The State of the English Language

So now the English Spelling Society has decided that it’s a good idea to investigate dumbing down the English language and spelling because it’s too hard for most children to learn?  Give me a break!  Explain the value of “simplifying” spelling of a lot of English words to make it easier for children to learn and then send them out into the world where centuries of literature will be incomprehensible to them because they have no idea how to read or pronounce most of the words?  What’s that you say?  Children don’t read very much anyway nowadays?  Oh well, that solves the problem then doesn’t it?  What is wrong with us nowadays that we seem to be so keen to address a symptom rather than looking for a cause and addressing that?

The Campaign for Real Education says (in a nutshell) that the problem stems from two generations of teachers having learned English via “progressive” methods and therefore they are ill equipped to teach English properly.  Personally, I think this is a little closer to addressing the cause.

I am aware that I can be more than a little pedantic about spelling and grammar myself and I realise that the English language with its spelling anomalies and irregularities in pronounciation is far from simple to learn but perhaps if it was taught properly, by people who were taught properly, we might start down the road to recovering from the appalling standards of literacy that we currently have.

I went to school in the late 70s.  I was never taught formal English grammar.  The only way that I learned as much about English grammar as I currently know is through learning a foreign language taught by an extremely good teacher.  Any non-English friends and colleagues that I speak to are shocked or even appalled that we aren’t at all versed in the grammar of our own native language.  I am frequently still shocked that people I talk to are blissfully unaware of verb conjugation (and some even look at me as though I’ve just sworn when I even say the word “conjugation”).  They know nothing of prepositions and tenses.  They can just about identify the past, present and future tense.  What about the perfect, pluperfect, past perfect?  Blank looks all around then?  What about teaching children about the genetive?  Maybe we’ll see less of the incorrectly placed apostrophes in the future.  Wouldn’t that be a relief?

Why not find a way of teaching our children how what a wonderful and colourful the English language is?  Give them a love of speaking it, rolling their tongues around our marvellously descriptive vocabulary.  Embrace the diversity of our spelling and pronounciation, encourage our children to grow up to be able to engage in articulate discourse, to be aware of the existence of a Thesaurus – even better – know how to use it!  Maybe, just maybe, we’ll come out of the grunting, monosyllabic phase of communication that we seem to have slipped into, comatose and accepting.


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