Future English & Future Britain

The state of education across the world

Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Anna » 09 Mar 2012, 21:23

Sir, you have written a brilliant essay and one that struck close to my heart. I am only twenty-two, and even though I am Irish and speak the Hiberno English of Northern Ireland, I appear to have some sort of inborn knowledge of proper English, if one will allow that. I speak my dialect, but I can speak and write good English when needed/wanted/required. Dialect is proper English albeit slightly modified, no? I firmly believe we need proper English, spoken and written, in all areas of life. Some of my generation don't understand that, yes, an employer can and will Google or Facebook you, and they will form an impression of you- and it might not be a good one. They don't seem to care.

My mother is a lecturer at a university, and has many horror stories; she teaches mature and foreign students. Sometimes the foreign students cannot string an English sentence together, sometimes (more likely, actually) the Irish born students cannot. Why? Grammar and its ilk have gone to hell in schools, as has the diction and teaching thereof.

I remember in primary school (ten or eleven years ago) my Year Six teacher gave us weekly spelling tests. This greatly helped many of said class, including me. It was beaten into us (not literally, no). All I remember of my English language lessons in secondary school is that “-ly” denotes an adverb; I remember no more.

It appalls me how a journalist friend of mine (has little I would deem in the way of an education for said profession, quite frankly; I learnt the ropes a more painful way) is writing for a local paper and yet cannot use punctuation, spelling or grammar properly. Alright, so I am talking of Facebook- but there IS no character limit, unless in text messages where it cost by the word, and so you had to abbreviate, or Twitter, where the 140 character limit means either pull a Friar Tuck (as in telegramese- I'm thinking of a particular scene in Romeo and Juliet here), or just say whatever needs said. Lack of time, ladies and gentlemen, is no excuse. Yet, people with proper training who can write and use English as it is meant to be used are not employed when they have applied for jobs with these people. Why? If you have the answer to that one, please share it.

I was quite annoyed last night with his poor grammar so I went as far as to say, “Listen, I’d hate to be your copyeditor. I’d kick your behind. No, seriously.” I believe that unless you are dyslexic, then there is no excuse. The fella in the example above is not. Doesn’t the red wiggly line mean anything?!

I also edit fiction for a few writers- it’s not paid, it’s just something I do- and holy Mary, but the standard of English... some of these writers are not English, and I’ll give you leeway on the rules of the language where that’s concerned, but the latest one I edit is Canadian, and she cannot get a sentence to make sense. Well, it does but a full stop in the middle is odd. It boggles my mind as to why this is being allowed in schools. In my first year of university, my lecturer gave us a presentation on footnotes, grammar and punctuation. Utterly, utterly depressing as a whole. What on earth is happening in schools? My own education was all right; it wasn't stellar, it wasn't awful, it was just all right.

As for accents, nice voices, good English? Pardon me for this, as I am only young, but try Benedict Cumberbatch http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fdWMTMjzaik (I know it’s a Jaguar ad, I know, but...), born and raised in Central London, as far as I know now he’s living in North London and attended Harrow School (not sure if it was the same time as Laurence Fox, referenced above), or Bruce Dickinson (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kb4mnNN0ffo interviewed on Jeremy Clarkson’s show years ago)- you can hear the crisp, clear diction of Cumberbatch; it might not be R4 but I think it is quite close. As for Dickinson, I believe his diction is clear also (born in Worksop, moved to Sheffield until he was five or six, attended Oundle, that might have helped his diction), but I may be wrong (opposing views on both men welcome).

ETA Dickinson has been in Iron Maiden for almost thirty years and they were formed in the heart of East London, so perhaps spending too much time with Steve Harris and Nicko McBrain (bassist and drummer respectively, both from the East End) might have messed around with his diction a little bit. I'm not sure but I've found that happening to me recently. (Not saying the man is lowering his speech to fit with others, merely saying it may have happened; I find it happening to me in Europe.)
Until we impose minimum standards of written and spoken English, even on the internet, then we won't get anywhere. If you taught Maths to A Level, you need some grounding in said subject- why are teachers teaching who either don't have this grounding, just don't care, or both? Why is the system turning out kids who have no respect for the language?

