Category Archives: Features

New grammar test for 10-11 year-olds; at last!

This May, year 6 pupils across the UK will be introduced to a new grammar, punctuation, and spelling test. The test, created by the Standards and Testing Agency (STA), will be taken at the end of Key Stage 2 in order to assess children’s grammar and spelling before starting secondary school.

The test has been faced with disagreement from some teachers since so much emphasis is put on creative writing, but many, like Louise Moore think it’s a change long overdue; and I couldn’t agree more.

While there is conflicting evidence that grammar and spelling are actually important to teenagers online (more so than older internet users), the general consensus is that our grammar and spelling is poor.

This article by Emphasis, a business writing training site, reports that University students have poor writing skills, from incorrect grammar and spelling mistakes to poor style choices. This is concerning news when considering the thousands of graduated hopefuls turned away from their dream jobs because of a poorly written CV.

Job search site created a survey on the importance of correct grammar and spelling when applying for jobs, and sent it out to employers. They reported that:

“More than half (57.9%) of recruiters who responded said spelling proficiency was ‘vital’ for candidates employed within the industry they represent, while only 1.6% said it was not an important factor at all.

In a later question, a significant 69.9% of respondents said CVs should “not contain a single spelling mistake”.
72.2% said they had discarded CVs as a result of seeing one or more spelling mistakes included. Additionally, 71.3% said they would think twice about employing an applicant if their CV contained incorrectly spelt words, even if the candidate fulfilled all other desired credentials.

You might be an expert in your industry but you should not simply assume your experience alone will secure you a job. You need to prove you can communicate well with others, and spelling is a significant part of this.”

Louise Moore says in her article that she believes the education system has become slack with grammar because new teachers were not taught correct grammar in school, or at least not with the emphasis the new test will give. She had met a newly qualified teacher that did not know the difference between “your” and “you’re”.

Some people blame the internet and mobile phones for the persistence of “chat speak” in people’s writing. The Daily Mail reported that Drew Cingel, a doctoral candidate in media, technology and society in America, assessed the spelling and grammar of middle school students and found that they used common texting abbreviations such as “gr8” and single letters to replace whole words (“c u 2moz”). Text speak has been prevalent since mobile phones become a common possession, and as pay-as-you-go phones charge per text space is limited. That children and teenagers cannot separate their professional and social writing is concerning indeed.

Hopefully the new test will bring a greater respect for grammar and spelling, and ensure that future university students get the jobs they otherwise deserve. William Cobbett gave brilliant advice in his book Advice to Young Men and (Incidentally) to Young Women, in the Middle and Higher Ranks of Life on studying grammar:

“It is true, that we do (God knows!) but too often see men have great wealth, high titles, and boundless power, heaped upon them, who can hardly write ten lines together correctly; but, remember, it is not merit that has been the cause of their advancement; the cause has been, in almost every such case, the subserviency of the party to the will of some government, and the baseness of some nation who have quietly submitted to be governed by brazen fools. Do not you imagine, that you will have luck of this sort: do not you hope to be rewarded and honoured for that ignorance which shall prove a scourge to your country, and which will earn you the curses of the children yet unborn. Rely you upon your merit, and upon nothing else. Without a knowledge of grammar, it is impossible for you to write correctly, and, it is by mere accident if you speak correctly; and, pray bear in mind, that all well-informed persons judge of a man’s mind (until they have other means of judging) by his writing or speaking.”

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Why people don’t bother

As discovered on my podcast a couple of weeks ago, many people actually know the differences between words that are spelled and pronounced similarly. Some said that they were more likely to get the definitions wrong because they are dyslexic, but this made little difference to their answers; those that mentioned a difficulty with reading and writing gave more correct answers than those who didn’t.

I put this difference down to the possibilities that a) most of the people I asked just happened to have such problems and only some of them mentioned this, or b) the people who were more conscious of their reading and writing put more thought into the words they were reading and how they explained their meanings.

It seems that since the internet became an every day necessity, people have become slack with spelling and grammar. We’re not talking about the odd grocers’ apostrophe here and there; it’s pages upon pages of “coz i went to th shops rite n it wos suny,” from Facebook to forums. Does school simply fail teenagers these days? It’s too simple an answer. Go through any online role-playing forum and scroll past posts of fantastical prose written by teens the same age as those bashing their heads onto keyboards in the dim hope that words will appear on their status update.

There are plenty of resources to correct spelling and grammar on the internet itself, so why, when these people are told that their spelling and grammar is less than great, do they retaliate with “omg shut up geek!!!11!!1!” rather than “o i c. can u help pls”?

As found in my post Why do you hate being corrected? there are a number of reasons why people resist even gentle correction, but plain ignorance, and even pride in it, seems ever-present on the internet (and this, unfortunately, isn’t limited to poor use of language). But a haven of forums like Reddit, where correct grammar and spelling is still important if you want to be taken seriously, remain strong. It is not a rule that people use correct spelling and grammar, it’s a matter of credibility; the better you present yourself, the more likely people will listen to and believe you.

