“How many is you got?” the shop assistant asked as we headed toward the dressing room. I winced. Not because I’d stubbed my toe or had just been found out in a sad attempt to take more items into the dressing room than was permitted. No, I winced because I’d once again smacked up against the casual inability of the public to speak their native tongue.
And before anyone ramps up into “OMG! American criticizing the way the British public speaks” mode, I shall state that an equal if not greater number and percentage of people in the US show an equal or greater inability to grasp their native tongue as well. I spent decades listening to my fellow Americans – from sea to shining sea – slaughtering the spoken word like they were being paid for each grammar goof. It just happens that I’m in the UK so at the moment, so it is the speakers of this land that have caught my attention. One might attempt to draw a link between both countries being awash in people unable to speak English properly and the English language being especially difficult. One might. But one would be wrong.
It’s pure laziness – on the part of speakers and on the part of those who hear such atrocities (Teachers, parents, bosses, etc. ) and accept them as – well, acceptable. We’ve all heard the sentences constructed around verb tenses doing a cameo from another sentence entirely. We’ve all seen that the vocabulary of the general public is shrinking to a degree that words like “snigger” and “niggardly” are so unknown that they are causing bursts of righteous indignation from folks who imagine they have a racist connotation. In addition to not knowing the parts of speech, the general public has also lost the ability to look things up in the dictionary.
Yes, “How many is you got?” was a small, relatively insignificant moment and yes, it was wrong but why am I so annoyed by it? It wasn’t just that it was wrong. It was the fact that this woman (somewhere in her mid-20s I’d guess) either didn’t know or didn’t care that it was wrong and THAT is a symptom of a larger problem. If she didn’t know, then she was failed by her parents and the educational system. If she didn’t care, she was failed by her parents, the educational system and a world that decided that good enough is good enough and not quite as good as it should be. It goes back to the idea that teaching grammar will turn kids off. As I said before, it’s not about liking it, it’s about knowing it.
I sometimes joke that it all went to hell when they stopped teaching sentence diagramming (because I loved sentence diagramming) but the truth is that it all started to go to hell when people stopped correcting their kids and their students at the point where mistakes were being made. If Little Johnny says 2+2=5 and the parents and/or teachers applaud that as little Johnny “thinking out of the box” then it shouldn’t surprise anyone that little Johnny can’t manage subject/verb agreement in day to day speech. Hell, little Johnny’s reading comprehension these days is so low that he can’t even understand what the word problems in grade school math class are ASKING so there’s no way he could be expected to – you know – solve them. But I suppose turning on the TV is a lot easier than sitting down and ensuring Johnny can actually read**
Sigh. I should have had decaf.
Lest you think I’m just in one of those moods or that I am alone in being annoyed by the fact that there are huge swathes of the English speaking population unable to communicate IN English, a bit of topical “site seeing” is in order.
Think getting into college means Little Johnny must be OK so there’s nothing to worry about? Not so. Plenty of kids get accepted into colleges without actually being prepared to cope with college-level classes.
This is a problem on many levels. For a start – if they aren’t ready for college, why is the college accepting them? But I’ll try and stay with my accepting the unacceptable idea so we’re not here all day. Just because the college will go back and repeat the material Little Johnny should already have learned, doesn’t mean we should all be fine with such a costly waste of time. It takes time and money. Not just Little Johnny’s time but the institution’s time – time that might be better spent on students who arrived prepared. And not just the money those extra courses costs Little Johnny’s parents – that’s their burden to bear if they failed to catch the issue in the previous 12 years of Johnny’s formal education – but the institution’s money, money that is not in abundant supply at the best of times and which should certainly be spent on more advanced issues than teaching Johnny to conjugate the verb “to be.”
The people in a position to make a huge difference in Little Johnny’s future have weighed in as well – and they are no happier than I am.
- Good Applicants with Bad Grammar: We cannot help associating “bad” grammar with low intelligence, sloppiness and lack of refinement. I personally don’t care about refinement but low intelligence and sloppiness are not something I am looking for in employees. Or friends for that matter.
- The Advantages of Good Grammar in the Workplace: In today’s highly competitive and global business landscape, being able to communicate quickly and effectively gives employees and entire organizations an edge over less articulate competitors. The job market being what it is (and what is likely to be like for the foreseeable future), you’d better be looking for ways to set yourself apart from hundreds of other applicants. Proofreading your materials and having someone else look at them seems a small enough effort to make. If you think it’s too much trouble, chances are the job itself is going to be an even steeper climb.
- I Won’t Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar. Here’s Why: On the face of it, my zero tolerance approach to grammar errors might seem a little unfair. After all, grammar has nothing to do with job performance, or creativity, or intelligence, right? Wrong. If it takes someone more than 20 years to notice how to properly use “it’s,” then that’s not a learning curve I’m comfortable with. So, even in this hyper-competitive market, I will pass on a great programmer who cannot write.
OK, I don’t have a zero tolerance approach – as regular readers can no doubt see for themselves. I blog very much as I speak and as a result, I’m bordering on addiction to parenthetical construction and hyphens. But all that aside, I couldn’t have said it better myself – especially in a job search situation. I cannot tell you how many times I have reviewed an error-riddled CV that lists “attention to detail” as an additional skill or a cover letter from a potential employees whose resume heralded them as “an outstanding communicator” but who wrote “”could of” instead of “could have.” Needless to say, neither of those people got to the interview stage. *
Yes, definitely decaf.
*Though I sent an email acknowledging receipt of their submissions because that is the polite thing to do. The fact that more and more employers don’t bother is another rant for another day.
** I have nothing against television or video games but priorities, people.