Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Mind your language!

No, I am not admonishing those individuals who choose to use ‘colourful’ language!  I am referring to the terrible quality of most people’s written English skills. And please do not think I am an expert on the Subject of English, I am merely a concerned speaker, a girl in love with the language, and then I am a second language speaker to boot. 

You see, I love reading and writing and have been reading avidly since age eight.  I never once wondered why I was so adept at language, since my mother told my quite simply: ‘The more you read, the better your understanding of the written word will become.’
Thus I read, and read and read, eating 500 page books for breakfast and reading Shakespeare and the Encyclopaedia Britannica for fun. (Please note: I was not a freakish pedant, who thumbed my nose at television - there was just not that much variety in the shows that was on in my youth and we were only allowed an hour’s telly in the afternoons anyway – the rest of the time we were supposed to be playing outside (or reading.) 

I only started learning English properly at school – I had a rudimentary knowledge of the language before that, but at that stage I spoke Afrikaans and Xhosa mostly and knew only certain words in English.  I remember in third grade our teacher did a ‘magic spell’ and turned us into English kids – for the whole lesson we were only allowed to speak English and I was on an advanced reading level and the teacher would let me read to the class! In later years I would take a bilingualism exam and I scored an A-average.  This was all just from reading constantly. 

And no, reading cartoon, comic strips and the funnies in the paper does not count!  They might teach you a play on words (known as a pun), but it will teach you little else of correct language use.  Grammar and spelling are not rules of language, but the core structure.   

Where you place punctuation can change the meaning of a sentence, Capital letters denote, respect for titles, names and pronouns, also it signifies the start of a new sentence, just like a full stop denotes the end of a specific thought or sentence.  How would you know if someone is asking a question or expressing something passionately if not for the question mark or exclamation mark? And the humble comma: delimiting a list, giving you a breather-literally- while rambling through all your mom’s groceries.  Do they not teach these straightforward things in class anymore?

How about spelling rules, like “i” before “e” except after “c”? The difference between they’re and their; he’s and his; were, where and we’re.  The proper use of contraction, proper get the point?

I write stories myself, and where I write accurately when I write with a pen on paper, but I tend to make many mistakes on the computer –because my hand –eye coordination is as bad as my spelling and vocabulary is good.  I make many typing mistakes and I am not saying that I am impervious to linguistic errors: only that it pays to edit your work, to check, to change words used repeatedly (ah, for a good thesaurus!), to run a spell check and if you feel uncertain about ANYTHING, Google it, or ask someone who has a better grasp of the language. 
Just take pride in what you write, in the language you write in and please...mind your language!

Here are two very handy links – theses websites will clarify any spelling or grammar related issues you might have.

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