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  • Technorati: graph / links

    Coming over here, spelling our words

    by Rumbold on 4th October, 2009 at 12:48 pm    

    This made me chuckle:

    “British undergraduates are nearly three times more likely to make errors in English than those from overseas, according to new research.

    A study of written work produced by final-year students revealed that, on average, they had 52.2 punctuation, grammatical and spelling errors per paper compared with just 18.8 for the international students.”

    British words for British people anyone?

    In one sense this is merely a return to a few hundred years ago, when there were no standardised spellings for most words. English was a spoken, not a written, language, while Latin (used in the church and the law) tended to have more standardised spellings. Since few people who spoke English could read and write, there wasn’t really much need to spell a word a particular way, though this does make life difficult for the historian who is trying to decipher unintelligible writing, only to discover that the same word has been spelt differently in the same piece of writing.

    Filed in: Culture, History, Humour

    • Denim Justice
      But you know any time white/English people get their spelling or sums wrong, it's blamed on all the Polish/Somali/MOSLEM kids clogging their classes at school who can't speak English and therefore need more attention, so the white/English kids don't get taught properly?

      Except, of course, the current crop of undergraduates were at school before NuLieBour's recent waves of "mass immigration".

      How will they lie their way out of this one?
    • atropos
      That must be the weakest argument in defence of declining standards in English Language teaching I have ever come across, and as a past school governor, I have come across some lulus.
    • Rumbold
      I wasn't defending the decline in standards, just noting the historical parallels. Unless your comment wasn't directed at me, in which case, apologies.
    • David O'Keefe
      It was a small sample, lets not read too much into it.
    • douglas clark

      I always worry about arseholes that describe themselves as a former school governor, but I assume that's just me. If I remember correctly, I was a member of the Scouts, once upon a time. What the fuck does that, or your previous status as a school governor have to do with anything?

      Sweet Fanny Adams, I'd have thought.

      As a descendent of a dinosaur, perhaps,
      and as a past school governor, I have come across some lulus.

      Well, yes.

      Make your point, not your pathetic status.
    • Denim Justice
      Lol, does anyone know how little school governors actually understand about how schools work?

      They aren't:

      - teachers
      - education professionals
      - academics
      - policymakers

      They're just people, usually parents, who sit on a board.

      Like Doug says, make your point or stop waving your willy about.
    • Reza
      I don't really understand the point of this thread.

      Is to signify the declining standard of British education?

      Or is it to further promote the usual racist and supremacist arguments of the whitey-hating multiculturalists?

      “See how stupid the white, indigenous British folk are. And here’s an example of how superior immigrants are.”

      It doesn’t make me want to chuckle. It makes me want to puke.
    • Yakoub
      When I went to school, I wasn't taught to spell very well. Spellings were corrected in our written work, but we were not provided with any systematic approach to learning from these errors. I'm 40-something and it would seem my educational experience is not untypical of my generation. I spelled "religion" incorrectly in the first essay for my BA Theology and Religious Studies degree. Lesson 1 in how to look completely thick, but at least it forced me to learn how to spell.

      My eldest daughter is now at Uni - her experience was slightly better, as I observed first hand when working as a parent helper in her excellent school, in the year before I studied for my PGCE. I observed teachers doing everything you ought to do in teaching spelling, but the children themselves were not provided with clear learning objectives. Hence, they often missed the point of the spelling lesson, especially the idea that you can better remember spellings by learning them in groups (bright, might, sight).

      Since then, providing primary school children with clear learning objectives at the start of every lesson has become more or less standard practice.

      The media likes to scream about either static or falling standards. It makes good copy. The reality over the last 20 years is completely the opposite, and if someone who claims to be a school governor doesn't know that, he/she must be a flippin' idiot.
    • Pete
      It's always amusing to read the abysmal grammar and poor spellings so common in blog comments by BNP supporters and their ilk. If they're as concerned about English culture as they claim to be, why can't they muster any respect for the English language?
    • douglas clark

      See how stupid the white, indigenous British folk are. And here’s an example of how superior immigrants are.”

      It doesn’t make me want to chuckle. It makes me want to puke.

      If I am not entitled, according to Rezas rules, to take the absolute piss out of British folk, who is?
    • douglas clark
      No. I really, really don't want to go there....
    • marie-odile
      British schools barely teach grammar at all. Also one of the reasons why the Brits *tend* to be bad at foreign languages. Learning German for example is made a lot harder if you cannot quickly and easily recognise if something is accusative/dative etc...
    • Yakoub
      marie-odile: "British schools barely teach grammar at all."

      Granted, I haven't been a primary school classroom in 7 years, but as far as I know, they're still doing the literacy hour, which includes the systematic teaching of grammar. So your statement is simply wrong.

      Indeed, I'd argue they teach too much grammar, and too little in the way of the kind of literary appreciation likely to promote reading and hence better standards of literacy. And on that score, I have the prize winning children's author Philip Pullman on my side.
    • Dalbir
      If people don't acknowledge that the indigenous working class generally have very poor English language skills then they are either ignorant or in denial.

