Home » Politics: Thoughts, Ideas & Opinions » Are You Speaking English???

Are You Speaking English???



UK schools have recently been on on the warpath against the misuse of standard English during lessons. Teachers fear that young children are learning and using slang terms and colloquialisms, before they have a firm grasp of standard English.

A school in Middlesbrough sent letters to parent urging them to take action. Parents were told to prevent their children adopting such phrases like; ‘it’s nowt’ and ‘gizit ere’. The warning was clear enough; ‘problem’ words and phrases muddied the child’s speech and disadvantaged them.

Under fire also was pronunciation. ‘Free’ and ‘butta’ instead of ‘three’ and ‘butter’ were amongst those listed as requiring attention. ‘I done that’ and ‘I seen that’ were also blacklisted within the letter, and parents were reminded that ‘yous’ should not be permitted because ‘you is never a plural’.

In all, 11 ‘incorrect’ phrases were highlighted as particularly troublesome.

The Headteacher of the school defended the sentiment behind the letter, saying that the aim of it was to ensure that children were fully equipped to go out into the without disadvantage. Stating that all children need to learn the difference between dialect, accent and standard English. The literacy framework itself stipulates that children need to be able to write in standard English, however when this framework was brought up as a defence, nothing was mentioned about the need to read and speak standard English too. Interesting.

The Headteacher has since gone on to reiterate that the school is not demanding that the children change their dialect or accent. The schools intention is that children establish that a difference between these, and standard English exists. This little reminder sent out to parents was to ensure that they understood that their children could indeed be faced with a disadvantage whilst entering adulthood, and the world of work. If standard English was not taught and fully understood from an early stage, then problems could set in at later life.

The reaction, well, parents broadly agreed with the language initiative; though receiving the letter came as an unexpected shock to them.

Regardless of how relaxed the parents were to it all, local MP Angela Smith was not as accepting. She was reported as saying; ‘Who is going to adjudicate? Who is going to say slang, dialect or accent? And which one is right and which one is wrong?’

With reports of literacy levels in school leavers on the decline, perhaps this initiative to nip such issues in the bud is a good idea. Many 16 year olds leave school without an English qualification, which in itself is problematic. Most employers, colleges or training establishments will require an English qualification, and look for this level of learning as part of their consideration of candidates.

When children can move through, and then leave a schooling system without gaining a qualification for a language they have been learning, speaking, writing and immersed within for 16 years, surely there has to be something wrong??

If a 16 year old fails to understand and be able to use standard English, in favour of slang and text speech, how can they possibly manage to move on with their lives and secure employment and so on?????

Text speech and slang seem to be on the increase and deemed quite the ‘norm’. So much so it seems that standard English has in fact met its match.

Opinions Please!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Who, if anyone is to blame for this educational gap; the schools, the teachers, the system, the curriculum, parents or the children themselves???????

Is the lack of language skills preventing the next generation from progressing?????

Does anyone have a right to state what is correct or what is not??????

Is language just time, place and situation specific?????

Does dialect and accent play a part in altering speech and the command of a language?????? 

Does standard English even have a place in society?????

Or are we all becoming language snobs???????


14 thoughts on “Are You Speaking English???

  1. Of course, not a lot could realistically be done to alter someone’s accent or dialect when speaking. Young people would still face ‘rejection’ from the older generations (I know I’ve been called posh in the past). Some respect it but many do not and they search deeper for your flaws.

    I do believe it is very important for children and especially school leavers to be able to read and write correctly. For years, we’ve only heard of how standards continue to slip… I wouldn’t know where to start!

    A part of me does wonder whether this truly is the case or, are the media using their ‘selective powers’ to spin an old wheel much faster than before?

    • I agree with you Brandon. I think how ever we speak, accent and dialect – it should not used against us.

      I do think that people ought to be able to read and write language though. Standardisation does help the language to be tied together and used as a national framework – defined words – given unified meaning – or whatever! One language may not fit all naturally – slang and so on – but it is required for the country to function cohesively.

      I’m not sure if this an old story re-worked for scare tactics; something for the media to cream from. Stats too can’t always be trusted, and are often manipulated. Yet, I have witnessed people unable to write their own names and addresses. So, literacy is indeed an issue, perhaps just as it always has been. Where there is formal language people perhaps struggle to meet the standards. Now, we don’t like to think that people will be leaving school with issues like these, but they do. Is it because standardisation causes issues? Well, perhaps so, yet, it is still important, even if questionable sometimes, that standard English is learnt. It is the language used everyday (most times and places), without that people will already be disadvantaged. Perhaps until ‘text speech’ is taught in the curriculum, people will struggle – yet, I can’t see that being embraced quite yet in schools!!!

      However, I am rambling on some more (SORRY); text speech is a version of Morse code anyway – so nothing new or ‘slang’ about it really.

      Thanks for your input!!!!!!!!!!!
      Bex 🙂

  2. Language, of course, defines a people and their Culture; an extension of a society is based on the way that people see it, based on their own native and cultural proclivities.

    A Society has the right and obligation to maintain what represents them – and Language is the first tier.

    Looking foward to more of your Opinions.

    • Hi, thank you for your input and opinion. I appreciate your response on this topic.

