The writing's on the wall.

Discussion in 'Cultural Discussions' started by panjandrum, Mar 26, 2006.

  1. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    The writing's on the wall - Sunday Times, 26 March 2006.

    This article in today's Sunday Times includes the following commentary:
    Who are these students, you may ask.
    They are the supposed cream of the English educational system, students at English Universities.

    The article concludes:
    Are these conclusions the over-dramatic views of out-of-touch literary dinosaurs, anxious to preserve skills that are redundant in the 21st century?

    Is this a purely English phenomenon, or would such findings be mirrored in other English-speaking countries - and elsewhere?
  2. maxiogee Banned

    Seems to fit the educational churn-out of the Irish Republic. My son finished about 14 years in our system two years ago and told me he had never been taught any English Grammar. He had never learned how to parse a sentence and, although literate (and numerate), I need to proof-read any letters he has to send. Not that he sends many. He communicates by phone and text and email. I have no idea how his email 'reads' - but if it is anything like his texting I don't wish to know.

    I think being able to properly command one's own language is a vital skill. I do not want to hear people saying "but that's not what I meant!" - too late, you've already said it and the damage is done. Words can never be unsaid.
    • We owe it to ourselves to think clearly and then express those thoughts clearly.
    • We owe it to our listeners to mean what we say to them.
    • We owe it to those we listen to to be able to understand them.
  3. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    If you will accept the prejudiced views of a an out-of-touch, somewhat literary, card-carrying dinosaur, the problem is widespread in the U.S.

    Some ten years after graduating from college, I found myself teaching at a very selective university in the U.S. My students were both undergrads and grad students pursuing degrees in the dismal science (economics, for the uninitiated). Many of them wrote clearly. A large minority couldn't write their respective ways into or out of a paper bag! These were young men and women from among "the best and the brightest" of their era.

    The decline has continued. I see it in many places, from letters to the editor of the local weekly paper, to these forums. Older folks seem to have been taught something of logic, organization, and rational exposition. Among those of my children's age, the good writers are a minority. I wonder if the sloppy writing reflects sloppy thinking, or if one can think logically and simply be unable to express onself with written words.

    I know people who love music and understand and appreciate it very well. Yet, they cannot play an instrument or carry a tune. Could it be that there is a parallel with writing? Can one be highly intelligent, able to think clearly, yet lack the skill of coherent written expression?

    I don't think bad writers are unintelligent, any more than all good writers necessarily have thoughts worthy of writing. Still, I'm concerned at the obvious degradation of writing skills on this side of the puddle.
    Shame, innit?
  4. Edher

    Edher Senior Member

    Cd. de México, Spanish & English
    Hola a todos,

    Cuchuflete your opinion reminds me quite a bit of one George Orwell's writings I read not so long ago, "Politics and the English Language." Panjandrum and I discussed it in an earlier thread I posted but didn't get much attention, I'm glad it has resurfaced.

    "...A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because out thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible... " George Orwell

    To read the rest (highly recommended):

  5. Agnès E.

    Agnès E. Senior Member

    France, French
    The same phenomenon has spread to France as well, as until a recent past the whole school years were focused around scientific fields, and all literary subjects were seen with much discontempt.
    Now, our government seems to have suddenly realised what was going on and has imposed a come-back of French studies, from the first years of school (at the age of 3-4).

    French children learn grammar, write a lot by themselves (they previously sticked pre-written sheets instead) and must write essays as early as from the age of 8 (teachers' demands are adapted to the pupils' age, naturally!).

    I just hope that they are also taught HOW to build their own thoughts, how to create a reasoning (as anything else, this is a matter of technique before all), and not just say what they feel and what their own ideas are.
    I think that knowing what people of the past said is important in order to be able to refute their words instead of just re-inventing the wheel. :)

    But I've already been told I am a dinosaur, so...
  6. Residente Calle 13 Senior Member

    New York City
    It's a pretty old complaint and I think it's been made wherever, and whenever, people write. What did a Roman think? Here's an excerpt (translated to one of your Barbarian languages, of course) :

    Spoken Latin has picked up a passel of words considered to be too casual for written Latin, and the grammar people use when speaking has broken down. The masses barely use anything but the nominative and the's gotten to the point that the student of Latin is writing in what is to them an artificial language, and it's an effort for him to recite it decently.

