Ranting and raving and carrying on

Just a few random thoughts about random stuff. Warning - may contain profanity

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Location: Toronto-ish, Ontario, Canada

Just a guy... Bit of a geek, but who isn't these days?

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Education matters - particularly spelling!

As mentioned in my last post, I used to teach college. I'm not going to say which one (legal considerations), but it was one of those "Get your diploma in Computer Programming in six months!" type of colleges. Except, with the quality of students I generally got, I could maybe teach half of them to turn it on in six months.

My course had a fairly high dropout rate - I think my "personal best" was a term which started with 25 students, and finished with 7. The school's owner used to make it known that she wasn't that happy with the dropout rate, and I made it known that I wasn't happy with the so-called students I was getting. Anyway, it was an interesting time of my life, but I'm in no hurry to repeat it.

I do consider an education to be a worthy goal, however. In particular, I wish more people would pay attention during English/spelling/grammar/whatever and understand the importance of grammar and spelling. These days, too many people are under the impression that spelling somehow doesn't matter, and grammar isn't important. In response, I'd have to ask if you would prefer your doctor to say "Dude, your tests are rad, there's, like, no way, it's just too cool!" or to say "Your test results came back negative, everything's fine." Same thing with your lawyer - do you want him to "not sweat the details" on a million-dollar lawsuit?

We are becoming a society linked by multiple forms of communication, including instant messaging, e-mail, pagers, and a myriad of other written and verbal messages. If someone can't understand what you are saying, then what's the point of saying it? Even worse, what happens if they mis-read your intentions due to a poorly-worded message?

I know that computers often include "spell-checker" software - I use it myself sometimes. But don't rely on them! Consider the following: "Eye while meat ewe four tee won wee our dun hear." All of the words in that sentence are "correctly" spelled - that is, they occur in a dictionary - but the context is all wrong. While grammar checkers do exist in some software, they aren't always accurate, and aren't as common as spell-checking software.

A large part of this problem can be laid at the feet of the computer industry, unfortunately. Due to the advent of desktop publishing, nobody sends their signs or flyers out to be professionally printed any more, so atrocities are committed against the English language and published for mass consumption on a daily basis. Thanks to e-mail, most people have forgotten how to write a simple letter - many have forgotten the basic rules of communication, such as "have a point", and "tell me what your point is". I've lost count of the number of times I've had to reply to an e-mail with "What is this relating to?" And thanks to instant messaging on the computer and text messages on cell phones, a new generation is growing up thinking that the correct spelling of "before" is "b4". I shudder to think about it. SMS and IM seem to be driving the final nail into the coffin of the written word - and now the same "language" is creeping into the spoken word! If you've ever used "lol" or "brb" in verbal conversation, please do me a favour and just shoot yourself. Thanks.

Basically, read what you've written before you send it - most of the time, if you read carefully, you will realize that it just "doesn't look right", and find your errors. And the person at the other end will be much happier. The future of the English language is in your hands!