      The total lack of grapheme to morpheme mapping in the English language probably plays a big part in this for those interested in causal factors.
    • Amrit
      I don't know if they have started too teach 'too much grammar,' but for people of my generation who entered secondary school about a decade or so ago, I don't think grammar was taught all that much.

      I learnt some of my own accord as part of learning to speak English. Funnily enough, I remember myself and a Korean girl getting the highest scores for grammar in primary!

      Dalbir's point about the white working class is valid; I think class is the reason for that. Probably, because people used to have 'their' occupations that their families went into, there was no need to worry about things like English grammar as it wasn't particularly useful to know. Perhaps times have changed, but the mindset stuck? I dunno, maybe someone else can elaborate.
    • Dalbir
      The notion that literature is the preserve of the middle and upper classes seems to persist in many parts of the WWC. Exceptions can easily be found but the notion still seems current. I went to a pub with loads of Northerners recently (they were all working on the Stratford Olympic site), and none of them struck me as the type who would be bothered with such stuff.

      Besides how can anyone expect to improve if their reading is limited to 'The current Bun'?

      Many immigrants and their offspring still believe that improving their English language skills is helpful for career prospects, hence the effort. Amrit I think you may be on to something regarding the traditional lack of need for WWC to develop "propa" language skills given their preferred(?) occupations.
    • Don

      I agree. Any school teaching literacy effectively will be setting clear targets for the structure of the language, although probably not taking a transformational grammar approach. Apart from anything else, it's required.

      Literary appreciation is a big part, though (I'm doing 'The Monkey's Paw' with my Year 7 and having fun.)

      Good blog, by the way.
    • dave bones
      If people don’t acknowledge that the indigenous working class generally have very poor English language skills...

      I'm not even working class and I got picked up on my bad English and points of grammar all over India, often by people who would be considered working class and poor over there. I thought it was quite funny.
    • Amrit
      My remarks weren't meant to bash teachers or teaching in any way, by the way. I think teachers get too much crap as it is.

      I think particularly because English is 'the global language' and emphasis is generally applied within all language teaching on SPEAKING, people born here have traditionally had no real need to learn grammar. Whereas if you're learning a language from scratch and don't speak it regularly, you HAVE to learn more holistically and focus a great deal on grammar, since you have to correct yourself. No-one else can do it for you.

      I was going to mention the thing Dalbir said about literary appreciation. I think the fact that the notion of improving oneself and gaining social mobility through literature, was so damaged by WW1 and similar, that WWC people stopped bothering. Once people realised that it wasn't going to make their situation any better, they probably stopped trying. Which is depressing, yet logical.

      Still, I've noticed that people use class in the way that others use race - i.e. 'Oh, how DARE you want to be educated, you're betraying your class'! Ofc, the lack of social mobility then leads to people who want to be different often becoming alienated, and then regretful. It's fucking appalling. Except that people can get away with it because liberal guilt often gives them a free pass.
    • chairwoman
      Back in the 1950s when I started at primary school, the majority of people here could spell and punctuate even if their spoken English was regional rather than received pronunciation.

      Grammar and spelling were stand-alone lessons, not just bundled together with handwriting, essays and literature. We also had history, geography, art and craft lessons and arithmetic. Science, geometry and algebra weren't taught until secondary school.

      I know the current fashion is against learning by rote, but I still think it's a useful tool for tables, spelling, and grammatical rules.
    • Raven
      Rumbold, I loved the title of your piece. For me it simply encapsulates the most important point of your post. That the research is an ironic (though useful) retort to those (usually white Brits) who think that their culture/language is being eroded by foreigners. In fact, as you point out, neither position can actually be sustained for long because languages change all the time (if they didn't they would die out).

      There is a certain snobishness assigned to knowing grammar - some think it indicates some kind of innate intellegence. But you simply have to be taught it in a good school/by a good teacher or by self-study. Maybe access to good schooling (or lack of it)explains why certain parts of society are better at it than others.
    • Or is it to further promote the usual racist and supremacist arguments of the whitey-hating multiculturalists?