    See Milroy, James. "Children Can't Speak or Write Properly Anymore." Language Myths. Laurie Bauer and Peter Trudgill, eds. London: Penguin, 1998.
  7. Tekeli-li! Tekeli-li! Junior Member

    Czech | Czech Republic
    Personally, albeit not in the least a product of the British education system, I have a hard time writing essays as well. In fact, Czech students in general are often perceived as even worse at elucidating their own opinion in an organized manner than British students.

    The phrase "lexical nullity and syntactical bankruptcy" is the best thing I've read all week, though.
  8. Vanda

    Vanda Moderesa de Beagá

    Belo Horizonte, BRASIL
    Português/ Brasil
    I feel so relieved knowing this is not only our " privilege"! :) I was so sad last week, just to mention one time, when correcting some graduate students´ paragraphs. No cohesion, no coherence, no periods, no nothing.
    Our country has sistematically been ranked the last or the last but one in the PISA´s (Programme for International Student Assessment) evaluation, so I was kind of - let´s say - accepting the fact that this is only our problem, having to do with our weak education system (actually it´s a field of experimentation for our Education Ministers - I wonder if they have ever been to a classroom after leaving school themselves). From elementary schools to college we receive each year a growing number of students who can´t interprete a text, let alone write one that makes sense. A worldwide epidemic?!
  9. timpeac

    timpeac Senior Member

    English (England)
    Given that it is the stated aim of the British government to have 50% of students in higher education by 2010 I think this is a necessary consequence.

    Are people getting more intelligent (physically-biologically speaking I mean)? Of course not, I would hazard.

    Are they being taught many tens of times better than 20 years ago? Of course not, I would opine.

    Therefore in order to have a higher proportion of the population in higher education necessarily requires that standards are reduced.

    Self fulfilling prophecy, but I expect the labour government will dine out on the achievement if they manage it.
  10. nichec

    nichec Senior Member

    I think we have the same problem here in Asia. kids nowadays don't read or write anymore. They grow up spending all their time in front of TV or computer or their cellphone. When they do write, they tend to write in this very particular style that's used by people who are trying to write very fast, which is the case when they are "talking" through internet or sending texts. That means they skip many words and when there are more than one words with the same sound in Chinese, they choose the easy one to write, which is most of the time the wrong one. By doing that, they save a lot of time for themselves, but at the same time they start to forget how to write correctly little by little. And they don't care anything about grammar or structure even when they are writing in a new language that they are learning. It seems to me that speed is everything to them, and they seem to understand each other well. When I was a TA in English and Chinese classes as a student, I had hard time grading my classmates' homework because I simply couldn't understand what they were trying to say....
  11. HDragomiroff

    HDragomiroff Junior Member

    Researches like PISA show that in Spain many students don’t understand what they read and I think that if they don’t comprehend what they read that affects negatively every school subject. For me reading habit help more to spell and write well than grammar lessons do. Having books in the home, parents who read aloud to their children etc. are great advantages.
  12. maxiogee Banned

    Apart from having access to books - and a desire to open them - I think that the best thing that can be done for a child is to encourage them when they get to the stage of being playful with language. I had an Aunt who used to join in my mangling of English when I was young. She stretched me in ways I didn't realise until much later. She also introduced me to the delights of crosswords and the puns, double-meanings and codes therein. That did wonders for my vocabulary. And while I only got one year of Latin when I was in secondary school I think that that laid something down for me also. I was hopeless at both Latin and German in school, and only passable at French and English, but afterwards some of the things I had 'picked up' (God how I pity my poor teachers!) seemed to have
    stuck and have been useful to me.
  13. Amityville

    Amityville Senior Member

    English UK
    How can it be that there has been a global dropping of standards ? In the UK I had put it down to the reasons Tim gives, and the 'all must have prizes' and express the fullness of their personalities at the expense of form. But this isn't the case everywhere is it ? Does the internet and use of cellphones have anything to do with it ? A generation ago all written communication was hand-written or laboriously typed (any mistake meant starting again at the beginning) so maybe we wrote less and took more care. I know I tend to be a bit slovenly myself writing here - the immediacy gives me leave to use a lot of dashes and brackets rather than proper punctuation for instance. Maybe we now just see a lot more of the errors than we did and the acceptability of mistakes is more widespread because they are everywhere.
  14. Residente Calle 13 Senior Member