Just this week, when I went to get my History of British Literature grade at university (I'm an exchange student), my lecturer said to me, "It's lovely to see good English for once." By this, he meant someone who has the tools of the language and can therefore express themselves fluently; there would be uproar if that were the UK.
Anna
 
Posts: 2
Joined: 09 Mar 2012, 20:50
Location: Europe

Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Elliott » 10 Mar 2012, 18:07

Thank you for your compliments and remarks, Anna.

I want to repeat that I am not "against" regional accents. I was thinking about this today - how much less interesting the British would be as a nation if we eliminated regional accents. It would be a cultural loss. But I still think that in the media, the predominant accent should be a perfected one, and RP (good, posh RP) is the most perfected accent we have. It also serves (or served) as a kind of cultural lighthouse for people in bad areas. It said: this is what Britain stands for.

I think that in order to ease the learning of English, schools should try to even out the extremes of regional accents in their pupils. If you allow a child to pronounce "forty" as "for'y" (as all schools in Scotland now do) you shouldn't be surprised when the child can't get it into his head that the word, written down, should have a T in it.

A more complex case would be a word like "government". According to Ed Miliband's pronunciation, it should be spelled "guvmin". Now, again, if we allow school children to pronounce it that way, of course they are going to struggle to remember a spelling that bears little relation to the word they use in speech.

I agree with you about dyslexics and foreigners - it's ridiculous to expect them to speak perfect English. But that only makes it all the more bizarre that they do speak better English than the natives of the British isles!

What's the solution? As you say, we have to put the foot down in schools. Gavin started a thread about this recently. Elocution seems a good, common sense way to improve literacy, especially in working-class areas where the accent is wildly divergent from the written form of English. All we need to do is have the guts to ignore the Guardian readers.

One other thing... it seems to me that if a writer isn't looking over their own work, they can't care very much about it. If they are reading it over but simply don't know how bad their writing is, then shouldn't they delay writing, learn the rules, then return to it? Surely they would find themselves better able to express things then? Trying to write with a poor grasp of English sounds like trying to cut wood with a blunt saw. Either way, frankly I think they have a real cheek expecting other people to wade through sub-standard prose.
Elliott
 
Posts: 1800
Joined: 31 Jul 2011, 22:32
Location: Edinburgh

Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Anna » 10 Mar 2012, 21:35

Hi Elliott.

No, no, neither am I, I quite like my regional accent (but do not like the many assumptions that come with it of people who don’t know their history), but yes, we need a good, “standard” accent back at the BBC. I want to work for them for god’s sake but the BBC in Belfast wouldn’t even take me on (and there you’ve got a problem)! Donna Traynor on BBC Newsline (Belfast) has a sort of “Irish standard” accent thing going on, I think. No, honestly, YouTube her and listen. Never noticed it before.

Sure, haven't they told Joan Bakewell her accent is too posh for the BBC now? The Polish journalists speak official Polish (i.e. formal language), the Danish journalists speak official Danish, so do the Finns, Russians, Norwegians and so on and so forth- so why can’t we, hmm?

There’s been some sort of test in Essex with elocution lessons. The mothers are of course outraged but I think it’s brilliant! I wish we’d had that. I wish schools in Belfast could have that! (Lord but the East Belfast accent...)

Government? Simply remove the n and perhaps the t, that’s the easiest way to say it. Milliband, pffft.

RE foreigners, they almost always have been taught Standard American or British English so therefore their pronunciation and grasp of spelling should, by default, be a hell of a lot better. And usually it is! I'm embarrassed of my accent where I am in Europe, the people here speak English with perhaps a few “wrong” stresses and inflections, to an Irish ear, but overall they sound polished and great; I would hire them, put it that way.

Pull a My Fair Lady or something, haha. No, seriously, parents would go mad, wouldn’t they? RE the Guardian readers, can someone explain? I don't get it. If you want rubbish, sheep people who believe everything a paper tells them, try the Daily Mail! Excuse for a paper.

