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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 August, 2004, 11:22 GMT 12:22 UK
Watching their language
Vicky Pollard and teacher from BBC2's Little Britain
Will teachers' words be falling on deaf ears?
Secondary schools are to receive guidance on how to teach children "standard" spoken English.

The intervention by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) comes amid concern over the effects of the media and text messaging on the quality of teenagers' conversational skills.

BBC News Online asked readers whether "standard" English should be taught.

We received an enormous amount of e-mails in response. Here is a selection of your views:

At long last! Spoken English is in complete decline, with teenagers either speaking in a mobile text language or in a form of English that breaks most grammatical rules. I would love to have a conversation with a young adult who could actually speak properly, using correct vocabulary. I cringe when interviewing young people for jobs at their total lack knowledge about spoken English. They should have done this 10 years ago, but better late than never.
Pip, Tonbridge

Definitely not! The one thing that makes the English language stand out from other major tongues is its versatility and ability to adapt to change. Derived from many sources, modern English is around 400 years old and modern grammar only about 200 years old. In fact, the word "English" is a German word.

English speakers of today struggle to understand plays by Shakespeare and the like, yet consider them to be some of the best in the English language. We should not allow English to go the way of other "greater" languages, and suffer the consequences of inflexibility, by fixing the language to a particular time period. There are too many more important things to teach our children, to get too hung up on the particular grammars and speech patterns of the previous century.
Mark Ashwell, Leicester, UK

Hopefully it can stop the annoying craze of saying "innit" after every single sentence.
Simon , High Wycombe

I think that teaching spoken English at this late stage is probably a waste of time. If the lessons were started earlier, and the high school pupils had already started formal teaching on 'The Grammar Of Talk' during primary school, it would make a lot more difference than starting later. I'd think that younger pupils' speech patterns would be more pliable and far easier to influence than those of their older counterparts.
Sean Monaghan, Blackpool, Lancs

Is this the government's new focus on education? Elocution. Elocution. Elocution.
Harvey Kennett, Essex

Surely the onus lies with the parents? Our three year old speaks beautifully. To the utter amazement of other parents he will say "pardon?" if he requires you to repeat something. Obviously he gets things wrong from time to time but constant repetition and correction bear fruit. Yesterday he watched as I prepared a melon for lunch and when I had finished, he looked at me and said: "Well done Mummy that was excellent." So, in conclusion, rubbish in, rubbish out.
Helen W, Surrey

Do you mean to say that this isn't being taught now? What a dreadful condemnation of the education system in Britain today.
John, UK

I am in two minds over this one, as an English Language graduate, I am a little worried that they are trying to enforce a so-called "standard English", and disappointed that regional dialects won't be taken into account. However, I do understand that in certain situations it helps to be able to speak eloquently and that knowing how to use English in a wide range of circumstances is a very useful tool.
Lelia O'Sullivan, London

What a good idea, teaching children how to speak properly. They could always start with "please" and "thank you". Just a suggestion.
Emma, Sheffield

Sacha Baron Cohen as Ali G
Is rapper Ali G to blame for the rise of "innit"?

I am a little puzzled by the name of the booklet: "Introducing the grammar of talk". Should it not be "Introducing the grammar of speech"?
David James, London

I do not think that spoken English should be taught at school. Language is a fluid thing that evolves over time. The last thing we want is a "correct" English or a "high" language like that of many other European languages. Why is "we was" incorrect? We all understand what is meant by it, so it performs its function. If this is allowed then sooner or later accents will be thought of as a bad thing again.
J Robinson, London

This is a brilliant idea. I work in a university and the amount of students who cannot speak clear and correct English, even though it is their native tongue, is astounding. British children need to be taught grammar and the correct use of English.
Sue, Cambridge

We need to teach every English person how to spell properly as well. How many more times must those of us with functioning neurons have to witness butchered homophones?
Cath Grey, Coventry

A better way of educating the modern pupil would be to: 1. Ban "bad English" from all advertisements in all media. 2. Educate the newsreaders and news editors to produce well-spoken copy, rather than the current poorly constructed near-gibberish that is often produced.
Barry P, Havant, England

About time. While we're at it, how about teaching them the difference between "you're" and "your".
Russell, Scotland

Sadly this is easier said than done
John Clark, Norfolk

Standards of spoken English are generally very poor and many people have a limited vocabulary. The influence of American TV has led many adults and children to raise the intonation at the end of a phrase, making it sound like a question instead of statement.
Jennifer Kataria, London

English could be taught to children at school but who would do it? The grammar of many teachers is little better than that of the children, a legacy of neglect that spans more than one generation perhaps?
Stuart Binnie, Yorkshire

This is a great idea. Academically, I am a high achiever, having strings of top grades to my name and am about to become a doctor of theoretical physics. However I am from a poor area, went to poor schools, and am consequently held back by the fact that I do not speak "properly".
Sarah, Nottingham, UK

Hopefully the teaching will put an end to the use of "so" before a verb, such as "I'm so typing this email". Sort that out first then deal with the Australianisation of their speech, whereby every sentence is ended like a question.
Peter Cooper, Bolton

Oh, if only it were simple to teach spoken English. Grammar is a compromise between imposing standards and accepting usage, although this is rarely acknowledged.

The question is what to accept and what to try to impose. There are powerful psychological mechanisms in children that cause them to learn language from their peers. The trick is to try and broaden their horizons, because their peers are inherently less educated than their teachers.

Sadly this is easier said than done.
John Clark, Norfolk, England

I don't think it will make a big difference. At my school, most people do speak proper English. However there are a group of people who like to cause trouble and who don't have much respect for the rest of the community and they use lots of messed up English such as "bling-bling" for jewellery, and lots of other incorrect terms which annoy a lot of people. I use the internet every day and I can turn my use of "shortened" English, such as text speak, on and off. I am using proper English now, but when I talk to my friends I relax my language.
Carl, Stafford, UK

Is this the government's new focus on education? Elocution. Elocution. Elocution.
Harvey Kennett, Essex

Teenagers should all be locked up until they can speak English properly. That would keep about 98% out of my face and help keep our towns and cities clean and pleasant for a welcome few years.
James Flynn, London

I'm all for variety and the use of dialect in speaking, but I do have a pet grouse (not a bird) when it comes to combining a preposition with the personal pronoun "I". I mean people who say things like "for you and I", or "to you and I", as in "he sends his regards to you and I". Even BBC announcers say things like that.
JP Ward, Netherlands

I'm a student going into year 10 in secondary school, aged 14. In school and in social situations with others of our age, most of our peers use slang and don't really speak what would be called proper spoken English. I try to speak properly among adults but the social culture among our age group means you are likely to look "old", "weird" or as if you are trying to look better than your peers. I would think that teaching spoken English at my school would definitely improve the career prospects of some of my peers and especially the boys.
Amy, Watford, Hertfordshire

Having a north-east accent forever condemns me to a lower-paid job, so this can only be a good thing. As was pointed out in 'Auf Wiedersehen, Pet', a northerner is treated more like an alien down south than overseas.
Zoe, Oxford

Yeah, but no, but yeah, but no, but yeah, so shut up.

Sadly Little Britain's Vicky Pollard is a startlingly accurate portrayal of the way many teenage girls speak these days. My neighbourhood's full of Vickys. I welcome anything that would help youngsters to articulate themselves properly, because 99% of the time I don't have a clue what they're talking about.
Steve, Nottingham




SEE ALSO:
Yoda 'speaks like Anglo-Saxon'
04 Jun 04  |  Education
English lessons at the age of 75
08 Jul 04  |  Education
Adult literacy scheme under fire
26 Sep 03  |  Education


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