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.
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???????