience' is going to be our benchmark then where does that leave teachers like this? Would anyone claim that these teachers are not as capable as those who have mastered a foreign language? And if it doesn't matter, why doesn't it matter? 


Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Linguistic myth no. 5: Terminal decline

Like morality, and young people's manners the English language is in a terminal state of decline. If it isn't textspeak killing language it's imprecise and improper use of words. Every week brings a gloomy new article about the state of this once mighty tongue. And if it isn't young people ruining our pristine language it's management types with all their weird jargon.  Everyone has an opinion on good language use and what's more, they're all definitely 100% correct. And one thing that's not in question is that things used to be better, back in the 'olden days'.  

The 'olden days' are a magical place which hold a special place in people's hearts.
We all instinctively know that things were better in the 'olden days'; life was simpler, people were kinder, children were better behaved and most importantly, everyone knew how to use language properly. The problem with this magical era is that it never existed. In sceptical circles this is known as 'the golden age fallacy.'

And how do we know it never existed? If you try to pinpoint this glorious period of pristine shiny English, you'll quickly run into problems. We know it's not now, or even ten years ago, so when exactly was it? 

Obviously old English is too far back:

Fæder ure þu þe eart on heofonum;
Si þin nama gehalgod
to becume þin rice

Middle English doesn't fair much better. 

Oure fadir that art in heuenes,
halewid be thi name;
thi kyngdoom come to

It's not until much later (16C) that we get something that starts to resemble the language we use today.
Our Father which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come

But even this English isn't our English. For starters, no one uses words like 'thy' (second person possessive, -now 'your) or 'art'. So we're still not sure when the 'best' version of english existed but what we can see is that language has a habit of changing. 

If English hadn't changed, we'd still be speaking the language of Beowulf. Or, if you like we could go back to proto-germanic, or right back to proto-European. This may seem silly but why not? if we think language is 'getting worse' then surely 'original' version is the one we want to go for, but oddly no one is advocating that. 

In fact, language can only be said to be getting 'worse', if there is some objective measurable value we can hold it up to but this isn't the case. Dropped aitches may seem lazy to us, but they're all the rage in French. 'you was great' may seem sloppy, but Chinese verbs never conjugate at (I am, you am, he am, they am etc) so are the Chinese just very lazy people? Without objective value we're left with 'subjective' ideas of what makes a particular language at a particular time 'good'. 

And so if you pushed people to say when they think English was at it's peak many would, I imagine, point to a time around the 18 or 19th century. We may conjure up ideas of the English used by well dressed, educated ladies and gents making witty pleasant conversation, not the, far more commonly heard English of the masses. In short we imagine Mr. Darcy, not Bill Sikes. So are people getting 'lazy' now or is it just one idealised variety of English we're thinking of? 

The irony is that during this 'golden era' people were complaining about exactly the same thing. Henry Hitchings (2011:80) notes that "the sense of slippage" was widespread" in the 18th century which explains why "ideas of correctness became an obsession". But complaining about the normal and natural change of language is as pointless as complaining about new fashions. They're not worse or better than before, they're just different, and you can guarantee the person complaining is wearing something that was once considered just as awful.

This period was not only a supposed linguistic high-point but also the height of the British empire. Children were seen and not heard, everyone knew their place and for every social activity and occasion there were prescriptive books of rules listing dos and don'ts in exquisite detail:

In crossing the street, a lady raises her dress a little above the ankle, holding together the folds of her gown and drawing them toward the right. Raising the dress with both hands exposes too much ankle, and is most vulgar.(source)
It's interesting that while social rules like the one above are now considered laughable, linguistic pronouncements made at the same time are still taken very seriously by many. 

When we really get down to it, these aren't really complaints about language at all but about morals. People don't speak properly anymore and this is not because language has changed but because they are feckless and lazy. They drop aitches and swear, not because everyone in their peer group does and they want to fit in or because their parents do, but because they just can't be bothered to put any effort into it. They no doubt do it on purpose! If only they'd get a job.