    New York City
    When I was growing up, I communicated with my friends and family, mostly orally. In other words, if my cousin had something to tell me, she would tell me over the phone or in person. Today, she is more likely to shoot me an email or text message and reveal she's a poor speller. I would have never had a chance to notice that twenty years ago. And to be honest, we were never really kean on writing letters. Dialing the phone seemed so much easier.
  15. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    I see the same going on here. I blame it on certain linguists who told educators that students didn't really need to learn gammar, to know their language... nor did they need to know how to spell... nor how to write coherent sentences... nor to read any literary classics. It all just seeps into them through osmosis, apparently. :rolleyes:
  16. Residente Calle 13 Senior Member

    New York City
    Hi Outsider,

    I thought this thread was about writing. Are you talking about writing? It appears that you might be talking about something else. I wanted to disagree with what you said before I realized I didn't really understand what you were saying.
  17. maxiogee Banned

    Before we drift off in to disagreeing with what people whom we don't understand (and who just might be saying something which is off-topic) let's get back to the thread....

    It would be interesting to look at the words people look for in dictionaries - how does someone who cannot spell the word go about finding the definition of 'pneumonia' or 'salicylic acid' or even 'psychology'.
    I'd love to see a list of the 'misses' scored on the English definition facility at the top of these pages.
  18. Alundra

    Alundra Senior Member

    Nueva York de la Mancha
    España - Castellano
    I think in Spain is happening the same thing... I hope my children learn something more after years from go to school... :)

    Anyway, it also depends to a large degree from them... my daughter is all the day behind me, asking me: Mom, What does this word means? How is it spelled? Something that my son doesn't do.

    I already know who will write better ;) independently of the educational system.

    I like play with them to wordplays too. (palabras encadenadas, etc..) they learn very much in this way...

  19. jokker Senior Member

    All you have mentioned and the newspaper story said have happened in Taiwan. I guess the happening times of this phenomenon are about the same.

    Media have reported and discussed it, educational authorities have discussed and tried to find someway to remedy it, teachers have experssed the seriousness of it, and the students...I don't know...I don't think my Chinese is good enough, so I think I don't have the right to judge others.
  20. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    You'll have to ask Panjandrum. I thought it was about the teaching of mother tongues in general.
  21. Residente Calle 13 Senior Member

    New York City
    I think his first message is clear : today's students in the UK are having trouble "writing essays." I don't see what this has to do with the "teaching of mother tongues" since by the time children learn how to write they already speak their mother language. Children may learn how to "write" in school but that's not where they learn the mother tongue.

    I have no idea how well or poorly students write these days as opposed to how they did in the past. If I go back far enough in my family I'll reach a point where nobody knew how to write.

    The only thing I know is that everybody says the same thing and has always been saying the same thing: kids suck at writing these days and it's [insert scapegoat here]'s fault.
  22. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    I don't see speaking, reading and writing as disconnected abilities. School may not be where students learn the basics of their language, but it is a place where they can improve their domain of their mother tongue, both in regard to reading and writing, and in regard to speaking. Or at least it used to be, until linguists took control of our school system. Now it's a place where they don't learn anything whatsoever.
  23. Residente Calle 13 Senior Member

    New York City
    Wow! Where do you live?
  24. jokker Senior Member

    Please pardon me for cutting in.

    But I think all the things that outsider mentioned are basic elements of being able to write good and well. outsider was truly talking about writing.

    My two cents.
  25. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Sorry if I sound passionate about this... but I am. It's my tax money that's being squandered, too, after all.
  26. Residente Calle 13 Senior Member

    New York City
    According to Steven Fischer, transcribing by drawing from a standard repertoire of symbols emerged about six thousand years ago in Ancient Mesopotamia (2001: 33).

    In stark contrast, it is likely that a form of rudimentary speech was at least anatomically possible as far back as 900,000 years ago (Fischer 1999: 44). John McWhorter posits that it is almost certain spoken language began about 150,000 years ago (5).

