Why arnt childrun being tort how 2 rite?
I recently received this interesting example of written English. It is a letter to the customers of a hotel car park in Norfolk. The names have been changed, but not the text.
Over the last few months there has been a few situations with the car park, so starting Wednesday 9th August the hotel be cracking down on security.
Every on who pay’s for the car park will have a pass (see customer list) they must show this to reception to get a code if they forget there pass you will be asked you name and company. The reception team will have a copy of all the paying customers.
If you are a way or would like some one else to use your car park space you must give them your pass and let reception know as soon as posible the reception team will not accept any thing else not following the rules may result in paying £10.
Any Problems or Situations please do contact my self, Gary philips or Cherry brown on 01603 XXXXXX
Now, there are many enjoyable aspects to this letter; I recommend studying it quite carefully. I pass it on, however, not just because it’s hilarious.
Since my book Eats, Shoots & Leaves was first published in 2003, a number of things have happened in my life. First, of course, my address has become familiar to every asses’ milk delivery company in the land.
Second, I have learned how to tell the same joke (about a panda that goes into a bar) a million times and not grow so tired of it that I actually want to hang myself.
Third, I’ve had to explain, patiently, over and over, that my book was solely concerned with the wished-for survival of a system of marks that have traditionally aided the clarity of the written (or printed) word.
But the biggest development of all is that I’ve become the Designated Worrier for the English Language, to whom examples of ghastly English (such as the above) are sent in the hope that I will a) laugh; b) cry; and c) shout through a megaphone from a rooftop about the abysmal state of literacy, if possible while also holding hostages from the Department of Education and sporting an improbable superhero costume involving ill-fitting tights.
“Are things really so bad?” you ask. Well, yes. Yes, they are. Laugh? Cry? Quite frankly, I never stop.
Last year, only 71 per cent of girls and 56 per cent of boys aged 11 reached level four – the standard of writing expected for their age. School inspectors were themselves recently e-mailed some guidelines by Ofsted on the difference between “its” and “it’s”, and how to spell words such as (useful in the circumstances) “under-achieve”.
“But what about all those lovely A-level results?” you object. Well, a few months ago, the Royal Literary Fund published a report, Writing Matters, that put those A-levels into perspective. Since 1999, the fund has been placing professional writers in universities, to work one-to-one with students on their writing skills, and their report was full of plain, staggering shock at the state of students’ entry-level abilities.
From every angle, the same message arrived: students who are arriving at university, many with multiple A grades at A-level, simply don’t know how to write. Many of them actually resent the idea that suddenly they are expected to be able to.
Consider this. “A student comes [to her seminar] almost empty-handed, having been unable to get beyond the opening paragraph of an essay that tries to answer how Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy and another text use myth to define the human condition. She doesn’t know how to start, how to frame the opening sentence, and says that at school she wrote hardly any essays.
“She has downloaded, from a Google search of the term ‘human condition’, a dull quotation that lies at the top of her piece of paper like a boulder blocking a path. She is nearly in tears.”
This young woman is, the report explains, an English Literature student at an “elite university”. Evidently, 14 per cent of students at British universities drop out in the first term; the report suggests that the demands of essay-writing are a major cause.
Students seem not to know how to think their thoughts aloud, or to join them up to make an argument. Because that’s what writing is, essentially: in the act of writing, a person finds the words that best express something he or she has understood, or – even better – is on the point of understanding.
It’s a well-established fact that writing about something makes you understand it. In finding the right words (and rejecting the wrong ones), you channel and refine your thoughts.
Why isn’t writing – not reading – given more prominence in schools? I really don’t understand it.
At GCSE, students are apparently tested to quite a high level on their reading and analysis, yet their own abilities as users of language are tactfully glossed over, as if poor language skills were a kind of disability beyond the scope of education (like warts) that it would be simply cruel to point out. This is bizarre.
Writing is an essential mental discipline, not just one subject among other subjects. Writing equals understanding plus explaining – and surely understanding and explaining have been the two core aims of education throughout history. Surely, when people don’t write their thoughts down, they don’t really have any.
Now, I’m willing to accept that there have been all sorts of advances in the way students think. It’s quite clear that an ability to find the words is no longer the principal measure of intelligence, so one has to accept that perhaps pupils now think more effectively in ways that I just don’t automatically value because I’m hopelessly old-fashioned.
