Sunday, 22 April 2012

She was like...yeah, whatever....

It’s happened again.  I have ploughed my way through the pages on reported speech in the course book, watched my learners grind to a stand still as they struggled with backshift and deictic reference (“I’m fed up with this” → she said she was fed up with it) and dreamed up practice activities that were as close to everyday usage as I could imagine. Only to be hit with the thought : hold on, why have I not covered the (far simpler) contemporary way of reporting on conversations -  using direct speech with reporting expressions such as “like” and “goes”?

My children (age four and six) frequently recount entire conversations using “was like”. On the rare occasions they do use reported speech it is to upbraid me on promises I have broken: “But you said we could go swimming!”

“So she goes, don’t do that and I was like why not? And then she was like, yeah…whatever…” Exchanges such as this one can be heard everyday, and for the teacher and learner of English they have great appeal.  To paraphrase Phil Collins, no backshift required. 

This does not mean to say we should not teach reported speech to our learners. It is commonly found in written English (particularly newspaper reports) and used in spoken English by large numbers of  people who would regard expressions such as “like” and “go” to be sloppy, incorrect English.
However, like them or not, these expressions have become part of our language, and I believe we need to make sure our learners are able to use and understand them.


  1. Just found your blog, Gen and tho I know nothing of ESOL, have enjoyed reading it - 'I was like is this the Gen I know? Am I seriously related to her, or what?' You won't be tempted to use this post with your students! Love Jeannie

  2. Hi Jeannie! I'm like, no way - fancy meeting you here! Any thoughts of a jaunt north this spring/summer? Hope to see you somewhere soon. Gx