Sunday, October 9, 2011

Correct Use of English

A comment at another site caused me to rethink how important it is to get students to use "correct" English and which structures to fight for and which to accept. This video is a reading on the topic of the English language and the ways in which it is used today (a commentary delivered by the British actor and writer Stephen Fry).

I have been in the position of having taught students the difference between "less" for amounts (non-count nouns) and "fewer" for countable nouns and of being asked why the supermarket check-out sign says, "10 items or less." Hmmm... good point.... Good observation of the use of English in the "real" world! Maybe there's a sign-posting rule that says, "Whenever possible, use a one-syllable word" (even though the two-syllable word "fewer" is, in this case, more grammatically correct).

Unlike Stephen Fry, I still sometimes cringe when I hear someone on NPR (National Public Radio) say, "There's lots of people who ...." There IS lots of people...? Am I being pedantic if I tell my students that the correct expression is "There ARE lots of people who..."? We English teachers certainly have to choose our battles, don't we?

With all my students, I tend to say, "If you follow the grammar rule, you usually can't go wrong. However, language IS a living thing, and it's constantly changing as it is used by people around the world." That's about all I can say when I encounter text-messages, e-mail, Facebook comments, advertisements, signs and so on that break the rules I've struggled to teach. I do, nevertheless, appreciate the fact that my native language is quickly evolving as it spreads from neighborhood to neighborhood around the globe. Now, that's pretty exciting!

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