    In either case it is clear that both as individuals and as a species, we talk long before we write. Children learn to say very complex statements long before they can put them to pen and paper. Societies have existed, and still exist, that do not write. Most languages have never been written down and only several dozen languages out of the more than six thousand are regularly written (Trask and Mayblin 84).

    But groups of humans without a language have never been found (McWhorter 9). Speech is hundreds of thousands of years old and all healthy humans who are exposed to language pick it up like sponges but writing is a relatively recent innovation found in only some humans and takes quite a bit of work and effort to master.

    In light of these preponderant facts, relatively intelligent people still confuse writing with language itself.

    One comment that is often made by educated folk these days is that the English language is "going down the drain" because of text messaging and online chatting (reminiscent of when television was the culprit) and the same is said about Spanish.

    But even if we were to entertain the idea that proper spelling has become a lost art, this does not necessarily mean that English is changing for the worse because the English language does not consist merely of Spelling or even writing.

    "CUL8R" is still pronounced, and still means, 'See you later.' So does "NOSBMOS" (Nos vemos). There is nothing ungrammatical about the uttered phrases in neither the descriptive nor prescriptive sense. It's not dissimilar from shorthand or Morse code except that it's a more widely used and newer invention (and thus tends to be adapted by younger people with greater enthusiasm).

    Sure, it's hard to read for those not familiar with the code. So is Morse Code and Stenography.

    It just makes sense to adapt spelling to some technologies, just as it makes sense for waiters to abbreviate orders in restaurants, and for a Roman writer to scribble "SPQR" instead of "Senatus Populusque Romanus"; it's expedient and expeditious. People have been abbreviating for as long as they've been writing.

    It is also often overlooked that English emerged at a time when most people could not read or write it at all so it can be nothing but odd that this "decline" is caused by spelling differently—which is a more accurate description of the phenomenon—what most people could not, historically, write when the language was supposedly in ascent.

    Universal literacy in is a twentieth century novelty but during every decade since writing has become widespread chroniclers have been saying the same thing: the quality of written English is in a free-fall. But if it's going down, it must have been higher at one point yet this point when people wrote better English remains elusive especially since every generation says kids can't write properly (Milroy 58-65).

    Writing is hard and kids have trouble with it. It's always been hard and always will be. That's why kids have always had a hard time writing. Everyone blames the kids and or/modern society. Calculus is hard and kids have trouble with it. It's always been hard and always will be. That's why kids have always had a hard time with Calculus. In that case, everyone blames the difficulty of Calculus. Nobody says it's because of cells phones, the internet, or TV. Oh well!

    Works Cited

    Fischer, Steven Rodger. A History of Language. London: Reaktion Books, 1999.

    ---. A History of Writing. London: Reaktion Books, 2001.

    McWhorter, John. The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language. New York: Harper, 2001.

    Milroy, James. "Children Can't Speak or Write Properly Any More." Language Myths. Laurie Bauer and Peter Trudgill, eds. London: Penguin, 1998.

    Trask, R.L. and Bill Mayblin. Richard Appignanesi (ed.) Introduction to Linguistics. Cambridge: Icon Books, 2000.
  27. jokker Senior Member

    One can speak and has no trouble communicating with others in his mother tongue doesn't mean he can write beautifully/well/good in his mother tongue.

    That's exactly what this thread is discussed. An English native speaker can speak his mother tongue doesn't mean he can write well, the same as a Chinese native speaker does. However, education and learning do help. Hence, if the school's educational system is good, a student truly can learn not only speak well but also write well.

    I do agree with you on this. No matter nowadays or in the past, one does not necessarily know how to write (or write good) just because he attends school. My guess is reading plays a more important role.

    There is an ancient Chinese writer/poet/government* official who once said:'When one has read more than 10,000 books, he writes as if there were gods help him.'

    *Almost every ancient Chinese writer was also a government official. The system is too complicated for me to explain, not because the system is really so complicated but because my English is not good enough.
  28. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    Residente does a good job of debunking the myth that writing has gone to hell in a handbasket due to modern technology, and that spelling is not at the heart of communication.

