Delighted You Failed Your English Exam, Son – By Martin Hemming | The Sunday Times

I’ll Always Have a Job as Long as You Can’t Spell

  Martin Hemming | The Sunday Times

The kidz can’t be bothered to write proper no more. So says a report last week that suggested increasing numbers of children are failing their GCSE English exams because they are writing in “slanglish”. If your immediate response is “OMG ikr” — “Oh, my God! I know, right?” — then it is, I’m afraid, too late for you.

As with most things that are terrible with the world — Bip Ling, the collapse of global democracy — technology is being blamed. Textspeak and autocorrect are the culprits.

This, of course, makes perfect sense, and we all secretly knew this would happen the first time Microsoft Word drew a wiggly red line under our deliberate misspelling of “separate”. Is it receive or recieve? Your smartphone knows, so why does your brain need to? Stationary or stationery? Oh, what difference can one little vowel possibly make? (Though, free tip: I always remember it as “E for envelope”. My pleasure.)            

Apparently, these 16-year-olds have been writing words such as “summin”, “tonite” and “pls” on their exam scripts. The fact that they can still write with a pen hints that not everything is quite lost just yet. But those fusty old examiners, despite knowing full well what these “words” mean, have been knocking marks off.

English is, let’s be honest, tricky. I literally get paid for using it. And yet I still wake up with the chills when I recall the day I accidentally saw an email exchange on a colleague’s screen as he was editing a piece I’d written. “‘Jealous?’ He means ‘envious’! Schoolboy error.” Which, as we now know, is giving far too much credit to schoolboys.

But aren’t we being a bit mean to these teenagers? Language evolves. There’s probably an engraving buried somewhere in Norfolk that proves that the Saxons used to call each other “m8”. If Will Self, Irvine Welsh and James Joyce have been allowed to write wild, experimental, unreadable novels full of slang and dialect, why can’t these kids?

Perhaps they’re in fact ahead of the curve, powerful creative forces carving out a new mode of expression. I’m sure Charles Dickens would have killed to have had a few emojis at his disposal to ram his point home.

In 100 years, nobody will need to write anything to anyone else anyway. We’ll have stopped talking to each other, full stop, with communication reduced to endless Gmail auto-replies firing back and forth (“Great!”; “Will do!”). We want our next generations to be clever and happy and well equipped, obviously, and not to be laughed at in job interviews because their CVs are 90% emojis. But there does also need to be something that we can be better at than them.

For example, if you’re a three-year-old — and live in certain warped areas of London — you can now sign up for computer-coding classes. Now, most parents of nursery-school-age children would probably rather their little ones focused on hard skills such as “not going to the toilet in your underwear” or “not eating sand”, as well as the usual reading, Duplo and looking adorable in a pair of Mummy’s sunglasses.

Other parents, who have seen the cost of the residential care home they might end up in, and are thus concerned that little Johnny or Jemima might not in fact grow up to be the next Mark Zuckerberg, are doing everything they can to give their kids an edge. The idea of someone 30 years younger than you, living in the same house, who possesses a skill you not only don’t have but can’t fathom the first thing about, is a terrifying one.

I can foresee taking the following phone call at, say, 6pm on a Thursday. “Hi, Dad. How’s work? No, to be honest there’s no real reason for you to rush home for bath time tonight. You see, basically — and don’t take this the wrong way — me and a few of my pals at nursery school collected together some really powerful microprocessors and old cereal packets today and built a full-scale, artificially intelligent robot dad.

“Anyway, he’s a real laugh and I haven’t seen a smile like that on Mum’s face in years. Maybe we can see you at weekends? Anyway, bye-ee!”

Obviously, that’s a translation into acceptable Sunday Times English of the gibberish street argot the ungrateful little toerag will be speaking.

I do feel sorry for kids today, though. They have to be good at a lot of stuff. They have to code, negotiate bullies and perverts on social media, use chopsticks and like hip-hop. They have to be tolerant and emotionally intelligent and know all about transsexuals and non-binary people and what pronouns to use when talking to them.

