Sometimes on the way to your dream,

you get lost and find a better one.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

literacy vs. illiteracy

My good friend Frogdancer, over at Dancing With Frogs has brought up the issue of incorrect spelling. Her article is funnier than mine. She is an English teacher who also teaches English as second language. (ESL)

This subject has been a thorn in my side for quite a while. (okay, all my life).

I recalled a newspaper clipping that I'd saved some time ago (why? who knows) and went searching for it in amongst my many folders of stuff that I keep. (Written by David Nankervis, for the Advertiser, don't remember when.)

The article focussed on job applications, and was headed, "Hi their, I'm just right for the roll.", going on to cover the extent of Australia's growing literacy crisis. Cover letters that end with the words "C U later".

Many job seekers cannot spell correctly, (let's not get into grammar here), and business and language experts say the examples are indicative of literary laziness which is sweeping society.

I agree that as a society, we are becoming lazier with communication, text talk is a prime example.
Had a GR8 day, C U 2mrw. (or tmw)

Other experts blame a lack of classroom discipline. I won't go into that, as I know too many children who have been allowed to run amok at home, with parents telling (shouting at) them frequently, "wait till you start going to school next year, the teacher will make you behave, now get down off the table and eat your dinner". (Poor teacher. That relationship is doomed before it starts. How is she/he expected to be able to discipline a child who hasn't learnt self control and/or manners at home?)

An Adelaide recruitment firm discovered poor spelling, incorrect use of apostrophes, (all over the internet as well), and mixing of Australian and American spelling in many applications were the most common mistakes. (Not every "s" needs an apostrophe).
Many applications contain the abbreviated spelling known as text speak.

(I'm not a fan of text speak myself, being one of the older generation, my text messages often read like essays.)

The article goes on to say "Younger candidates have massive problems with your and you're, also with there, they're and their."

"i" before "e" is also a problem, with many learning the old rule of "i" before "e", except after "c".
Read through any dictionary and there are many examples where this just doesn't apply. Weird, for example.

Author Mem Fox is quoted as saying more people are relying on computer spell check programs, which is probably fine if you're (you are) living in America, as I've noticed my own spell check program is based on American spelling, for instance- color instead of colour-and I've ignored it ever since.

"The disturbing findings came amid revelations that year 11 teachers were being encouraged to make subjects easier for students to pass."

Students who are going on to study teaching are being disadvantaged by this as they won't be able to spell correctly themselves, so can't possibly be expected to know when their students are spelling incorrectly.

I know of a supervisor who accepted thirty applications for work, cover letters and resumes, and each one that contained more than four spelling mistakes per page was tossed into the bin.

I think that some of the problem stems from the fact that school curriculums now have to cover so many more (and more complex) subjects, that there just isn't time to cover everything fully. Students are taught the basics as quickly as possible, weekly testing has disappeared, as long as the child gets the point across in any written work, spelling (and grammar) is ignored.

When I was in primary school, Friday mornings were set aside for the weekly testing of spelling lists learned during the week, also for the math test, the dictation test and reading comprehension. After lunch was usually a long art lesson where we painted on large sheets of paper, while the teacher marked the tests.
This enabled her/him to spot any deficiencies in the learning program, who was doing great, who needed more help, who was really floundering.
The next weeks lessons covered new material, but also incorporated, over and over, material that had not been satisfactorily learned. In this way, students who had not learnt were given the opportunity to receive extra help to catch up.

Sadly, this is not possible now, with the emphasis on getting as many kids through the classes as possible, removing the "competition" of tests, so that poor achievers don't feel badly about themselves.

I'm a good speller myself and helped my children to be good spellers too, by teaching them myself, with various methods, one of which involved getting them to find items for me in the weekly supermarket shopping, reading shop signs, spelling games on the way home from school.
They thought it was fun to spell rhinoceros and hippopotamus and to recite the alphabet forwards and backwards.

Anyway, back to the article...."....the examples highlight the need for greater emphasis on English education in schools".

Fair enough, but they're focussing on high school students and curriculums, when clearly the groundwork for this needs to be laid in the early primary years.

At this point I realise it's gotten dark outside, I still haven't pushed the wheelie bin to the kerb and I haven't eaten for hours.


  1. OH you are my soul sister! I'm always on my soapbox about basic literacy and numeracy skills.
    I think one of the major contributing factors has been the lack of reading in many families. I mean, obviously, actual books rather than texts and e-mails.
    The more you read, the better your spelling, grammar and vocabulary will become.
    ALSO -- I really wish Australian schools made a big deal out of spelling bees in primary school. I'm sure that would help many students, by promoting good spelling as a desirable quality.

  2. Toni; you're right about the spelling bees. We copy so many of the American ways, why not the spelling bees? Along with our OWN history and parliamentary procedures. (American kids learn their constitution in the first grade.) Another idea we should copy is the photocopied worksheets that they carry home for their homework, instead of the full textbooks that our kids are lugging everywhere and damaging their backs in the process. Weigh it up; one folder full of papers against a backpack with 4-6 heavy textbooks.

  3. You should see the shockingly dreadful spelling we found on hubby's school reports from 1979-1981 from 3 teachers covering both primary and high school.
    The rot set in a looooong time ago.

  4. If I hadn't been such a spelling and grammar nag, my children wouldn't be able to spell today. They simply didn't spend much time on spelling at their school at all. Once they went to high school the time spent was even less.

    They don't seem to spend any time on Art in the schools these days either and Art in school teaches a whole range of things.

    Good post River.

  5. I think you've said a mouthful.

  6. I don't ever recall being taught much about grammar or spelling at school and think that a lot of it comes from reading. A lot. And from lots of different sources.

    As for "I know of a supervisor who accepted thirty applications for work, cover letters and resumes, and each one that contained more than four spelling mistakes per page was tossed into the bin." - I've done that too. CHECKING your application before sending it is vital.

  7. Jayne; back in the 60's my teachers could spell, but the "assistant" teachers who came in to learn how to handle classrooms full of kids, (work experience), some of them couldn't spell.

    Kim; in my days at school, art was just one hour or so a week, just like home economics for us girls and woodwork class for the boys. Mostly we painted a bowl of apples or a landscape, or drew a figure, copying whichever student was called upon to pose on a chair.

    Frogdancer; thanks.

    Kath; Reading does help a lot. My family are all great readers, although mostly fiction, and two of my grandchildren were read to each day almost from their first day home from the hospital.

  8. My mother was an English and Latin scholar, so guess what I was drilled in?! Tautologies were frowned upon and my aunt joined in the chorus of "I thought that aunt had been killed long ago" whenever another "aren't" was preceded by the singular "I".

    I think the problems with teaching spelling and grammar are multi-facteted. Despite my mother's diligence and being actively encouraged to read, my comprehension skills fell behind until it was picked in my first year of high school. As one of three children of English speaking parents in a year of 60, it was assumed I would pick up the finer details at home.

    I was fortunate, in that the teacher who picked up on my comprehension issues dealt with the problem quietly along with my parents. I never realised I was taking home extra English work and I caught up. But to this day, I still struggle with American/English spelling ... and I'm told my grammar and spelling are now above average. The standard must have come down somewhat in the past fifty years!

    My other problem is that my fingers can't keep up with my brain when I'm typing. More diligence needed with proof reading!

  9. Watershedd; Proof-reading! There's a job that seems to have disappeared. Loal and national newspapers, especially, need to be proof-read. It's a disgrace.