But at the same time, no one can argue that communication is an unimportant skill in today’s world. This is, as everyone knows, the age of communication. We are almost never in a state when we’re not on the phone, or sending a text, or doing both at once while answering an e-mail and typing a blog.
Suddenly, everyone’s a writer. Twenty years ago, when trained secretaries still controlled the official output from offices, the majority of clerical people never touched a keyboard. Even in newspaper offices, typewriters weren’t on every desk, but were shared something like one-between-five and were wheeled around on trolleys. Clever girls leaving university were advised not to learn how to type because it was a skill that traditionally put paid to glittering careers.
When the Guardian produced its famous April Fool’s supplement in the late 1970s – inventing an island called San Serif, with its capital city Bodoni, and everything else a reference to typefaces such as Garamond or Baskerville – those clever Guardian chaps could be confident that most readers had only distantly heard the word “font”. Nowadays, of course, every schoolchild selects Gill Sans Extra Bold or Century Schoolbook before getting down to hours of tapping at the PC in his bedroom.
Of course, it’s true that substance is not always the main point of our modern outpouring of communications, and that this is quite normal when you look at the precedents. As a race, humans have always fallen madly in love with new methods of talking to each other. The penny post, the postcard, the telephone – all were massively over-subscribed at the start.
Look at the reverse of any old picture postcard and you’ll find that the sender had absolutely nothing to say, but said it anyway because the card itself was the point. Similarly, when phone technology was a novelty, people phoned each other just to say: “Is that you?”
I grew up with an LP recording of Tony Hancock’s The Radio Ham – and it was the same thing again: by the miracle of valves, aerials, and emergency shillings in the meter, Hancock was talking at midnight to people in Malaya and Tokyo, but all he could think to ask them was whether it was raining.
But the current collision of fabulous, girdle-round-the-earth technology and abysmal writing skills is doing one thing rather well: it is unfairly (but usefully) exposing the dreadful state of many people’s written English. And it is no good to argue (as many try to do) that it doesn’t really matter that people don’t have old-fashioned writing skills if they can get across what they mean.
Maybe I was exposed to too much Lewis Carroll at an impressionable age, but that’s the sort of paradoxical question that, quite frankly, makes me want to scream. The point is: what does a person “mean” if he or she doesn’t say it?
There’s a great line in Christopher Hampton’s play The Philanthropist, revived last year in London. One character says, “You never understand what I’m trying to say.” And her boyfriend says, thoughtfully, “That’s probably true. On the other hand, I think I do understand what you do say.”
No one just picks up the mechanics of writing, just as we don’t pick up how to play the piano simply by listening to it. Theory, moreover, is no substitute for practice, or for learning through making mistakes.
For decades, there has been an ideological reluctance to point out mistakes in written work. Pointing out “errors” was seen as discouraging to children, as well as unacceptably judgmental. But, when you look at it, what a patronising attitude that is.
Don’t kids have the right to know if they are getting something wrong? Then they can either have the pleasure of getting it right next time, or they can make an informed decision that, actually, they absolutely don’t care. It is patronising not to correct someone who is supposed to be learning; in fact, it’s quite a good idea occasionally to force people to confront the scale of their own ignorance.
It’s not just people’s self-esteem that’s at stake, after all. It’s the future of written English.
Is this an elitist point of view? No, it’s quite the opposite. To me, it’s very simple: being good at English means you’ve been taught well. The idea that “correct” or standard English belongs only to rich and privileged people is preposterous from every angle.
The English language doesn’t belong to anybody: it certainly doesn’t trickle down from the top. Mark Twain said it brilliantly 100 years ago: “There is no such thing as the Queen’s English. The property has gone into the hands of a joint stock company, and we own the bulk of the shares.”
The more widely the techniques of written language are taught, the more democratic they plainly are. Nor does the “elitist” argument stand up to any empirical test, in any case. Posh people have been noted throughout history for their limited word power. The true objection, actually, when you think about it, is to people appearing “educated”. Which, in the context of the aims of education, is absurd.
Believe it or not, I’m writing this article in order to plug a new book. And the book is not remotely polemical: it’s just an illustrated children’s book that shows – through a series of paired illustrations – how commas “make a difference”. It shows “Go, get him doctors” (child has fallen from climbing frame; other kids are dithering), and “Go get him, doctors!” (child gleefully escaping from hospital, pushing another kid in a wheelchair).