RE the writer. Well, she can pull a sentence together, I just have to correct it... but I have had to rewrite bits so it will flow better. You know what it’s like; you actually say it out loud to see how it sounds and that. The journalist in me was jumping up and down screaming when she read through the last chapter, and the student was hiding in a corner, it was ridiculous. I know I can be harsh but I let her have it. On another note, when I was in school I used to edit essays for a fellow few students. One didn't know what a semi colon was for. I wasted many a lunch break trying to explain.

And full stops? You breathe. You breathe. Don't put them where you don't have to! Argh. I'm in an editors’ community elsewhere on the net and you should see the explosions there! Makes for wonderful reading. But betas/editors, especially where fiction on the internet is concerned, are needed. It's better someone be slightly nasty offline rather than on, if you know what I mean.

On a final note, when I went to NZ a couple of years ago and found a teacher to teach me how to sing properly, she said I would need to tone down my accent a bit. I think she was right.
Anna
 
Posts: 2
Joined: 09 Mar 2012, 20:50
Location: Europe

Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Mike » 11 Mar 2012, 00:48

As this is my first post on the thread, may I first congratulate Elliott on such a thought-provoking initial essay!

There is just starting to be a move back to the formal teaching of grammar here in Australia, largely (I suspect) because it's been discovered that the children of East Asian and subcontinental immigrant parents, who often attend weekend schools and the like, now have far better grammar and written expression than most of the native population. There's a problem, though: much of the teaching profession went to school during the beanbag education days of the seventies and eighties, when teaching formal grammar was a no-no. So they're often not confident teaching grammar.

As a teacher of foreign languages, I've often had students tell me that they've learned far more about syntax and grammatical terminology from myself and other language teachers than they have from their English teachers, and this doesn't really surprise me in the least. The English syllabus, after all, is so wishy-washy now in Australian schools that one could easily come out of them with no knowledge of grammar at all.
Mike
 
Posts: 402
Joined: 01 Aug 2011, 11:08
Location: Australia

Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Caleb » 12 Mar 2012, 03:04

Mike: Which languages do you teach?

I have quite mixed feelings about studying grammar, to be honest. I studied French for six years at school, and yet I was never very good at French if I'm honest with myself, despite getting high grades on the written components. I was especially bad at speaking and listening. I'm really not sure that knowing all of those verb conjugation tables, and being able to define them was actually that important (again, I probably learnt more about English grammar in secondary school from French than English). It certainly didn't really help me use the language very well. I'm also quite doubtful as to how much it actually improved my English expression, written or oral.

I suspect that my own level of competence with the English language comes primarily down to the environment I found myself in growing up. I was simply around people who spoke and wrote better, and people who read. I still seek to improve my English constantly, and I think this is a minor part of things (partly because of the massive body of learning that came before I really engaged in this consciously, and partly because those formative years also produced that kind of attitude in me).

Likewise, here in Taiwan, people are absolutely obsessed with grammar when it comes to learning English. Yet, taking aside the advantages a native speaker of one Indo-European language will have compared to a native speaker of a language from another family group will have in both learning an Indo-European language, for all of the time and money they put in, I find them to be quite atrocious at actually speaking or writing.

I'm not so sure that teaching grammar as an end will be a panacea in and of itself. I think its role as a panacea will be indirect in that it will recapture some ground from the loony left. Still, I do question its widespread effects in areas where the language, as spoken on a daily basis (including by teachers -- but let's be honest, at least in the government system, they're not going to prevent people from becoming teachers for not speaking English well), is not particularly good, where people don't read a lot, and so on.
Caleb
 
Posts: 865
Joined: 20 Oct 2011, 04:44

Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Mike » 12 Mar 2012, 06:45

Caleb wrote:Mike: Which languages do you teach?


Latin and French. A bit of German here and there over the last few years as well.

Caleb wrote:I have quite mixed feelings about studying grammar, to be honest. I studied French for six years at school, and yet I was never very good at French if I'm honest with myself, despite getting high grades on the written components. I was especially bad at speaking and listening. I'm really not sure that knowing all of those verb conjugation tables, and being able to define them was actually that important (again, I probably learnt more about English grammar in secondary school from French than English). It certainly didn't really help me use the language very well. I'm also quite doubtful as to how much it actually improved my English expression, written or oral.