    Bravo for the good essay, Residente. It is organized, well-developed, and persuasive. Unfortunately, it sets up and knocks down a straw man. Panj's original post quoted a newspaper as saying,

    "The students’ essays are muddled and clumsily expressed. They don’t know where to start, how to organise their subject matter or follow a coherent chain of thought."

    That is not a condemnation of poor spelling or even of poor grammar. It is about the written expression of a thought process. "Muddled" refers to incoherent thinking, expressed in writing. The problem the article raises is really one of weakness in the teaching and use of logic, reason, and organization of thoughts.

    A student may massacre grammar, make a mockery of correct spelling, and still write a well-organized, persuasive essay. Another student may display full mastery of spelling, syntax, grammar...and write jumbled nonsense.

    Outsider points to a lack of reading of classic works as a piece of the puzzle. I agree with him. If students do not read, and read often, and well, then they are apt to write badly, whatever spelling conventions they adopt or ignore.

  29. Residente Calle 13 Senior Member

    New York City
    I agree with you about what you say about teaching how to write and with him about reading.

    I think writing is VERY hard and that's one reason we admire, or should admire, people who do it well. Those people are few and far in between. I have a hard time understanding why we, as a society, have a hard time appreciating how difficult it is to write and how difficult it is to teach people how to write. We give teachers such few resources and such little time and expect them to churn out armies of Ernest Hemmingways?

    I have no trouble appreciating (one p or two?) that students have a hard time with essays. I have cousins who are in high school and college and I proofread their work. But I can't say their work is much worse than my peers when I was in school because I didn't look over people's essays at that age unless I was forced to by an instructor.

    In short: of course they are having a hard time doing something hard! It's hard! Their teachers aren't having a picninc either.
  30. Kelly B

    Kelly B Senior Member

    USA English
    I'm not that alarmed, really. This is partly based on Timpeac's point earlier.
    We are encouraging so many more people to attend universities that you really must expect the average to decline. I'd suppose that the proportion of good writers, or at least of people with well-organized minds, has remained relatively constant. We are raising our expectations of everybody else, and then getting upset when they don't meet those expectations.

    Many of those great writers of centuries gone by used tortuous phrasings in their exceedingly long sentences. They were brilliant, yes, but I'm not sure that I'd prefer a return to that style. I don't think they could get jobs in business communications.

    I write better than my parents, who write better than my grandparents, only one of whom went to college. Maybe we're just odd, but I don't see the downhill trend from this angle. I think it's unlikely that we've reached the pinnacle of literacy.
  31. timpeac

    timpeac Senior Member

    English (England)
    Although I'm sure that extending the numbers of people at high levels of education means that average standards within those echelons fall I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing. How so? Well, if you look at one strata of higher education - say university graduates - you may well find that the average student is worse educated than a university graduate a few decades ago. However, because the width of the slice of society as a whole who go to university has increased I would hope that the average education level of the population would have increased.

    It is misleading, however, when the government make announcement such as "graduates earn twice as much as non-graduates on average (or whatever) therefore if we increase the number of graduates everyone is better off".
  32. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I am struck by the international response. Thanks everyone for your thoughts on this topic. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. You wouldn't be here if you didn't care about language and communication using words.

    The focus of the original article is indeed on the written word, although much of the report is about the inability of the students to organise their thoughts persuasively - never mind place those thoughts coherently on piece of paper or a PC screen.

    I note the point that there are many more students now admitted to universities, but I disagree that this is anything other than a peripheral cause of the general decline in the ability to create written English. I have observed this decline in the brightest of our bright graduate intake over the past twenty years.

    In my undergraduate days, we were expected to be able to write. Even in courses that were highly technical, there was always a significant element of written work either specifically to test our ability in English or to compose a project report on a technical topic. By the early 1980s, this must have vanished from the curriculum. We were taking in top-grade graduates who couldn't write in English.

    I suggest, entirely without evidence other than the points raised here, instinct and common sense, that there are a number of factors that have contributed directly to the decline in writing competence. In no particular order, and very selectively ...

    There is much less examination by written answer marked by an examiner based on judgement. This is a laborious process that is vulnerable to challenge. It is more objective, cheaper, and more defensible to avoid this kind of assessment.

    The education system doesn't reward excellence in written work any more.

