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Teaching Your Grammar To Suck Eggs
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Teaching Your Grammar to Suck Eggs

Over the decades, certainly here in not so sunny England, the plethora of successive Governments have experimented with our children's futures as they've introduced a multitude of new methods of teaching. At the top of the list of changes have been the Governments' introduction and subsequent removal of phonics and word recognition education.

  • Phonics focuses on creating sounds for each letter, stitching them together, and ending up with a combination of sounds that approximate an actual word, at which point the child guesses the rest, often successfully. Where the child falls down is when he or she comes upon words like "through" or "though". The resultant "throo-gah-ha" is less then helpful, as is "thou-gah-hhhh". As a mildly dyslexic writer I have to employ a strategy whereby I make the same noises in order to remember how to spell each word myself.
  • Straightforward word recognition relies entirely upon a child's ability to recognise the shape of a word. This fails if the child ever comes upon a word that they haven't memorised.

So having decided that neither method is foolproof (although I prefer phonics) the Government before this one decided that spelling and all that stuff isn't really that important anyway because all that really matters is the child's ability to communicate. Self-expression is the new black and no matter what sort of a hash a child makes of his written work, providing a fully functioning adult can strangle some meaning out of it, it's okay.

Forgive my cynicism.

The advent of the texting society seems to have driven the final nail into accurate writing. Twitter has also done its bit by forcing users into using 140 characters or fewer. One teacher reported to me that some of her pupils spelled "great" "G-R-E-I-G-H-T" becaused they were used to texting (is that even a word?) "GR8". Sadly, my own country has an appalling record of illiteracy among school leavers. That's people who can't read or right their own language!

Thank God then for Google, which is recognising good, readable content on websites, and to any Government which seeks to return some serious, old-school teaching.

So, why the rant?

It's because so many people, through no fault of their own, have found themselves handicapped when it comes to stitching together a coherent piece of prose. The fact that you're reading this shows that the art of reading at least isn't dead. The fact that I'm writing it, and sharing online real estate with so many other keen writers, shows that there are still some of the old skills out there, and more importantly, the desire to write and be read.

Writing is important for all of us who want to build a business online. To master the written word takes time and effort; most of all it requires you to read, and read lots. And don't think I'm talking about reading stuffy books on grammar, because I'm not. Read anything, whenever you can. If you're writing content for your new niche website then something you've picked up from one of the Bourne novels might be useful. You'll also develop a love of words and language, the best gift you can give yourself, and something that will continue to give when everything else has packed up. Of course, if your brain is the first to go then you won't mind either way.

So this piece is a plea to everyone reading. Keep doing it. Read until your eyes bleed, because the key to writing well is reading well. If you need guidance, seek it out. The Internet contains lots of useful information for those who look for it and there are many people who take great pleasure in helping others to understand and use the English language to its maximum potential.


Street Talk

Good points! Read, read, read. I'd add: write, write, write! Writers write.

Reply
  about 4 years ago
Ivy Glenn  

Good piece. I agree that reading is important to writing. When I first started learning to do creative writing back in high school, we had to read a book by an author, then write a story or article in that author's style. I thought the world of Ray Bradbury's style of writing in his book, Dandelion Wine. He was also a regular contributor to the Sunday newspaper. I have tried copying other styles, but found many of them harder. I do not read as much now as I did back then. I agree that we need to keep on writing. Also, if we are trying to reach an audience that we are NOT in, it is important to read things that they read. It makes a difference when we write for them.

Reply
  about 7 years ago

Thanks to you Paul, you have reignited that desire to once again start writing. I used to love writing. I also used to read a Thesaurus like I was reading a book. I used to spend hours working on my vocabulary so that I might become more creative in my written work. It has been many years since I wrote seriously or at least attempted to. Sure, I scribbled in my journal but somehow it wasn't the same. I know that even at my age, if I work at it there will be some improvement. I must admit that I am rather embarrassed how poor my grammar has become. It is hard for me to admit that this embarrassment is holding me back. I have been the sort of person that really is not bothered by what others think . What's worse is that when I was younger and still in school English was my best subject other than spelling of course, and in first year University I scored ninety and nine per cent. I was striving for one hundred per cent and when I was exasperated with not being able to attain it I asked my Prof. what the problem was. Know what she said to me? " Nobody is perfect." Anyhow life changed as I went down other paths, had a family, a crisis here and there and the writing just got left behind. Currently I am working on content for website pages and it is quite a challenge but a challenge I do enjoy. Thanks and wish you well. Oh and by the way I blogged last night on WA and it is full of run on sentences and not put into paragraphs properly. I was trying to lessen the length. No excuse I know but just a heads up. :~) Sincerely, Virginia (ViFinlay59)

Reply
  about 7 years ago
  

I'm so glad you've turned back to writing. If I'm honest, this whole process has done the same for me. Now to make it pay! By the way, your professor has obviously never met me if she thinks no one is perfect. Feel free to pass my details on... (It's a lie - I can barely spell "cat" without a spell-checker nowadays. Darn the advent of word processors).