      It is true that standard English doesn’t reflect 100% of the population, but the word standard itself is a clue to its meaning in the language. Although, not necessarily everyone’s chosen language of representation, this standard provides everyone to be equally understood and have equal footing. It allows the words to mean the same in any place the language is spoken.

      However, no language (or words) are safe from the mainstream for long. Even ‘slang’ terms become adopted into the dictionary! This is a shame though, as no words can just be left as they were intended – as outsiders throwing stones at the establishment! There is a definite need for society to embrace ostracised vocab, and bring it into the fold – make it legitimate! That is the problem with being standard!

      Look forward to hearing more of your opinions too!

      Thanks again, Bex 🙂

      • However, no language (or words) are safe from the mainstream for long.

        This is true; and any normal evolutionary change, which comes from the inherent core traditions and evolving cultural mores is, as well, to be expected. Moreover, modification, which comes from sources outside the ‘mainstream’, as you put it, must be viewed with some skepticism, as Evolutionary Psychology has shown (Cf. Dr. K.M. MacDonald – http://www.amazon.com/The-Culture-Critique-Evolutionary-Twentieth-Century/dp/0759672229/ref=pd_sim_b_1/181-2600289-2010049 – on the nature of human, linguistic and racial evolution).

        There is a definite need for society to embrace ostracised vocab, and bring it into the fold – make it legitimate! That is the problem with being standard!

        Would you care to elaborate on the term ‘ostracised’?

        If something is ostracised, one would think that some reaction, or sense of civility was inherent in this taboo; although it is true, as well, that certain mores will change with time, hence, a more definitive definition of ‘ostracise..

        All the best.

        • Hi,

          Thanks once more for your opinions.

          I appreciate that you understand my take on language. It is derived from my experiences working within a learning and literacy environment; with young adults and children.
          I’m not claiming to be an expert on this though, yet no one truly is (everyone is individual)!!!!

          Obviously language modifies and evolves as people do; that is a given!! This post was aimed at sociological issues, not really human evolution (scientific or psychological).

          As far as ‘ostracised’ goes – no I don’t wish to elaborate because I am certain you can think of words in the ‘English’ language that are frowned upon or not used mainstream 🙂

          Thanks again for your opinions,
          Bex 🙂

  3. Yes and No – it is advantageous to learn as many languages as possible – that also applies to diealects and colloquialisms. Myself as an example again: I am fluent in English and German, which is good, and I can understand all English and German dialects save Plattdeutsch, Schwizerdütsch, and old Scottish people. Basically, I am never lost. Naturally, I would be at a terrible disadvantage if I didn’t understand the formalized English and German, a.k.a. Oxford and Hannover, but seriously, ever watch TV? You can’t get around understanding the formalized language of the country you are raised in, and lots of lower middle-class children are practically raised by the TV. The only real problem I see is with spelling. Word processing programs are not yet good enough at disambiguating which word you want to use, which is a real bummer with English, where there is no consequent rule as to how words are spelled based on their phonemes, unlike German, Russian or French

    • Hi,

      Thanks again for your input into this topic, and sharing your experiences on this. I appreciate it!

      Yes, the television can impact negatively upon learning; especially with language. It can be a ‘friend or foe’; perhaps depending on this alone as a learning medium isn’t always the best bet.

      Thanks again,
      Bex 🙂

  4. Oh good, another one of these. I’ve been waiting all day, I love these opinion pieces. Thanks for taking the time to put these together Bex!

    Honestly at this point, I wouldn’t worry about blame and start working on what we can do. As to lack of language skills impacting the upcoming generation, I don’t know. Lack of language skills can always be harmful.

    Who decides what is correct depends entirely where we are in life, whether it is school or where we work. If we want to do well, then I would say we should listen to what they determine is correct, so long as it lies within moral and ethical standards.

    Standard language skills very much does have a part in society. Working in a place where clear communication is critical, I appreciate every email that uses English well, is clear on what is being requested and does not use jargon. I hate jargon and abbreviations and acronyms. There is nothing worse than being asked to do something in an email but because of these things the email is unreadable. I think when communicating in a professional manner there should be the carpenter saying applied. “Measure twice, cut once.”

    Hanging out with friends and family is entirely different. If people choose to use slang and other idiomatic expressions that is fine. It’s when people try to bring these into a place where it creates confusion.

    I think one of the world’s problem is miscommunication and anything we can do to improve this we should strive to do. I applaud the Headteacher in this article, I think he is on the right path.

    • Hi, and thanks! I am glad you enjoy my opinion posts, and are willing to share your opinions and thoughts on this topic! That is the great part to posting them; getting responses from people. I completely appreciate it!

      I definitely think the Headteacher is at least admitting there are issues, and trying to overcoming those problems. I wonder if the school could have addressed their concerns another way, other than merely issuing a letter.

      To use language well and adapt in any circumstances – first it has to be learnt for sure. Children are struggling with language skills, leaving school without them. I think that the Headteacher, schools per se are under immense stress to rectify this as they are being blamed for this ‘failure’. The key now is to see what measures, this included, will work and have the ‘desired’ impact.

      Thanks for your feedback on this!
      Bex 🙂

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