At the same time, they are still being asked to master all the things that we had to be good at, such as reading and writing and saving up to buy a flat.

And yet, deep down, I’m secretly relieved that my ability to string together a grammatical sentence could be the thing that prevents me from becoming obsolete. [Note to our brilliant sub-editors: Please can you check that the previous sentence does have, like, properly good grammar. I mean, can I start a sentence with “And”?]

Maybe written English will fade and die, or at least morph into something unrecognisable, an archaic, hobbyist’s curate’s egg, like Esperanto.

And just occasionally, later generations will wheel me out, like the last person to have a fully operational MiniDisc player in their living room, and ask me to explain some newly discovered old document: The Weights and Measures Act 1985, maybe, or an old Smash Hits annual. “Tell us, wise old man from the past: What does it say?

And before that, there’s always a chance my own child might ask: “Dad, I was just wondering, could you help me write a strongly worded — and perfectly spelt and punctuated — email to this killer cyborg I accidentally built between nappy changes today?”

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LOW RATES: Contact Cyril Bryan – cybryan@gmail.com

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Comments

  • kamtanblog  On July 1, 2019 at 1:27 am

    British humour at its best !
    English is a very complex language
    in which one word can have several meanings
    and several words can have same/similar meaning.

    Go figure !

    Kamtan

  • Clyde Duncan  On July 1, 2019 at 1:47 am

    Why It Is Time To Turn The Page On My Reading Habits

    Elyazyeh Alfalacy | The National [Middle East]

    From the age of eight I would read a few pages of a book before dozing off every night. This gave me a passion for words, and I certainly owe these books a great deal. In fact, it is reading that saved my writing.

    I was taking intensive writing classes for years before the idea of penning a story clicked with me, but I also learnt by reading Jacqueline Wilson, Roald Dahl and Francesca Simon. When returning one book to the library, I would immediately check out another. This ongoing cycle of reading helped me gain insight into the world of writing and literature.

    Reading exposed me to perspectives and experiences unlike my own.

    Furthermore, imagination is exercised when you read; it’s up to you how to picture the scene, characters, sounds and colours, while the author merely steers you. The more I read, the more inspiration I had to write. Books steered my creativity – the words motivated me to write poetry of my own.

    But then everything changed overnight, when I got a phone. Unlike eight-year-old me, I found my teenage self having to choose between my newly bought iPhone 5 and that week’s read. Through reading thousands of pages, my abilities as a thinker and as a creative blossomed.

    I picked up my phone and began the never-ending scroll, and it feels like I’ve been scrolling ever since, passively taking in the images, videos and short bits of text typical of most content on social media. I now feel like over the years I have wasted hours distracted, disengaged and hypnotised by technology.

    It takes a lot of time and effort to maintain an account on social media. According to a 2018 study by the UK’s broadcasting and telecoms regulator Ofcom, one fifth of 16 to 24-year-olds spend seven hours a day online, creating a “digital dependency”.

    It has also been proven that receiving notifications can significantly disrupt performance on a task, and that perhaps even the mere presence of your phone has this effect.

    As a fresh graduate, I look back at the hours spent buried in my phone with slight horror and much regret. Reading books is what made me want to be a writer, but when was the last time I read a book for my own purpose, enjoyment or fulfillment – for non-academic reasons?

    When I ask my friends when they last read a book, they sheepishly laugh. Our polished and well-populated Instagram and Facebook profiles and long browsing histories answer the question on our behalf.

    There is a difference between passive and active consumption: Anyone can feel the disparity in the effort it takes to read a book compared to watching a TV show or tapping through Insta stories. I always feel brain-dead and drained after an hour on my phone, whereas 60 minutes spent reading a book leaves me feeling enlightened, happily tired and relaxed.