But there is no escape from incorrect spelling and grammar on the internet. Making clear arguments, instructions, or simply writing out a legible story isn’t important to the people who perpetually misuse language.

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Are sub-editors a dying breed of journalist?

When I started my journalism degree we were taught shorthand and, to my dismay, most of the class hated it, helping push its removal in the questionable course redesign. In its place, search engine optimisation, infographic design, and correct social media use are taught, and specialist lecturers pop in more and more often to teach the new Twitter location-finder reporting app activated by Google+ through your Facebook LinkedIn app to find your target audience’s favourite cats.

And yet, with this next generation of writers with their knowledge of all things shiny and new, some papers have decided to trim back or completely sever off sub-editors, like an unnecessary appendage. With journalism becoming an ever popular career choice (“You just write stuff down and get paid to be rude, right?”) and more people focusing on the above hoo-hah, who will filter out the crap that sneaks its way past busy editors’ eyes? This question is hardly breaking news; Roy Greenslade’s blog was talking about this in 2009.

Perhaps the importance of subs is being lost, and editors and reporters believe their jobs can be done by others easily. Copy editor John McIntrye wrote this on the menial tasks done by subs and copy editors. That all looks easy, right? I’m sure all those jobs can be done by the editor, reporters, and coffee-carrying interns.

Either way, papers are increasingly cutting down on or simply kicking out subs. So what of the freelancers? I asked Cathy Relf, a freelance sub-editor, if “the sub-editor” was dead: “Great writing will always needs subs. You can’t sub your own work. I’m a full-time sub and I can’t sub my own work. It’s possible for journalists to proofread one another’s work in a spare moment, but it’ll never be to the same standard that someone who is employed purely for that purpose would do it.”

“I don’t think there’s any getting away from the fact that readers care less about great writing now than they once did, in certain media. Look at the Mail Online; hugely popular, and it’s full of errors and just plain bad writing. But it’s making money. People read all kinds of things now where the standard of writing is lower – but they don’t mind, because they see it more as a passing stream of disposable news than a single, respected authority to be read with care at the breakfast table, perhaps cut out and kept for later.”

“The sub-editor isn’t dead, but the role has changed, and continues to change, significantly.”

On the way that news and media is adapting to the ever-expanding options provided by computers and the internet, I agree that people don’t seem to care that much about the quality of the writing – just look at the popularity of housewife blogs and their dominion over Pinterest. But I think that regular users of the internet will remain vigilant on correct grammar and spelling, and the survival of the noble sub, despite the influx of poorly-schooled adults and teens alike protesting that “ur a nerd if u liek gramer” (oh, that was painful).

Long live the sub-editor!

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Dictionary and thesaurus shame

I use dictionaries and thesauruses constantly. Some people assume that if you’re well-spoken and have a good grasp on grammar and spelling that you must have a fantastic vocabulary and impeccable spelling, too.  This may be true for many people, but I am willing to be totally honest and say that this is not so for me.

A lot of my friends were very enthusiastic readers as children. I didn’t mind reading, but found it more of a chore, mainly due to being unable to get into a comfortable position for it (though I don’t understand that now, I’d walk and read if I didn’t bump into so many things trying). I became more interested in boys and make up in my early teens to care enough to read Harry Potter or Artemis Fowl, and I feel bad for my then-self that I never found something I could really get into through my own interest. There was one book I read in my late teens which I’d bought just as a back-up for unexpected boredom on holiday, that I ended up reading a couple of times (The Testament of Gideon Mack, if you’re interested), but that was about as much as I got into reading before last year.

My vocabulary’s not terrible, and I have a pretty decent grasp on grammar; but I still rely on dictionaries and thesauruses. Not totally, mind, but I often do a quick search of a word (making sure not to find the American spelling) just to make sure I’ve spelled it correctly and used it in the right context. Why? Because accuracy matters. If I’m not sure of something, there’s no way I’d take a risk in not checking it. And this goes for more than just spelling; the more I learn about sub-editing, the more I know to check everything, then check it all again (and I’ve still no doubt there are a few mistakes on this blog already).

Dictionary and thesaurus

So what of this post’s title, “Dictionary and thesaurus shame”? It occurred to me that using dictionaries and thesauruses to check or find out things was, to some people, shameful. Why?! Because, I believe, admitting you don’t know something is a big source of shame today, especially if it’s to do with your field of work.

So much pressure is put on school children with numerous tests and encouragement to be in a higher level set for classes, to fail a test or not make a higher set makes you feel shameful, to admit you don’t know something by having to look it up makes you feel shameful, to be corrected exposes your lack of knowledge and makes you feel shameful. This shame felt throughout your education creates a vicious circle that the British education system doesn’t seem to see or understand. But that’s another moan for another time.

So this, dear reader, is why I feel no shame in looking things up or asking what they mean, and regularly using dictionaries and thesauruses. Shame does not lie in not knowing, only in resisting to learn.