It's all a matter of balance in the foreign languages, I think. An obsessive focus on grammar is certainly no aid to fluency, but these days there tends to be more of an imbalance in the other direction - endless communicative activities without the foundation of grammatical knowledge. We had a German teacher last year (re-trained from social sciences) whose German wasn't really very good (not much better than mine), and his method of hiding this was to engage his students in a variety of flashy fun activities. All very well, but when the new German teacher arrived this year she was absolutely shocked at how little her classes knew.

Caleb wrote:Likewise, here in Taiwan, people are absolutely obsessed with grammar when it comes to learning English. Yet, taking aside the advantages a native speaker of one Indo-European language will have compared to a native speaker of a language from another family group will have in both learning an Indo-European language, for all of the time and money they put in, I find them to be quite atrocious at actually speaking or writing.


Yep, I can believe that. I spent a couple of years teaching adult ESL at one of the colleges here in Sydney, and the Japanese, Korean and Taiwanese students were all like that - superb knowledge of grammar but they were lost ordering coffee or asking directions. Interestingly, the mainland Chinese students were significantly better, along with the Europeans of course. The Germans, Czechs and Poles seemed to have gotten the best of both worlds, but then they didn't have as steep a linguistic mountain to climb as the Asians.

One of the underappreciated aspects of grammatical knowledge, in my view, is that it gives one a better ability to judge why a piece of writing is poor. Plenty of students I've taught know when they've written something that just doesn't sit right, but they can't quite explain why. A knowledge of grammar can give you the tools to analyse sentence structure and the like properly.
Mike
 
Posts: 402
Joined: 01 Aug 2011, 11:08
Location: Australia

Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Caleb » 13 Mar 2012, 04:57

Latin. That's a dying thing these days. I wish I had learnt Latin at school.

How well do you think the syllabus in NSW prepares students for actually being able to speak French? How well do you think the students come out speaking French?

They're big on grammar translation and multiple choice tests here for the Taiwanese teachers. For the foreign teachers, they use a weird combination of the audio-lingual method and the communicative approach, game playing and all sorts of such nonsense. It's all rather strange, really. I actually avoid all of that mostly and do TPRS. I don't think I can even really comment upon its effictiveness because I have all sorts of other issues (time constraints, behavioural issues, general disorganisation at school) that probably mean that I'd get about the same results regardless of what I did.

The Chinese instruction for foreigners here is, by all accounts, pretty brutal. They approach teaching Chinese like they approach teaching English, only without the fun parts! There is a massive written component with pretty intense testing. It's insanely output driven, though mostly for writing. The attrition rate is horrendous, apparently, and most of the people I've ever met who could speak well have said they didn't learn to speak well studying in a programme here!
Caleb
 
Posts: 865
Joined: 20 Oct 2011, 04:44

Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Mike » 13 Mar 2012, 10:58

Caleb wrote:How well do you think the syllabus in NSW prepares students for actually being able to speak French? How well do you think the students come out speaking French?


Couldn't say for sure, as Latin is really my specialty (it's the subject I teach to matriculation level, whereas I've only really taught French at junior level, up to about Year 10, although I sometimes help out the senior students with speaking practice and so forth). On the whole, I'd say it's not too bad. After six years of French most of the kids at my school would be able to cope quite well in everyday situations, and it's roughly the same for the other modern languages we offer (German, Japanese and Indonesian), whereas most of the Japanese/Korean/Taiwanese students I taught at ESL colleges had studied English for more than six years, and much more intensively, yet their communicative skills were often abysmal. Admittedly, I'm teaching at a selective school so the students are generally more able, but I can't help thinking that there's something fundamentally wrong with the way English is being taught in many parts of Asia. It's being taught almost like a classical language, if that makes sense.

Caleb wrote:They're big on grammar translation and multiple choice tests here for the Taiwanese teachers. For the foreign teachers, they use a weird combination of the audio-lingual method and the communicative approach, game playing and all sorts of such nonsense. It's all rather strange, really. I actually avoid all of that mostly and do TPRS. I don't think I can even really comment upon its effictiveness because I have all sorts of other issues (time constraints, behavioural issues, general disorganisation at school) that probably mean that I'd get about the same results regardless of what I did.

