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ENGLISH AS A SECOND LANGUAGE

23-12-2008

Lynn Hawthorne tests her theory that the standard of written English is declining by trying to string a sentence together.

Please read the following sentence, preferably aloud and to someone else:

Thank you for your letter of which I received on the today. I have asked a colleague to investigate into the issues raised in your letter and I will respond to you again as soon as possible.

In complete disbelief, you may want to read that again. I had to read it several times and I still don’t believe it.

And from which august body did this execrable disgrace emanate? Local government! And a Children’s Services Department at that. (At this point, I will not name and shame in case it prejudices the complaint I have lodged, but, fear not, that will not always be the case!)

The standard of English – is it even in English? – is appalling. 'Of which I received.' , '... on the today..' , '. respond. again'. Is this the level to which local government has sunk, the inability to string a sentence together?

I may seem an old pedant to some, but I feel strongly that our major institutions should be upholding standards and leading the way in restoring levels of service which have previously declined. The use of basic English should be a minimum requirement of the recruitment process and it should be routinely monitored.

In the old days, each council had a typing pool. It was a band of ladies, all decorously dressed, elegantly coiffured and beautifully manicured, which would decipher the scrawl of directors and listen to dictation tapes and then produce accurately typed letters, all in corporate style. The ladies would also check and correct any errors of spelling, grammar and punctuation prior to posting.

Nowadays, with the advent of personal computers and e-mail, most of us produce our own correspondence because it’s quicker and, more importantly for employers, it’s cheaper. But is it necessarily better? The standard of the letter I received would say not. Is this an isolated incident? From the letters I have received over the last few years from major organisations, I would say not.

The standard of written English is, undoubtedly, declining. And before you start throwing things at teachers, the education system has been dictated by government and has often flown in the face of all advice offered by teachers who are forced to deliver a curriculum that they often feel is inferior to a scheme they could devise themselves.

The tuition is out there and available. Examples of good English are available in the broadsheet newspapers on a daily basis. Every computer has a spell and grammar check. There is usually always someone older than you in the office/shop you can ask if in doubt!

There is no excuse for poor English. We don’t need to blame the education system or immigration or television. What this really boils down to is laziness. And if some local government officer can’t be bothered to compose a simple sentence and then check it in response to a serious complaint, then you can see why (a) I made the complaint in the first place and (b) I despair of a satisfactory resolution to my complaint. It was even a facsimile signature!

I eagerly await the official reply and wonder whether I shall understand what the officer is trying to tell me….. I’ll keep you posted!

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