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“Bought” vs “brought”

This is really just a little something that I saw the other day that filled me with an unnecessary amount of discomfort. A friend said on a social networking site, “I thought I brought a long top from primark but it may be a dress….”

Now, some of you may think that that is correct, and it is only in one context; that she had brought the supposed top somewhere. So she was going to a party and brought her top, only to realise it was a dress. If, however, she meant that she bought the top from Primark (which she did in the actual context), then… well, she means she bought the top.

If you buy, you bought; if you bring, you brought.

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Why do you hate being corrected?

Scrolling through Twitter earlier today, I noticed a fair few people showing disdain for those who correct their grammar and spelling; “its only twitter i dont have to type perfetly,” was among the horror I saw. Why? Why don’t you need to type perfectly? I can understand key slips, the odd space missed through a stiff space bar (though I always quickly scan what I write on social networks before posting; it’s no more than 140 characters, it doesn’t take long to read), but plain ignorance? It seems totally unnecessary.

So, these people that protest their free sub-editors; what is it that annoys them about being corrected? My initial idea is that it makes them feel stupid, and I can relate to this having a boyfriend that was home-schooled by reading non-stop (he read the whole series of Game of Thrones so far in two months), and who corrects my spelling frequently. I felt stupid at first, but soon realised I should take it not as an insult to my intelligence, but help so that I may not make the same mistake. I even ask him what words mean when I’m unsure now, because there is nothing weird about wanting to learn.

Why not learn?

This is something I have a great deal of discomfort with. In schools, or specifically English and American schools, there is an unwritten rule that if you are not naturally smart, you are a nerd to want to learn. And it’s not ’til you reach college/high school level that you start to realise that this may not be true, and begin trying to suck up all the information you can. But it is never too late or weird to learn things when you’ve left education. And obviously I’m talking about people my age, twenty-somethings that haven’t gone through life to learn that you are always learning.

I know people with dyslexia and other things that affect their reading and writing may protest that they cannot help their mistakes, in which case it is easier to simply tell the person correcting you “Oh, I didn’t realise. I have dyslexia, you see,” probably making them feel a bit guilty for correcting you in the first place. So is this why people don’t like being corrected?

Another potentiality someone pointed out to me is that it can come off as pretentious. I can somewhat understand where that feeling comes from, but surely the correction must first be faced with some hostility to come to the conclusion that the corrector is being pretentious. I suppose in some cases it can be incredibly condescending; think JK Rowling’s Harry Potter character Hermione Granger, “It’s ‘levi-O-sar’, not ‘levio-SAR’!”

Overall, I think most people who dislike their grammar being corrected have simply mistaken someone else’s care and appreciation for the English language for a chance to have a petty jab at them. Though I’m sure some people do it for this reason (shame on you all), I don’t believe people are out to make others feel bad. And now I’ve spent my one weekly optimism token. Damn.

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What better way to start off a subbing blog than a good moan? I don’t doubt that since last month, we’ve all seen that horrendous sign in supermarkets for the “Xmas” aisle. As a child, I always thought that the beginning of Christmas was December; that was when you started buying Christmas things, not as soon as the heating needed putting on at night. But along with the cynicism I’ve developed through simply getting older, “Xmas” really has started being forced on us earlier ever year. Now, some may say that the word “forced” is a little strong, and  to that I say, “Balderdash!”

In what world of commercial holidays does Christmas get advertised before Halloween?! And it’s worse in small supermarkets because you get that horrible cross-over in the one holiday aisle they have, causing must distress to shoppers like myself (see evidence below).

“It’s an outrage!”

This would all be just about bearable for me if we could only abolish the word “Xmas”. This abomination of abbreviation has always made me cringe at Christmas cards from friends and family that have the word “Xmas” anywhere on them, particularly if it’s in their writing. It reminds me of everything un-Christmas-y on Christmas. Children screaming because they got the wrong toy, mum fretting over dinner, dad breaking out that year’s Christmas drink of choice at 11am, all below a multi-coloured LED “Xmas” tree singing a JLS cover of “I wish it could be Christmas everyday” (I imagine they’ve actually released something like that by now).

I can’t say much on Christmas needing to be a religious affair anymore; I’m not Christian and yet for years I sang the first verse of “Once in Royal David’s City” solo for our dear landlady’s Boxing Day chapel service. But I still feel that the presents and the get-up shouldn’t be what it’s about. Some people love all of that, I’d much rather have a quiet day exchanging a few gifts to family, eating a nice meal together, and all snuggling down in the evening to watch a nice Christmas-y film like The Gruffalo (said my inner-child).

I’m only thankful that this holiday will be spent at neither mine or my boyfriend’s mothers’ houses. While it’s lovely having your family around at Christmas, we’ll be spending it primarily at our house with friends who couldn’t get home for Christmas, probably playing cheesy games and watching silly Christmas TV, under a correctly-decorated Christmas tree and sans JLS Christmas song covers.

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