The Chinese instruction for foreigners here is, by all accounts, pretty brutal. They approach teaching Chinese like they approach teaching English, only without the fun parts! There is a massive written component with pretty intense testing. It's insanely output driven, though mostly for writing. The attrition rate is horrendous, apparently, and most of the people I've ever met who could speak well have said they didn't learn to speak well studying in a programme here!


That all rings true from my experience! In my view those ridiculous TOEIC/TOEFL tests are partly to blame, because by their very structure they actively encourage that sort of nonsense teaching.
Mike
 
Posts: 402
Joined: 01 Aug 2011, 11:08
Location: Australia

Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Caleb » 14 Mar 2012, 02:48

It would be fantastic to teach anything at a selective school, especially a language. I went on to study French at higher levels, but my general French classes, especially in year 10 (when most people knew they were going to drop it the following year) were insane. Our classes gave our French teachers absolute hell in a way that they did to few other teachers.

I agree with you about how they teach English in Asia. I can hear their English lessons next door to my classroom. There's a tiny bit of drill and kill at the start of the lesson, then there is a linguistics lesson about English spoken entirely in Chinese for the rest of the lesson. No wonder they can't speak the language. No one ever speaks it to them! I think the problem with East Asian students is not just confined to how they're taught languages. I think it's how they're taught generally, which is more of the above: one person (with authority) stands out the front and drones on and everyone else sits with a blank expression and doesn't say a word. That counts for a lot of social interactions here, actually.

I have no doubt that students here are probably several years ahead of the average Australian child in mathematics and science, but if I needed someone to design and build a fence for my front yard and to go down the street and buy the materials to do so, I'd trust the Australian kid every day to figure out the mathematics and science involved without my help. Also, no matter how ignorant people might think the average Anglophone is about the world at large, I'd also wager that more Australian than Taiwanese kids could find Brazil or Iran on a world map.

I don't have very much experience with those international tests. My thoughts are again that those are not so much the problem as how they are viewed. From what I can understand, people in other parts of the world all want to do well on those tests too. Yet the difference between Poles (aside from speaking an Indo-European language) and Taiwanese is that the Poles realise that the ultimate goal of studying English is to be able to use English as a language. As such, any test may be helpful in assessing that (though it may also be only somewhat effective at doing so), but it's not an end in and of itself. The Taiwanese think the ultimate goal of studying English is to pass a test. Thus, it's unsurprising to me that the average Pole I've ever met has been much better at communicating in English.

Then again, the cultures are so different too. To the uninitiated, anyone coming here would think half the population was autistic because of how they (can't) interact with each other. The nail that sticks up definitely gets hammered down here. I often wonder how they have any children here (well, they do have the world's lowest fertility rate) because in most places, you have to be able to make eye contact and open your mouth to speak before you can get married and have a kid. People who can't or won't speak don't exactly make for great foreign language learners.

The fiancee of one of my friends wants to do graduate studies in the U.S. There's a particular test required for entry into a U.S. university (I can't remember the name of the test). There's a paper version and a computer version. For some reason, the paper version has a different (harder, less predictable) set of questions. I believe they're phasing out the computer test. However, currently, there are certain places (all Chinese-speaking) where it's not possible to take the computer test because people game the system so badly there (and you can find all of the questions and their answers online). So, of course, my friend and his fiancee went to the Philippines for a holiday so she could take the computer test there. She was going to do it in Thailand, but she couldn't take the test there. Every test was already full, presumably with Taiwanese! It is such an East Asian approach to learning.

All of this is why, despite the constant buzz of China taking over the world, I don't think the game is theirs to win. It's ours to lose (and we're trying hard to do so).
Caleb
 
Posts: 865
Joined: 20 Oct 2011, 04:44

Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Elliott » 29 Mar 2012, 15:29

Apparently, the way to go for British politicians is to have bad diction, like "the rest of us".
Elliott
 
