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It’s Not English, so it doesn’t Matter

This was the response I got from my fifteen-year old son when I glanced at his homework recently, and pointed out that he should be using capitals on proper nouns.  As we continued talking about it, he revealed that his teachers simply correct spelling and grammar mistakes in his work, unless it’s English, and marks aren’t deducted.

This made me think back to when I was at school, and I know it wasn’t the case then. I was born in the Seventies and attended high-school in the Eighties. Proper use of punctuation and spelling was seen as vitally important back then, and I can distinctly remember being pulled up on mistakes. I certainly dropped marks for making them, which helped give me a good grasp of language that I carried forward with me in to adulthood.

My son does well at school and is in the top set for English, so he does know how to do it correctly. But, being from the text generation, he’s used to not doing things properly as, in his own words, it doesn’t matter. I think he’s wrong though; it does matter. Not using proper nouns, commas and full-stops every time you write makes you like you don’t know how to write correctly, and is a terrible habit to develop after you leave school, and enter the world of work.

I used to be employed in the corporate world, and I’d receive hundreds of badly-written emails every day from people around the business. Most of them were full of incorrectly spelled words, mis-used apostrophes and the wrong homophone. They used to drive me mad. Most of them were from management, who I always assumed should have known better. The senders of these emails probably thought it didn’t matter to send grammatically incorrect emails as long as they got their point across. And perhaps they were right. Maybe the majority of people didn’t care about either.

They’d be wrong though. In the long term, it could be disastrous for business. Back in 2011, the BBC published an article about poor spelling on websites costing millions of pounds in lost revenue to the British economy. Misspellings put consumers off as they feel the company can’t be trusted, and have concerns about its credibility.  The Yorkshire Building Society also hired several Editors around the same time to correct customer letters written by newly-employed Graduates before they were posted out.

Using our own wonderful language correctly is something we should all do. Whatever we’re doing. English is a brilliant, diverse language full of thousands of different words and rules.  Grammar’s used for a reason. It helps clarify meaning, shows us where the natural breaks are in a sentence and helps things flow. Not using it properly has the opposite effect. Text becomes confusing and jumbled when we read it, and often we give up trying to.

So, to everyone who thinks it doesn’t matter; I say you’re wrong. A focus on the basics of literacy and reading and writing is vital in every aspect of life. To me, language is a joy and nothing gives me more pleasure than reading a great book bursting with wonderful prose. And nothing gets my goat more than poorly written literature of any sort. 

It’s simple, it does matter.


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Nick Pagan