Reply
  about 7 years ago

Paul Dean.....you are perfect are you?lol Glad to be getting to know you anyway. I thoroughly enjoyed your Blog/Post, over at WA. Reading it this morning was a great way to start the day and it made me think there might be hope for me yet. Sincerely, Virginia

  
  about 7 years ago
  

Nah. It's a person's imperfections which make them perfect for the right person.

  
  about 7 years ago

Looks like you are having fun, Paul. You have a good start on your site too. John

Reply
  about 7 years ago
Vernon L  

I must abmit Paul, I didn't take reading and writing seriously in High School and I'm paying for it now. I have come a long way but I have a long way to go. My wife told me just today that she prays I learn the basic of grammar then I come across this article. I think her prayer been answered and I've found a teacher. Oh, today I love to read and write! lol

Reply
  about 7 years ago
  

Go for it Vernon! Lots of successful writers failed at school and discovered a love of both reading and writing later in life. Dedicate your first novel to me, will you?

Reply
  about 7 years ago
Vernon L  

I certainly will and I look forward to working with you Paul.

  
  about 7 years ago
Terea   

You make it seem so easy. Reading your words I believe I can do anything in the writing realm, and then I encounter a semicolon. Can you run that past me one more time?

Reply
  about 7 years ago

I agree..semicolons are my down fall...great to have somewhere to go when I have a question. Thanks Paul.

Reply
  about 7 years ago
OldCodger  

An excellent article, Paul. In the Antipodes, our problems are very similar. Just write "something" and someone may understand it. Free the children from the constraints of grammar - let their thoughts flow free! James Joyce has already been there and done that. Yes, reading is of vital importance and it has shaped my writing style. In Primary school, I was already reading R.L. Stevenson, Daniel Defoe, H.G. Wells, Dumas - for the richness of the imagery they evoked. No TV in those days, so these stories were played out in the "Theatre of the Mind." Listening to radio plays and serials expanded on this ability to visualise. "Boys Own" books, Capt. W.E. Johns and the adventures of Biggles... Later, in High School years, it was learning French (since largely forgotten) and Russian, which is my first language, to matriculation level. If my writing style is considered "old fashioned" - then so be it! The results of having been educated in the previous millenium. Why else would I call myself an old codger?

Reply
  about 7 years ago
  

I started with "proper" books with Edgar Rice Burroughs Tarzan books when I was 9 and remember buying myself Ray Bradbury's Farenheit 451 when I was 10. I still prefer BBC Radio 4 to any TV station. People can call "old" men like us "old fashioned" but nobody ever failed to get a job because they write too well.

Reply
  about 7 years ago

This is a fine article, but you are a little too late. Why on earth would you expect teens to read when they can talk on their cell or text l without spelling and without punctuation, both of which they struggled with all 12 years of school. Why should they read when they can play games or when they can watch movies or when they can read short bits on their Iphone or laptop or listen to audio books or CDs. Even though your intentions are noble, I'm afraid it's you vs. technology!

Reply
  about 7 years ago
  

That would very much depend on who you think the site behind the article is aimed at. It's certainly not aimed at teens, for all the reasons you've listed. It's aimed at those who were once teens and now regret their lack of attention; it's aimed at anyone who wants to learn for learning's sake; it's aimed at small business owners on a budget who want to have a go at writing their own websites and business letters; it's aimed at anyone who wants to write and can't understand the rules as they're traditionally taught; it's aimed at anyone who wants to better themselves; it's aimed at people who create their own resume, or job application, or business plan. I think "too late" can be "just in time" for some.

Reply
  about 7 years ago

Oh so right Paul. I used to love to write, I still do and do so in my journal. My problems arose from being taught by well schooled British parents and being schooled in the Canadian system. While my marks were high I was still so confused. It was all so confusing and eventually I did less and less writing not to mention reading. I now have a renewed interest and it was I am sure, meant to be, finding you at WA. It is never to late.

  
  about 7 years ago

I certainly hope you are right.

Reply
  about 7 years ago

Paul, I couldn't agree more that a command of our written and even our spoken language is diminishing and I feel under attack by those who somehow feel that current society is unable to learn what was considered essential when I was growing up in grade school. Our teens cannot spell and often are left with a loss for words in verbal expression as well. I am very thankful for two elderly teachers who insisted that I could outline a paragraph and identify the use of the words therein, Thanks for a great article with accurate observations.

Reply
  about 7 years ago

Well done and well said. I also couldn't agree more. I do have a couple of questions Paul. While I live in Canada, I was born in England and raised in a British household. Striving for perfection and excellence in Grammar was huge in our house.......probably why I am so bad at it now. What my British parents were teaching me was different than what I was being taught at school. Spelling was a big one. Can you tell me the correct way to spell colour or is it, color? I have always spelled it colour and told I am wrong. The other word is parlour, I was taught to spell it that way bu,t am being told this to is wrong as it should be spelled parlor. The way I am spelling both words here are even coming as being wrong. Sincerely, Virginia (ViFinlay59....WA)

Reply
  about 7 years ago
  

Colour and parlour in British English, color and parlor in American English. When I rule the world I'll have all the "u"s put back into words. In Canadian though, the English spellings are preferred, so colour is correct, although color is accepted. It's still officially wrong though ;-)

Reply
  about 7 years ago

Yippee. I am sticking to the British English. I used the word parlour in my web site, was told I am wrong but going to stick to it. Thank you so much for clarifying this. Sincerely, Virginia

  
  about 7 years ago
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