With GCSE and A Level results on the rise, why does it seem like our nation’s English language level, in particular spelling, has fallen? There are many factors to consider when answering this question: increase in web content, the popularity of social media and blogs, the development of ‘text message’ language and the use of emoticons are just some examples of these external influences on our population.
Although it may feel like the standard of English has fallen across the country, we have to wonder if it is actually the advancement of technology that is in fact making poor language more apparent.
Nowadays, people will consult the Internet for a variety of purposes: to check up on a symptom they are experiencing, to look for a product’s instructions, to do some online shopping, etc… and they are able to find answers to their queries each and every time. This is because people are now finding new ways to voice their opinions and provide information to others via comments, forums, blogs, social media sites and independent websites.
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It is this ease of sourcing information that makes us all the more reliant on the web and, as a result, more and more content will keep on filling our screens. The amount of writing available for us to access will continue to multiply until the Internet ceases to exist, there is no space left in the ‘cloud’, or at least until a replacement for the World Web Web is invented.
Take for example a newspaper’s website, like BBC or The Telegraph, you can search an archive of published articles spanning several years, yet the paper continues to release more and more texts for its readers. Now if you think about the bigger picture, you can only imagine just how much written English is accessible at the click of a button and how this volume is only going to keep on increasing.
Gone are the days when public writing was produced by people who had a flair for language, since anybody can now write a blog, post a tweet or even publish a book with no vetting process involved.
Among this vast amount of words reaching our screens, there are no doubt numerous typos, grammatical errors and Internet-based abbreviations which, paired with our need to find answers to everything, make our population appear increasingly inarticulate.
Can you fathom how much the English language has changed over the centuries?
Why Is Learning to Spell Important?
As a consequence of the ease of expressing one’s views online, it feels like the value of the English language has somewhat deteriorated. This may be because, statistically, errors are far more common in line with the volume of texts, but also because posting on the Internet is now the norm for many (especially our younger generations) and they therefore simply see writing as a means of communicating quickly rather than a skill to be used with care.
However good it is that more people are embracing the art of writing in their every day lives, it should nonetheless remain an art and a skill to be celebrated. After all, written manuscripts are some of the most sacred artefacts in relation to our country’s history and have taught us so much about life in other centuries. To think that our future generations will be reading about the culture of the 21st century and coming across heaps of errors and false information is very sad indeed!
Furthermore, English is considered as the number one business language in the world which makes it all the more special, and means it is important that it is used properly to maintain consistency across the nations.
Teaching our younger generations to speak, and more importantly write, well in English is a necessity not only for the future of our language as a communication tool but also for our adults of the future. By giving help for English to all youngsters and improve their communication skills and the way they approach writing, we could be welcoming more creative minds, an important quality for the development of our society.
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The Rise of ‘Text Language’
Another influencing factor on the perception of our country’s spelling level is the huge rise in ‘text language’, also known as ‘SMS language’. This digital or Internet-based language is made up of a variety of abbreviations, not only for single words but for entire sentences.
For example, popular terms are ‘BRB’ (be right back), ‘LOL’ (laughing out loud), and ‘TMI’ (too much information). It is not unheard of to abbreviate much longer phrases too like ‘IYKWIM’ (if you know what I mean)!
With these terms floating around on the Internet and in messages going back and forth to smartphones, it raises the question of whether our language is evolving with modern technology and society and if we need to seriously consider studying this development in English.
It is currently seen as a crime for parents or ‘older’ people to attempt to use these up-and-coming slang terms but who is to say that this will not become the language of our future?
Add to the rise in shortened language the introduction of emojis or emoticons, and we have an entirely new language trend emerging.
Described by some as revolutionary, emojis are a new way of communicating an emotion or even a collection of thoughts. While these images have changed the way we text, it is unclear if everybody reads them in the same way and if, therefore, we are fluent enough in this type of language to communicate effectively.
This could be why students have trouble composing a good essay!
Studies into the use of emoticons in written communications are ongoing, with some even investigating if entire texts can be sent using the icons to convey a particular message that can be understood by all.
If this takes off, we could be looking at a new form of international communication, yet many are quick to point out that cultural and religious differences come into play here.
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We could be a long way away from a standard, worldwide language but the advancements in technology sure are raising questions about whether spelling is going to be as important as it is now in the years to come.
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Should There Be More Emphasis On Spelling In Schools?
Back to here and now, we must consider the role of schools and colleges in asserting the importance of good spelling to our generations now in education, as well as those entering the education system.
Apart from the proportion of adults who continue to or go back to studying after the age of eighteen, the legal school leaving age, people across the country will be relying on their primary and secondary education to provide them with the basic literary and numeracy skills they need in life. It is therefore vital that educators do all that they can to bring students’ spelling level up to a reasonable standard and inspire them to take pride in their writing abilities.
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Although many English courses operate a system whereby they have different sets designed to group students of similar abilities into different classes, if a student falls short of the lower set’s standard for any reason, there is little teachers can do to raise their level of English. This is because class time is designated to certain tasks in order to prepare students for assessment at the end of their course.
In France, as an example, if a student was not working at the level expected of them, their teacher had the power to hold them back, called 'redoublement' (or, in English, redoubling), until they were able to display the required understanding of not only the subjects studied but also communication skills in general. This included their ability to read and write at the same level of their peers.
Although a drastic measure, this commitment to ensuring each and every student passes a particular milestone with at least the minimum level required meant that all students were given the same opportunities and that no students were ignored simply because the resources required to help them were unsupported by the education system at that time.
Some might agree that a whole new education system needs to be introduced in the UK which takes into account issues beyond students’ control, such as more support for pupils with special needs and a better awareness of mental health issues among many more factors which might hinder a student’s ability to acquire basic skills like reading and writing.
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Although the UK is currently churning out record numbers of A* pupils, the education system is still letting many children and young adults down.
Ofsted raised the issue of weaknesses in the way English language was taught across all ages back in 2012, and highlighted a distinct lack in focus on the basics of spelling and handwriting. It pointed out that, if students were beginning to struggle with reading and writing at the age of seven, then they would undoubtedly fail to ever catch up with the rest of their peers as they progressed through school.
Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector, took action following this report and called on tougher English targets and more specialist English teachers to be recruited in primary schools.
However, it is important that the Department of Education continues to drive these improvements forward, especially at a time when Internet-based language is influencing students to such a high degree.
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