    The immediacy of modern communication (msn, e-mail, text) rewards those who commmunicate first and fastest, not those who communicate best.
  33. timpeac

    timpeac Senior Member

    English (England)
    I do disagree with this last. Many times I have written something in these forums, and before sending rewritten it and then written it again because I am worried about giving the wrong impression about something. As mentioned we have smileys to aid communication - and this for a very good reason. With electronic communication all the body language is missing.

    Have you never written someone an email - with genuinely nothing bad intended, even subliminally - and completely insulted someone?

    I can think of at least 3 clear examples off the top of my head where I have done this in these very hallowed forums.

    Also, have you never banged out an email - thinking you've made it quite clear what you were asking - only to have someone go off at a complete tangent and you don't get what you wanted at all? I know I have.:)

    I think that electronic communication makes clarity more important (and appreciated).
  34. Residente Calle 13 Senior Member

    New York City
    I don't think it has anything to do with the fact that this is a language forum. You can ask this question anywhere and you will more than not get the same answer.

    You can also ask if children today appreciate what they have--you will hear no. If you ask if children have less respect for their elders today, you will hear yes. I don't think it matters what country you ask or what social class the informant is from. If you went back in a time machine to any country, you would still get the same answers. It's a universal. There is no culture, no place, no time, where the general consensus is that the new generation can write better than the last one. The Ancient Babylonians were probably complaining that kids could just not write good cuniform anymore!
  35. maxiogee Banned

    Well I don't - so there!:p :D

    I have stopped using instant communication applications for this very reason. By the time I have typed a reasoned response to something the conversation has moved on. I have ended up being left out of the loop in that I was missing what was being said while I was responding to what had been said.
  36. timpeac

    timpeac Senior Member

    English (England)
    What are you talking about? I thought we'd resolved this argument days ago...:p :D

    Maybe a judicious mix of both skills is appropriate.
  37. GenJen54

    GenJen54 Senior Member

    Downright Pleasant, USA
    USA - English
    I've been wanting to comment on this thread for a few months, ever since a friend of mine began her student teaching in a local public high school.

    Apparently, the "theory" that is now deemed acceptable in many pedagogical circles is that composition and grammar are to be taught separately, and shall remain segregated. That is to say, students are never taught how to integrate what they have learned in grammar class into their compositions.

    Case in point: my friend, when grading student compositions (from composition class), is not allowed to make any deductions in score for errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation or syntax. Nor is she allowed to teach about "transitional sentences," pyramidal structure, or any of the other writing "basics" that I and others grew up with. Oops. I kind of thought that was a major part of learning how to write.

    Instead, she has been instructed to focus on the students' "thoughts," the way they construct the essay/composition as a whole.

    She is not even allowed to point out errors, and ask students to look up misspelled words in dictionaries. "That," she is told, "is done in grammar."

    When I was in school, my compositions were given two grades: one for content, the other for grammar, etc. My final score was an aggregate of the two.

    I'd like to hear others' comments about whether "theories" such as this (sorry, I don't know the name of this particular theory) are actually detrimental to practical classroom teaching.

    Many college English professors I know complain regularly about the lack of writing skills of incoming students. Hearing this account from my friend certainly makes me understand why.
  38. SFO Senior Member

    California/Buenos Aires
    English (USA/New Zealand)
    At least in the US, I would hazard a guess that the decrease in writing skills is correlated with the increasing use of multiple choice questions in examinations. Whereas formerly a short paragraph would be required to answer an exam question, now a simple number choice is all that is required.

    I was amazed when I was reviewing some job applications for a postgraduate position that was advertised with a stipulation of "excellent written communication skills are necessary". Some of the applicants failed to run even a simple computer spellcheck before they printed their application.

  39. ireney

    ireney Modistra

    Greek Greece
    The minute someone says that no points will be deducted out of getting all the numbers wrong in maths and only judgine if the way you went about solving the problem is right we'll have reached (I think) the absolut nadir to which this "philosophy" leads us .

    While I think it is wrong to actualy make students worry about spelling and grammar mistakes to a point that they take more time making sure they don't have any than developing their ideas, at least a minimum amount of notice should be given in the knowledge of the tools to develop your ideas.

