Don’t stop teaching grammar please!

Oh help, my Mum and a couple of great aunts as well as my high school English teacher are certainly turning in their graves right now. A recommendation to stop teaching grammar in schools has been made. Yes, it is true and by none other than a university Professor. Not a Professor of English, mind you, but of Educational Technology. Professor Mitra of Newcastle University, UK has suggested that English grammar should no longer be taught as children have technology for spell checks and most of them use SMS language anyway. This is one area where I do support my mother and other influential adults of my youth. I accept that all languages evolve and new words are created while others are lost due to lack of use, but not to know basic grammar is a ridiculous idea.

I will give just one example of how this can be disastrous for society. For a number of years I was an appointed Equal Opportunity representative for selection committees at the university where I was employed. This resulted in my sitting on over 40 Selection Panels during a 2 year period and one thing we learnt and put into practise is that first impressions count. At that time, all applications were hard copies and were the first impression a selector had of any applicant. How a person introduced and described him/herself was of extreme importance. There were many VERY badly written opening paragraphs and letters. We did allow for persons whose 1st language was not English making some errors in grammar and punctuation, but there seemed to be many English speaking applicants who had no idea how to write a simple sentence. Professor Mitra said that pupils should be encouraged not to rely on linguistic rules but to try and express themselves in new ways such as using mobile phone text messaging.
Can you imagine receiving a letter applying for a post that goes something like this? (I enlisted some assistance with the texting ‘language’ as I am in my sixties).

dR Sirs

I M respond n 2 d ad. 4 d positN of Secretary/PA 2d ManagnDirectr. I BIEv dat I MEt AL d advRtizd requirements & hav d neceSrE 5 years XperENs as a personL Assistant. atachd iz a recnt copy of my CV and 2 refernex az requestD. I L%k 4ward 2 hearing frm U.

urs sincerely

Ann Smith


Dear Sirs

I am responding to the advertisement for the position of Secretary/PA to the Managing Director. I believe that I meet all the advertised requirements and have the necessary 5 years experience as a Personal Assistant. Attached is a recent copy of my CV and 2 references as requested.  I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely

Ann Smith

That is what we could expect if we went with his first suggestion, using texting language. He also says that, as there are spell checks, there is no need to learn spelling and grammar. The problem is that too many people rely on spell checks and, if they do not know the correct spelling and connotation themselves, they do not pick up when a word with a different meaning and spelling is used as it is spelt correctly. eg their and there OR public and pubic! When reading newspapers and magazines I frequently see this sort of error and at times it can be hilarious and at others just plain embarrassing. Not sure what has happened to editing and editors.

In contrast, Dr Catherine Walter of Oxford University wrote in The Guardian Weekly, a year ago, “The evidence is now in: the explicit teaching of grammar rules leads to better learning”.  Paula Budra of Simon Fraser University in Canada writes, “… students leaving high school and entering university do not have, for the most part, the necessary skills to make themselves consistently understood in writing. This is not the fault of the social media, as some have claimed. We teach students skills in physical education class so they can play sports; we teach them skills in music class so they can play instruments. But somehow, since “process writing” revolution of the mid 1960s, skills have been seen as an enemy to writing.”

Various studies in a number of countries, both developed & undeveloped, have concluded that many children finish 12 years of schooling illiterate. They may be able to read words but they do not know how to process information and use it to discuss issues. This is just one of the factors causing high failure rates in tertiary education and can create embarrassing situations in the workplace. If one does not understand what is being read, how can you interpret it and extend beyond.

“You need to understand grammar in order to read with comprehension.” – David Mulroy, Professor & Author

“You could have the highest IQ, you could be stellar in many areas, but if you can’t speak and write correctly, people will automatically assume that you’re not bright.” – Janice Kopp, Retired Teacher

“What I’m seeing on a day-to-day basis from people who are otherwise well-educated is that, for some reason, their grammar is just terrible.” – Richard T. Bell, Medical Director

So to those who say educators should “Stop teaching English spelling and grammar?” my response is  ‘You can, but you may not!’ (with apologies to my mother)


1 Comment

  1. Loved it! As an English teacher at a school for learners with learning barriers, I can identify with your plight for good grammar and spelling. My learners, however, really don’t grasp the concept of even good punctuation in a sentence and for them the spell check option works wonderfully well. Alas, their vocabulary is very limited due to their absolute dislike of reading as most learners have some degree of dyslexia. But we will fight the good fight to try and lay down some skills in grammar and spelling and punctuation. A while ago a boy wrote in a dialogue:”Let’s eat grandpa!” Instead of:”Let’s eat, grandpa!” I thought you might enjoy it!

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