Is it just me but do others see our conception of literacy changing? When I was at school, English was taught with an emphasis on spelling and grammar. When Lynn Truss’ book Eats, Shoots & Leaves was published I felt my late English teacher would have applauded her.
My granddaughter (almost 7 years old and just starting in primary 3 as I write this) has readily attained reading skills, able to read to herself (i.e. not aloud) and understand what she’s reading well enough to ask questions about advertising posters as we drive past. However, writing is another matter – she can manage the practical aspects but teachers rarely seem to correct spelling and grammar. Yes, she’s only 6 and she’s many years of schooling ahead of her but I have to question if the approach of leaving such details until later is right. A while ago, I took on the part-time role of tutor for the local college for their distance learning courses for the CQI Diploma. And that involves me in marking assignments.
Some of the students are working with English as their second (or third language) so I can excuse some of the grammatical errors and, indeed, make allowance for them. However, I find that students brought up with English as their first language are little better – in fact, some are worse. Some would argue that, as long as the meaning is clear, does it matter if punctuation or spelling isn’t always in line with “the Queen’s English”. Anyone of “a certain age” who tries to understand what the upcoming generations are saying to each other via their phone text messages or Facebook will view some of their writing as totally alien. I have no problems with such writing as long as it is between people who understand it – just as I have no objection to people who believe in retaining various minority languages. However, with English being one of the key international languages, I see a generation who will find they have to relearn their native language when they come to communicate in the wider world.
And why am I worried? Well, the latest round of assignments has given me several instances where a simple mistake has totally changed meaning. One example:
“Few of the benefits of a QMS are:… (and here follows a list of benefits)” tells me that a QMS will yield few of the listed benefits. However, the list included actual benefits and I think the student meant to write: “A few of the benefits of a QMS are:…”
A missing indefinite article reversed the meaning, turning an argument in favour to an argument against.
Latin is still used within the legal system because it is a dead language and, by not evolving, meaning doesn’t change; it recognises the importance of having a way to communicate ideas in an unequivocal way. English isn’t dead and is evolving but we still need to manage that change to ensure communication, when it needs to be unambiguous, can be such. Literacy involves both reading and writing.
I don’t have a solution, nor do I claim this piece is free from grammatical errors. It’s partly a rant and partly a plea to be aware of the issue and for each of us to pay more attention to our language.