English as she is spoke

Baroness Deech

Lord Quirk asked a question today about taking measures to improve performance in written and spoken English throughout the education system.  So many peers rose to their feet wishing to participate that very few could be heard.  Had I been one of them, I would have asked the Minister to tell schools and universities to deduct marks for poor spelling and grammar when marking assignments.  Many of the teachers and lecturers give the impression to their students that expressing themselves in their writing is all that matters, regardless of accuracy.  Some of the students think that spell check will take care of any mistakes they make.  It is time for standards of accuracy to be reimposed. 

Dyslexia is widespread.  I have no doubt that the condition exists, but it needs to be diagnosed early in the student’s life, not merely asserted by the student as a mitigating factor after receiving a poor mark  in an exam or assignment.  When I was dealing with student complaints, many of them concerned what reasonable adjustments a university should make for dyslexic students, and it is a most complex question, especially when raised at the higher education level.  Maybe all secondary schools should check students for dyslexia as soon as they start.

17 comments for “English as she is spoke

  1. Bedd Gelert
    11/01/2010 at 6:19 pm

    Speaking as a bit of a pedant [ and therefore bound to make some mistakes in this posting] I share your concern, but this is a horse that has bolted 40 years ago.

    It is a symptom of a problem rather than the problem itself. A let-it-all-hang-out, there is not a right or wrong answer, all-must-have-prizes, ‘child-centred-learning’ approach in which excellence is stifled has crippled the education system for donkey’s years.

    Focusing on spelling and grammar again would be a good start, but is only the symptom of the wider malaise where ‘elitism’ is seen as a dirty word, and ‘selection’ as being tantamount to blasphemous swearing by the Labour Government who have failed to improve social mobility in over a decade.

    Mind you, two points. My Welsh language is appalling these days, due to lack of practise. So I might take a different view if this blog were in Welsh.

    And I have had to concede that Dirk Bogarde’s letters are fantastically, joyfully, wonderfully amusing despite being very un-PC and suffering absolutely woeful grammar. Wit and wisdom doesn’t always come from those with the best grammar, although I agree that it can hamper one’s chances in life.

    After all, we judge the initial quality of a restaurant by whether the windows are clean [if they are filthy, then so is the kitchen] and if a ‘Press Release’ contains spelling errors then we soon learn to disregard the message or downgrade its credibility.

  2. Bedd Gelert
    11/01/2010 at 6:28 pm

    Also, spelling mistakes are a handy tool in the war against plagiarism…


  3. 11/01/2010 at 7:17 pm

    I was checking out Erskine May’s writings, as you do when wondering if our PM will ever leave, and carried on reading his Constitutional History at this site which claimed that the punctuation was excessive to modern eyes.

    What is your take on the Oxford comma?

  4. margaret pomfret
    11/01/2010 at 7:52 pm

    Interesting that a Bill before the House of Commons is called the Armenian Genocide “Rememberance” Day Bill.

  5. Carl.H
    11/01/2010 at 9:05 pm

    “Dassa bare sick idea blud….NOT” As our young would say.

    Ok I`m a culprit, I`m not illiterate but heaven knows I cannot get apostrophes correct as has been pointed out and in my two fingered typing I make spelling mistakes which I rarely proof read.

    So this English ye speak of, is it the 1950`s type or the 1720`s or the 1480`s ? Are we all to go back to a language that would mean we could actually understand Shakespeare ?

    Since English is a mixture of several languages that has evolved have we the right to say it has evolved enough, blud ? I thought we liked the cultural mix ? Half the kids on the street today speak a language most in the Lords wouldn`t understand but then did they ever understand Geordies or Glaswegians ?

    Heaven knows the Government wouldn`t back the idea after all the amount of “A” grades would reduce dramatically.

    Look at any formal letter, including Government, that pops through your door. Addressed properly ? With the correct commas etc., I doubt it ! Have you spotted a grammatical mistake on the beeb ? Quite a lot actually and in the press too many times to mention.

    I totally agree my Lady that dyslexia needs addressing early having had some experience with friends children it must be totally confusing to the children.

    I also know lots of young people (18-35) that can barely read and the problem seems to have risen when discipline stopped in our schools. It`s often not that the kids are unable to, it`s just they don`t want to and the amount of parents who use school merely as a babysitting service is incredible. Some really do not care about their childrens unruly behaviour which is why I say if the kid gets detention bring in the parent too, they might just take note then.

    Txt tlk 2 has tkn hld of our yng. They write more in a day in texts and messenger than in the classrooms.

    Things do change from time to time though, my 8 year old is learning things I never did until secondary school. I do though fully expect her to regress as the teens roll in and peer pressure bites, being geeky doesn`t pull the hot boys. The hot boys who fashion themselves on gangsta stylee blud, smokin weed and taking whizz. My girls do find it difficult to find a bloke who don`t do pot and do get fed up sitting in the bar whilst everyone is outside smokin a spliff, that`s the 18 yo by the way.

    Where was we ? Oh yeah English. Should we really go back to Victorian thinking and language ? Full stops, comma`s apostrophes in all the right places or you`ll be hung, drawn and quartered ? All those shops labelled “Center” or “Color” made to pay more tax. All these yuppy sayings of “downsizing” etc., well we should put them to death.

    Naaaahhh I think we need middle of the road after all I`m sure there are plenty of words we use that our parents wouldn`t approve of and they their parents I expect. I know a few Saxon words, correct in their time, that wouldn`t be allowed in the House written or otherwise.

    Along with society and it`s mix the English language is evolving, into what I know not but it is beginning to sound like it maybe from the missing link. Ya get my drif blud innit. Which is possibly less alien to me than Shakespeare .