It is not a grammar lesson. It doesn’t explain about commas in lists, or commas before direct speech, or even (heaven help us) the choices to be made about the Oxford variety. And it isn’t about “poor” punctuation. The sole purpose of the book is to make kids notice commas and enjoy the experience.
“I’ve finally decided to cheer up, everybody!” becomes “I’ve finally decided to cheer up everybody.” “No cats, thank you” becomes “No cats thank you.” It just shows that language is potentially ambiguous, and that it’s very easy to say something different from what you intend.
“Becky walked on, her head a little higher than usual” becomes “Becky walked on her head, a little higher than usual.” The sub-title is “Why, commas really do make a difference” – which is itself, you see, a different sentence if you take the comma out.
I suppose I have personal reasons for caring so much about all this. First, I appreciate how much literacy has done for me, and how much it’s done for millions of other people from working-class families.
Second, and slightly less seriously, I am a Gemini, with Mercury as my ruling planet, and of course there is no direct connection, in fact I can’t imagine why I mentioned it, but I do care very much about effective communication – enough to have nightmares, for example, about not being able to dial a number, or reach someone by phone.
I cringe to see people fight when talking would settle a misunderstanding. I never get more than 10 minutes into horror films because it’s enough for me when they just say, “That’s odd. The phone’s dead.”
To me, the most horrific moment in all literature comes when Tess, in Tess of the d’Urbervilles, slips that confessional note under Angel Clare’s door and it goes under a rug so he doesn’t see it. The next morning, she thinks she’s told him all about the illegitimate baby and that he’s forgiven her; in fact, he doesn’t know a thing about it and gets really quite narked later on when he learns the truth.
But I feel strongly on this issue also, in part, because of the reaction to Eats, Shoots & Leaves – which was very, very interesting. Obviously, the positive reaction to the book has encouraged a lot of people to think that a love of English is very much alive and well. But the hostile reactions were even more telling, it seems to me, because they came generally from educated people who would, for themselves, never dream of writing a bad sentence.
My critics are people who speak well and write well, who started off with privileges that they think it’s their moral duty to deny to others. “Relax, you don’t need to know how to write,” is the message. “Remember, only snobbish people care about such things.”
An English teacher told me recently that, 20 years ago, she had a class that really wanted to do some sentence-parsing, and she had to say, “All right. But if anyone comes in, we’re doing comics.” I sometimes can’t help thinking that what some people really resented about Eats, Shoots & Leaves (apart from the cash and the asses’ milk, of course, which goes without saying) was that, by laying out some simple rules of English in an inexpensive and accessible book, I somehow revealed a trade secret to the masses.
What has become pretty clear to me is that English language as a subject should be elevated to a far higher status within the education system, and have at least four GCSEs attached to it, so that it can at least be on a par with “media”. As far as I’m concerned, writing, in relation to other curriculum subjects, is like breathing in relation to other bodily functions: you may have a fabulous set of kidneys going there, chum, but if you’re not breathing, forget it.
It’s high time we insisted that the issue of literacy has nothing to do with class, and that it just cannot be bad for a person to be able to express himself in his own language. People need to know how their language works; they have a right to know how their language works; and they evidently bought my book because they were actually quite frustrated not knowing how their language worked.
According to the Royal Literary Fund report, students at university level find writing difficult and unpleasant. Which is a great irony, when you consider that one of the official reasons for dropping grammar from the curriculum was that anxiety about rules stifled the enjoyment and exuberance people were thought to bring naturally to writing.
Finally, if one has to see this issue in class terms, then we should look at it from quite the other way round. Literacy is historically the engine of social mobility: to downgrade literacy is actively to deprive many people of a chance in life. Decades of well-intentioned relativism have done nothing to bring about a more equal society. In fact, the result is that, more than ever before, it’s only children from the most privileged homes – who go to the most expensive schools – who are equipped, by their language skills, to get all the best jobs and run the country.
It seems to me that, since the English language self-evidently belongs to everyone who speaks it, if people can’t express themselves in writing, they have been deprived not just of a life skill but of their birthright. And in an age of fabulous, unprecedentedly fast and convenient means of written communications, it is actually criminal – not funny, not sad, but criminal – that so many people can’t string a sentence together.
(The Daily Telegraph)