Posts: 1800
Joined: 31 Jul 2011, 22:32
Location: Edinburgh

Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Caleb » 30 Mar 2012, 00:11

I've really never understood the idea that politicians should be just like the ordinary person. I certainly think they shouldn't have lived their lives in an ivory tower, but I certainly don't want people running the show who are just like me (or worse). I want people smarter than me, especially smarter at managing money, projects and groups of people. I don't want a guy who talks, thinks, or acts like the guy who left school without finishing, and then went on to work at Tesco. That guy is a knucklehead in probably every area of his life. That guy can't even manage his own personal finances, so do you want him being Chancellor of the Exchequer? That guy dropped out of school. Do you want him being responsible for the education system? That guy eats McDonald's once per day, never exercises, and smokes a pack a day. Do you want him overseeing the health system? That guy can't even find Wales on a map, much less Pakistan. Do you want him directing foreign policy?
Caleb
 
Posts: 865
Joined: 20 Oct 2011, 04:44

Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Mike » 30 Mar 2012, 02:39

Caleb wrote:I've really never understood the idea that politicians should be just like the ordinary person. I certainly think they shouldn't have lived their lives in an ivory tower, but I certainly don't want people running the show who are just like me (or worse). I want people smarter than me, especially smarter at managing money, projects and groups of people. I don't want a guy who talks, thinks, or acts like the guy who left school without finishing, and then went on to work at Tesco. That guy is a knucklehead in probably every area of his life. That guy can't even manage his own personal finances, so do you want him being Chancellor of the Exchequer? That guy dropped out of school. Do you want him being responsible for the education system? That guy eats McDonald's once per day, never exercises, and smokes a pack a day. Do you want him overseeing the health system? That guy can't even find Wales on a map, much less Pakistan. Do you want him directing foreign policy?


Sums up my views exactly. The same goes for the desperate attempts by politicians to show how demotic/"egalitarian" their interests and hobbies are (something which TD has written about in the past, incidentally).
Mike
 
Posts: 402
Joined: 01 Aug 2011, 11:08
Location: Australia

Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Elliott » 30 Mar 2012, 03:16

I feel exactly the same. I want people to look up to and admire, and aspire to emulate.

It seems to me that politicians trying to be "like normal people" is the same syndrome that we see with modern celebrities. Celebrities are the new aristocrats, and people enjoy talking about them and their antics and choices of clothing etc., but whereas aristocrats of old were "different to us" in that they had class and cultivation etc., celebrities really are exactly "the same as us", with the sole difference that they have loads of money. They're just what any yob would be if he won the lottery. In this way, they are not threatening and they do not make the yob feel he should change or improve himself.

It's all very interesting.
Elliott
 
Posts: 1800
Joined: 31 Jul 2011, 22:32
Location: Edinburgh

Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Gavin » 30 Mar 2012, 09:29

Here is a quote from Sam Harris on this issue:

"What is so unnerving about the candidacy of Sarah Palin is the degree to which she represents—and her supporters celebrate—the joyful marriage of confidence and ignorance . . . Ask yourself: how has "elitism" become a bad word in American politics? There is simply no other walk of life in which extraordinary talent and rigorous training are denigrated. We want elite pilots to fly our planes, elite troops to undertake our most critical missions, elite athletes to represent us in competition and elite scientists to devote the most productive years of their lives to curing our diseases. And yet, when it comes time to vest people with even greater responsibilities, we consider it a virtue to shun any and all standards of excellence. When it comes to choosing the people whose thoughts and actions will decide the fates of millions, then we suddenly want someone just like us, someone fit to have a beer with, someone down-to-earth—in fact, almost anyone, provided that he or she doesn't seem too intelligent or well educated."
Gavin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 3432
Joined: 27 Jul 2011, 18:13
Location: Once Great Britain

Re: Future English & Future Britain

Postby Caleb » 02 Apr 2012, 01:48

Mike: That was a great article!

Elliott wrote:They're just what any yob would be if he won the lottery. In this way, they are not threatening and they do not make the yob feel he should change or improve himself.


That's quite insightful.

Gavin: I think I've seen that quote before. I agree entirely.
Caleb
 
Posts: 865
Joined: 20 Oct 2011, 04:44

PreviousNext

Return to Education

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 3 guests

cron

Login Form

Who is online

In total there are 3 users online :: 0 registered, 0 hidden and 3 guests (based on users active over the past 5 minutes)
Most users ever online was 175 on 12 Jan 2015, 18:23

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 3 guests
Copyright © Western Defence. All Rights Reserved.