Friday, August 14, 2009


So I meet a few English teachers here and there who have extremely bad spoken grammar. I guess that written grammar mistakes could possibly be forgiven, since most of our jobs are of the English "conversation" variety and pretty light on the grammar/writing kind of stuff.

But a few people that I know, in the space of a 5 minute conversation will make at least one or two grammar mistakes of the subject-verb agreement type, or a word used in an odd way, a cliche-ish saying, or grasp at a simple word that they can't quite recall at that moment. It is the exception, for a native speaker who teaches ESL to make mistakes with this high of frequency. I even think that more advanced ESL students could pick out these mistakes.

I wonder if they know what they sound like? And how did they ever get like that? Was it their parent's lack of education? Or just their part of the brain responsible for language doesn't quite work as well as other people. Too much TV and not enough real life interaction? Is there any way to improve it? Interesting to think about.

1 comment:

John from Daejeon said...

My spoken English varies greatly according to my audience. I will drop a lot of excess verbiage when dealing with young learners or use different words (supper, as in “The Last,” instead of dinner, and even profanity at times) when dealing with my family or old friends. It flustered one of my new Korean co-workers when I wasn't talking up to the speed she was used to after she had just arrived after living for several years in England. She may not have thought that I was much of a teacher due to my dropping articles and a verb every so often when speaking to my students in front of her, but my job is to get the kids to learn the language anyway I can think of without speaking Korean to them. This also includes using gestures and facial expressions—a big part of the language that are not spoken. Due to my co-worker's fluency, which she admitted to gaining by living abroad, she quickly found employment at a local university as dealing with young kids wasn't her cup of tea.

I do try to limit my rather caveman-like English speech to my first year classes and to those who are really slow learners or suffer from learning difficulties of some sort or other. In my upper level classes, my speed picks up to the audience's comprehension level. Usually, I switch back between my usage of the language quite easily; however, when my audience is of mixed company, it will vary depending on the person I am addressing at the time.

Interestingly, there is now quite a problem in the U.S. with graduating high school students arriving at college needing to take remedial English and math classes just to play catch up to the level where they should be at. Even some corporations are having to send some of their employees back to school to avoid embarrassing them in written e-mails and other correspondence. I'm not familiar with all the reasons behind this, but I'd think that all of today's instant messaging, texting, and twittering as shorthand could be eroding a good deal of that spelling and grammar that they should have learned in school.

And it's only going to get worse over time as Chinglish puts Konglish to shame: There are hundreds of millions of Chinese who are now learning the language and putting their own unique spin on it. I've read that there are actually going to be more speakers of English as a second language than native speakers very soon.

So there's not much sense in sweating the small stuff as the language is constantly evolving. I doubt that even the master playwright, Shakespeare, himself, would be able to follow the conversations of today's high schoolers in this post “Clueless” world.