    Grammar is B O R I N G. Syntax and structure learning are boring too. Spelling is a chore. These however are the tools for expressing your ideas. If you don't have the right tools how on earth are you going to express your ideas correctly?

    Call me a traditionalist if you wish but without proper structure (grammar, syntax etc) I don't think it's possible to express your ideas properly. Even in cases were someone is a mighty author (one comes to mind) you wants to deconstruct the language and break the rules, he/she mu8st first know which are these rules he/she is breaking.

    I can't see how making grammar a separate subject cn help.

    If anything, it makes grammar etc even more boring since it takes away from their teaching the practical application of what you learn. Not to mention that it's illogical. What is the reason of learning grammar if not to apply it in his/her speech and writing?

    How is someone who (theoretically speaking) has good ideas but lacks the means to express them (otehr than vocabulary that is) to learn how he/she should do so?
  40. . 1 Banned

    Ferntree Gully
    Australian Australia
    This sounds like a discussion that has been going on for generations. I remember my grandfather complaining about the falling standards of formal education.
    My daughter just finished High School and her writing skills are better than mine were at the same stage.
    She complained about the constant requirement to produce essays to a template always following the same rules but the end result is a very well developed ability to write.
    I wonder at the modern tendency to leave education up to schools and not to the parents.
    How many kids who lack writing skills were actively encouraged to play with written language at home?
    Formal education is all well and good but it is not the only education available and it is not necessarily the best education available.

  41. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod

    I'm probably in the minority, but I actually think that discussion boards like this one will lead to an improvement in writing skills. I've seen it many times -- a person accustomed to dashing something off without organizing his thoughts first gets a completely different reaction than he expected and begins the laborious process of explaining what he meant to write as opposed to what he actually wrote.

    That kind of instant feedback is a great motivator to begin examining and analyzing what goes on the "printed" page before hitting the Submit button. I know that it makes me re-think my own posts, especially when I consider that many of the people reading them are not native English speakers.
  42. Etcetera

    Etcetera Senior Member

    St Petersburg, Russia
    Russian, Russia (St Petersburg)
    It certainly occurs in Russia.
    Two years ago I was working at my Faculty of Philology as an assistant during entrance exams. My duties included meeting the entrants and showing them to the rooms where they were to take their exams, providing them with paper and pens and the examiners with coffee, and so on.
    It was something truly awful. The people who had left school with golden and silver medals, were writing the most foolish things in their essays. I still rememver a wonderful phrase from a girl's application to the examiners in which she stated that she hadn't deserved a "two" (the lowest mark one can get in their exam) for her essay: "I don't know what is romanticism, but I think it's what I have written it is". These school-leavers were going to study at the Faculty of Philology, and they couldn't answer a question like "Why didn't Natasha Rostova marry Vronsky?":eek:
    And I've heard that this year, faculties for exact sciences of Moscow University had to accept some entrants who got 'twos' for their essays!:eek:
    This is indeed a very serious problem.
    When I myself was at school, we too studied grammar and composition separately. But we also used to have whole lessons devoted to how to use grammar to convey our ideas in a better way. It definitely helped us a lot (8 of my classmates are now studying at Moscow University). But the school I attended wasn't a typical one...
    I must confess that for me, it is now much easier to express myself in English. When I have to write something in Russian, I can spend a lot of time trying to sweep all the English expressions out of my head and find their Russian equivalents. But that's quite another thing...
  43. maxiogee Banned

    Pardon my off-topic question here, but I'm certain I won't be the only person who wonders about this…

    If "two" is the lowest mark one can get, what end of the scale do they start at?

    If it's "one", it's not a very big scale, and if it isn't "one" - but "one hundred", or even "ten", why isn't "one" the lowest mark?
  44. Etcetera

    Etcetera Senior Member

    St Petersburg, Russia
    Russian, Russia (St Petersburg)
    Of course, I'll explain that. :)
    The highest mark one can get is "five". "Five" is "excellent", "four" = "good", "three" = "satisfactory", "two" = "poor".
    "One" is used at schools sometimes, but very rarely, and it's never used at universities and colleges. I don't know exactly why. Maybe because "two" - "poor" - is bad enough. :)

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