    It has been reported that the average human attention span has dropped from 12 seconds in 2000 to eight seconds in 2013. There has also been an increase in incidences of attention deficit disorders.

    It is alarming to think how much technology has cognitively changed us, and potentially even weakened us.

    In terms of the benefits of reading, the stats are there. Many studies have shown that reading is vital to a child’s cognitive development; and is a more important factor than the educational level of parents.

    Reading for pleasure is more indicative of a child’s achievement in life than their socio-economic background.

    To read is to be secluded; it is spending time with yourself. Unlike social media, it’s an act of introspection, and not about the external or superficial. It doesn’t leave you with more noise in your head than you can handle.

    I’m not trying to claim that social media is entirely negative, but its contents do not nourish my mind or soul in the way that delving into the depths of a book can. The medium of a book can offer more than most online platforms, if you concentrate long enough to explore it.

    If my time is precious, which I believe it is, then I ought to be more mindful of how I spend it. Technology is harder to avoid than ever, but books have been integral to so many facets of my development, and served me in ways my phone never did.

    The years of neglecting a regular routine of reading has hindered my ability to focus, engage and explore – I’m worried I’ll never get that back.

    I know I need to return to reading, but the amount of unread books sitting in my bedroom almost intimidates me. Do I need to pick those up first, or do I go out and find what interests me right now?

    Either way, I ought to embrace airplane mode and just pick something up.

    Because, if I managed to read a few pages a night when I was eight, surely my 22-year-old brain can do so, starting now. 

  • Clyde Duncan  On July 1, 2019 at 8:22 am

    I recall, I believe, one of the Beatles said his father scolded him …

    Instead of ‘Yeah – Yeah – Yeah’ – ‘Why don’t you say ‘Yes – Yes – Yes ?!?!!’

    Pity, we allowed the Americans to do this to us …

    Oh, Yes!

  • Clyde Duncan  On July 3, 2019 at 10:35 am

    Eddie in the UK wrote:

    It is not just the question of language evolving, it is primarily the misconception we have in the miseducating of people to accept that what we perceive and believe is both normal and right.

    Language is an essential part of people’s culture and experiences which are rooted in their historical psyche, and which gives expression and meaning to their lives and their view of the world.

    The construction of the standard English language given to our people has altered our mental paradigms in ways that changed our perception of reality and our worldview.

    When for example, as a Guyanese you ask someone “wha happning” or “wha guh”, or “ah wha gwan” and they reply “ah deh”, there is no standard English equivalent to interpret what is really communicated in this exchange.

    When parents say to their children “whey yuh tink yuh goin” they are not asking you to explain where you are going, they are telling you who give you permission to go where you are attempting to go.

    These construction of language, apart from circumventing the syntactic rules of English grammar, also defy interpretation moulded in a different mindset.

    It is this false appraisal of language that has led to views of many of our people being illiterate or educationally abnormal or inferior.

    Language of the Caucasian in the miseducation of our people has historically undermined aspects of our development that would have enabled us to discover who we are and our relationship with the world.

  • Clyde Duncan  On July 3, 2019 at 1:27 pm

    Eddie: The Europeans [white man/savages] dominated the planet stripped people of their culture and beliefs; maimed and murdered the ones who resisted …..

    Then, created “man” in his image and likeness!

    The white man decided the laws; the constitutions; if we drive on the left-hand or the right-hand side of the road, and so on ….

    Now, we must undo all o’ dat!!

    I suspect we ain’t going back to Black or Chinese or any o’ dat.

    There are more English speaking people in China than English speaking people in all of the USA.

    We can expect a hybrid?? Whatever that means??

    I dated a Chinese girl and she calls them “banana” – yellow outside and white inside …. I expect something like dat!

    I think we are heading down that road – Just saying!!

    • kamtanblog  On July 3, 2019 at 2:58 pm

      Nice one !
      Banana !

      Like it !

      Prefer speckled for my banana cake !

      Kamtan

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