Question of the Century: How Are We Teaching Students to Say What Year It Is?

I don’t often use the poll feature on my blog, but today I am definitely going to put it to good use. Please help me determine what the trend is among ELTs. Are you teaching your students to say it’s “two thousand twelve” or “twenty-twelve”?

If you vote, please also comment and let me know which part of the world you are writing from. Perhaps we’ll see a trend that is related to geography.

I spent some time this morning reading other blogs, polls, and discussion boards that addressed this topic, but none drew the opinions of those who are teaching English as a second or foreign language. Do we treat this question as a grammar or vocabulary topic? Does pronunciation come into play, since there might be a preference for easier rhythm and alliteration?

We began this century by saying “two thousand.” We continued to be in agreement in the single digits all the way up to 2009 (“two thousand nine”), but Americans at least have made different choices as speakers since 2010. Around me I heard both “two thousand ten” and “twenty-ten.” But why the switch? We usually refer to 1901 as “nineteen-oh-one,” so why didn’t we start with “twenty-oh-one” back in 2001? We initiated a new speaking pattern in the 21st century. Is it only tradition that prompts us to return to the practice of splitting the four-digit year into a two-number reading?

Personally, I have continued with the “two thousand” pattern. I will soon post a lesson on YouTube teaching beginners how to read dates (Lesson 40). I am using my preferred practice, but noting “twenty-something” as an alternative. In my opinion, both readings are acceptable. It’s a matter of speaking style. My one fear is that perhaps I’m dating myself. The preference for “twenty-something” may become the norm. In twenty years, if my videos are still being watched, young folk might find my speaking style old-fashioned. Teachers in 2032 may have to add an explanatory note: “Jennifer is a teacher from an older generation. She uses the acceptable but outdated practice of saying two thousand when she says the year.”


16 Comments Add yours

  1. Sandy Millin says:

    I once heard that it’s because of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ that 2001-2009 are said like this. I normally say twenty twelve because I’m volunteering at the Olympics which ahve always been said like I think. But in 2010 and 2011 I changed my mind depending on what mood I was in. My poor students!

    1. Hi Sandy,

      Yes, there could definitely be cultural influences, from movies to the Olympics. I think it’s fascinating (as well as amusing!) that one’s mood might decide which pattern to use. There’s also the social aspect. If you’re volunteering at the Olympics, then you want to speak the same language as everyone else and fit in, right? Why be the outsider and say two thousand twelve? Thanks and enjoy the experience of the 2012 Olympics!

  2. Interesting topic, and I agree – presently either fashion seems to be acceptable. But yes, when we look ahead – saying “two thousand thirteen” seems a bit laborious (especially for an EFL student). Better to nix the extra syllable (i.e. two thou-sand) and simply go with twenty fourteen, etc.

    1. One thing I don’t know is how the years were said in the early 1900s. Only now do we say “nineteen-oh-one” etc. Is that what past generations said as well? Another curious piont: in formal contexts, such as a written wedding invitation, the dates are spelled out in full. You can confirm through images of invitations online that only the “two thousand…” variant has been used. Could it be that the two patterns (“two thousand…” / “twenty- …”) will divide into formal and everyday patterns?

      A final point I’m curious about concerns the expression “in the year of our Lord.” It’s hardly used today and, of course, there’s the strong connection to religious contexts, but again, if it were used, I could only imagine the longer variant appearing with it, which again prompts me to think that “two thousand…” may live on as an acceptable but formal way of speaking/ writing.

  3. Esther says:

    Hey Jennifer.
    I don’t know in other places, but at the school I work we teach two thousand twelve. But when i’m explaining years, I tell my students that they may hear Americans saying twenty-twelve. Though for us brazilians it’s easier saying years with thousands in it.


    1. Thanks for telling us about your practice. I think most Americans are only using the last two digits in reference to the past century. For example, I love music from the 80s. Then again tweens and teens might be using this practice for years 2000+ and I might not be aware of it!

  4. Ricardo says:

    In Chile, even though we started teaching 2010 as ( two thousand ten )…little by little …we started shifting towards 20-10 mainly because of news channels we get from the U.S, where we heard that instead of “two thousand ten”.

    1. Yes, there could be patterns specific to context. The media seems to use “twenty-ten” more than the average person in everyday conversation. At least, that’s my impression.

  5. Kim Dung says:

    Hello,Jenifer teacher.It’s me,Dung:)
    I’ve read this topic,it’s an interesting discussion:)In my school,whenever we have an english lesson,my teacher always asked me or somebody what the date of today was…Here we use twenty-twelve.When i was in secondary school,my teacher said 2007 like two thousand (and) seven.However,many yearss ago,i read an english book and they read 1987 like “Nineteen hundred and eighty-seven” or “Nineteen eighty-seven”.
    And now,when i’ve aquainted with many friends from many countries,i notice how they use with year most commonly is”twenty twelve”for 2012.I think this way still be used in the future-at least,2032
    {heee heee:):):)maybe just because i try to find whether there’s another way to say,but not:):):)D}

    1. Hi Dung. Nice to see you here.
      Yes, time will tell. We generally like spoken English to be quick and easy, so “twenty-twelve” may win out in the end.

  6. Nina Liakos says:

    I’ve been wondering about this ever since 2000, which always feels funny in my mouth (even now). I am among those who switched by 20-10 when that year began. 20-09 (etc) sounded too much like 20-9 (and therefore 29) to me–too much potential for misunderstanding.

    Interesting discussion.

    1. The poll has been interesting to monitor! 🙂

  7. ProfEmeritus says:

    Hey, I wanted a real answer! I told my Iraqi immigrants to the USA that Americans say ” ‘Twenty-twelve’ but then they asked, ‘What about 2000?'” Oh, no, we did not say “twenty-zero.” My guess as an non-expert, is that as we move along, we Americans will say ‘twenty-thirteen’, etc. I conclude that the no expert has decided.

    1. Take a look at the poll results. Very interesting. For now, I’d say that ELTs generally find both practices acceptable. 🙂
      Thanks for reading this post.

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