      Actually, the thread was started specifically to make you puke and to annoy you. We do that occasionally for our dim-witted readers.
    • Trofim
      My dad went to simple village school in the 1920's and left it aged 14. He could quote reams of poetry, and do in his head a simple calculation which modern kids can't manage without a calculator.
      It's traditional education that does it. Poles and east Europeans, and many "third world" countries still teach in traditional methods, by rote, by learning facts. I know quite a lot of Russians who speak English. They are regularly shocked that British people don't know the most rudimentary things about their own language, such as what is a past participle, or an irregular plural - or even what a plural is. I have found it very difficult to teach English people Russian, because they do not have the linguistic basics necessary. It all started decades ago, when the late sixties generation decided that learning things was a nasty clinical, reactionary idea, and that people just needed to learn to use their imagination in order to have a lovely carefree life undermining the capitalist system. Remember "We don't need no edukashun" by Pink Floyd? Well, the generation which sang this moulded our present education system, and the process was finalised and honed by NuLabour, who decreed that knowing things, especially things other people don't know, is "elitist". Blair cemented this with his cunning and cynical move to make sure that 50% have a "degree", even if it's only meeja studies or a Masters in how to boil an egg. The beauty of this is that every family now has a photo of Darren or Sharon wearing a mortarboard on the mantlepiece, and can show off to the neighbours, who can show off in turn. Thus, anyone who is critical of standards is made to look traitorously bitter and unkind - witness Ed Balls at the Labour conference. I was incredulous in 1980 when a friend told me he was making some extra money giving remedial classes to new university freshers at Nottingham, teaching them how to write a sentence, so they could then write essays. Neither of us then knew that within 30 years, even graduates would require remedial education. Add to that the potent sense of entitlement which young Brits have, and it's a toxic mix.
      It's all well documented by Melanie Phillips in "All Must Have Prizes", a title which sums up to a tee that sense of entitlement.
    • Rumbold
      Thank you Raven (and others). My post isn't about mocking those whose English skills leave something to be desired, but rather those who claim that foreigners can't speak English. We, as a country, do need to teach English better. We have 12 years or so of compulsory education in this country, and some leave it without being able to read or write properly.
    • persephone
      @ 7 "Or is it to further promote the usual racist and supremacist arguments of the whitey-hating multiculturalists? “See how stupid the white, indigenous British folk are. And here’s an example of how superior immigrants are.”

      Where has this post mentioned colour of skin? It states and compares British undergraduates (who are of every colour) and international students (who are of every colour). Its you who have introduced colour & multiculturism.
    • Yahya Birt
      Rumbold: blog title of the week, sheer class.
    • Reza

      The report was about undergraduates, not immigrants.

      But Rumbold’s glib attempt at an amusing title linked it to immigration. After all, isn’t “coming here taking our jobs” the put-down impersonation that the left use to belittle the millions of people who oppose mass immigration?

      And as such it suggested that foreigners coming here were somehow ‘superior’ than those already here. Well that’s no surprise. How often on these pages do we read about the lazy, drunken, culturally worthless English and the wonderful, ‘young’ and ‘vibrant’ and ‘culturally enriching’ foreigners coming in to provide ‘diversity’ because “diversity is good” and er, “it’s great to have diversity”.

      The grim reality however is that whilst it may be true that foreign students, who have passed a university entrance exam, may have excellent English skills, many, many ‘true’ immigrants don’t.

      And far from showing up the people already here, they become a burden on the state, requiring translation services and learning support in our over-stretched schools.
    • Reza

      I read somewhere that when describing ethnic communities, "vibrant" was estate agent speak for 'violent'.

      Now THAT made me chuckle.

      That's the thing with humour. It's only funny when there's an element of truth to it.
    • persephone
      @1 "How will they lie their way out of this one?"

      The same way as they always do. To dress up the lie as truth. Problem is when you ask them to verify the truth the only truth ratified is the truth of their racism.

      You can see it happening on this post.

      Reza, don't you have anything more to use as validation? Its quite desperate using as 'proof' the descriptions made by estate agents....
    • bananabrain
      The same way as they always do. To dress up the lie as truth.

      yes, because no other political parties *ever* do that.


    • Reza

      I always rely on validation. Here's some for you here:

      Minority ethnic groups and crime: findings from the Offending, Crime and Justice Survey 2003

    • Dalbir

      Chairwoman, I'm inclined to agree with you on that one. I often marvel at how simply educated folk from the generation above me (i.e. first generation from India), can mentally perform mathematical calculations like a bullet.

      There is a lot to say about learning by rote during the earlier years and the way in which many foreign students can "bang out" maths is testimony to that.

      The nature of the English language itself demands that 'by rote' activity takes place with regard to spelling. I mentioned the total inconsistency with the mapping of graphemes (the symbols or letters) that are used with the phonemes (sounds) they correspond to. So this isn't a heavily rule based language when it comes to spelling, unlike many other languages. Some people believe that this is a causal factor for dyslexia as the condition doesn't seem to be reported in places with a rigid symbol to sound system.
    • persephone
      Reza, I have got to page 23 & the findings show the highest levels of crime to be by white followed by mixed ethnic origins followed by Black , Asian & other ethnic groups.

      On that basis, your children are highly likely to offend & BNPers would make propaganda about that.

      What has this data got to do with overseas students standards of English being better than the british? Remember it relates to international students which means white students too. Or do you not want to admit to that truth?
    • cjcjc
      We are a nation of thickos (is that how you spell it?!) - it's as simple as that.

    • Reza

      "Reza, I have got to page 23 & the findings show the highest levels of crime to be by white followed by mixed ethnic origins followed by Black , Asian & other ethnic groups."

      Of course the highest levels of crime are committed by 'whites'. 'Whites' make up the overwhelming majority.

      You're meant to look at the percentages of each group.

      But you knew that didn't you...
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