To Teach or Not To Teach – Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling!

In English lessons we do teach students grammar, punctuation and spelling. For example, they learn the word classes (which used to be called parts of speech) and punctuation. They are taught some spelling rules and use dictionaries,  then we can teach them how to put words together in sentences that accurately convey meaning, which is a necessity in clear communication.

However, our English language is in a state of constant change, adapting to the introduction of new technology and to changes in our society and economy. This is a good thing. We no longer need to know that a knife seller or sharpener is a cutler or to call our teachers pedascules. Spelling is constantly changing too, or ‘wordes are chaunging’ as Chaucer would have written in the 1400s.

Change does not mean we stop teaching a variety or standard of English that is commonly accepted as ‘correct’, though we need not be pedantic and insist on rules that are no longer relevant. For example, ‘they’ is now commonly used to refer to one person of undefined gender, rather than writing he/she.  It is unusual to hear the passive used with ‘if’. Most people say, ‘If I was ..” not, “If I were…”

An article I read recently proposed the idea that in the future there will be many localised versions of English, with a basic common language that we learn in schools. We can see this evolving already with American English, British English, Spanglish and Hip-hop, each with  its own spelling, pronunciation and vocabulary. When we travel or watch television, we realise it is more than just people’s accents that can make them difficult to understand.

That’s all for now, so “Be easy” as they say in American.

Jenny Joynt, Head of Learning English