  6. Carl.H
    11/01/2010 at 9:40 pm

    A Balade of Complaint

    Compleyne ne koude, ne might myn herte never,
    My peynes halve, ne what torment I have,
    Though that I sholde in your presence ben ever,
    Myn hertes lady, as wisly he me save
    That Bountee made, and Beautee list to grave
    In your persone, and bad hem bothe in-fere
    Ever t’awayte, and ay be wher ye were.

    As wisly he gye alle my joyes here
    As I am youres, and to yow sad and trewe,
    And ye, my lyf and cause of my gode chere,
    And deeth also, whan ye my peynes newe,
    My worldes joye, whom I wol serve and sewe,
    Myn heven hool, and al my suffisaunce,
    Whom for to serve is set al my plesaunce.

    Beseching yow in my most humble wyse
    T’accepte in worth this litel pore dyte,
    And for my trouthe my servyce not despyse,
    Myn observaunce eke have not in despyte,
    Ne yit to longe to suffren in this plyte;
    I yow beseche, myn hertes lady, here,
    Sith I yow serve, and so wil yeer by yere.

    Geoffrey Chaucer

    E for spelling ! See me in my office after class Chaucer !

    • 16/02/2010 at 10:27 pm

      Carl you are my hero. I would like the Baroness to take an empathy test, I bet she would fail.

      • 16/02/2010 at 10:36 pm

        Does she ever respond to her commenters?

  7. gar hywel
    11/01/2010 at 9:55 pm

    Noble baroness of the buttons!

    Talk about dyslexia in the teaching community makes me laugh like a drain.
    it’s a good thing I was not below bar or
    I might have got another good rap on the knuckles fron Lord Speaker.

    Spell checkers must be the work of the devil for teaachers and the students’ revenge!


  8. Croft
    12/01/2010 at 11:13 am

    I have some memory that schools can receive additional financial support based on the number of pupils with special needs.

    I was never that worried about a certain level of ‘exam’ spelling mistakes as under pressure these things will happen. As others have suggested making mistakes in presentations when you have the time to check what you have produced is quite another matter.

  9. Bedd Gelert
    12/01/2010 at 11:48 am

    “Full stops, comma`s apostrophes in all the right places or you`ll be hung, drawn and quartered ? ”

    Tsk tsk tsk – ‘hanged, drawn and quartered..’

    See me after class for detention..

  10. Carl.H
    12/01/2010 at 12:43 pm

    Cor blimey guvner, I fink you is rite but someone better tell the ” The Hung,Drawn and Quartered” pub in Tower Hill. They`re quoting Pepys wrongly. Oooops.


    Oooh and Sir you must give 24 hours written warning of detention out of school hours ! :-p

  11. Simon
    12/01/2010 at 10:10 pm

    I hope some day that the tide will turn on spelling and grammar. I do not think that John Locke or Adam Smith where any the worse for lacking a standardized spelling and grammer, in fact I rather love them for it and I note that plenty of other people around here are fond of them as well.

    I have never been able to spell, and my grammer is quite poor as well (I am learning to hide both these things quite effectively, but they are still there underneath). Thankfully nobody has ever said I am stupid because of these things, I did get an Oxford first after all, but I have heard a lot of silly prejudice thrown about. Yes people tend to ignore badly spelled press releases BUT THAT IS BECAUSE THEY CHOOSE TO DO SO! There is no law of nature that says that just because you can spot 10 spelling mistakes in a paragraph that you don’t need to think about what it is saying. People create that sort of behaviour and then justify critesising others who can’t spell on the grounds that nobody is going to take them seriously.

    I did finally receive a diagnosis of Dyslexia when I was 20, but as far as I could see all that added up to was ‘he can’t spell or use grammar correctly, even though he is otherwise very clever’. I knew that already, but there are plenty of people in the world who appear to deny that this particular combination is possible, or at least that it can only be due to pure laziness unless you happen to have a piece of paper signed by an ‘expert’ who says its all right. Why can’t you just judge people not on the presentation of their language but the content of their thinking?

    Thankfully in my case throughout secondary school the number of marks deducted for poor spelling, punctuation and grammar in exams and coursework where tiny (usually less than 1% of those available). Had they been more substantial I really think it would have been possible for me to miss out on going to Oxford, doing well in my finals and eventually finding my way into political research and public affairs where I get to write press releases that nobody will read because they probably contain a spelling mistake.

    I suppose it would have saved a lot of time and effort all round, but I don’t really think it would have made the world a better place.

    ‘too much grammer in learning is like too much Tyranny in government – confound the bitch Ill never be her slave’ John Clare

  12. Gar Hywel
    13/01/2010 at 4:05 pm

    I eventually decided to learn Welsh where spelling does not matter so much, so I went to “Learn Welsh in a Weekend” and came back speaking Welsh fluently.

  13. Carl.H
    13/01/2010 at 6:36 pm

    Draenog – botasau

    Not so hard when only those two words matter !

  14. Carl.H
    14/01/2010 at 2:54 pm

    Of course that should have read dafad not draenog which is altogether more spiky. Lesson learnt ~ Never trust Welsh friends to give you a translation.

    • Twm O'r Nant
      18/01/2010 at 4:43 pm

      “Dirk Bogarde’s letters are fantastically, joyfully, wonderfully amusing despite being very un-PC and suffering absolutely woeful grammar”

      What I liked most about all six books was the way he said the same thing in six different ways.

      Dyslexia is like so many things to do with the state. If it can be institutionalized it will be, even if it is only an inability to read.

      Freedom is not free, it can come at a very high price, and the freedom to be a member of
      an organized group that can not read, must be one of the highest prices of all, even the right to say that:

      “Dyslexia is far more than the inability to read! It is quite complicated!”

      itself has a high price tag on it; the freedom to be deluded about Latin meaning.

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