How can we make our English correct?

Here is another post in the series prompted by media comment about Grammar Nazis.

Proofreading_and_editing_blog_95If correctness matters, how do we work towards making our English correct? There are many schools of thought on this. Some people believe that grammar cannot be taught, or that it is so complicated that it has to be left until we are old enough to take it in. Research at Newcastle University has found that babies use speech and grammar patterns in their “babble”. Children aged between 23 and 37 months seem to use sounds and puffs of air in the appropriate places to shape their communications grammatically. This suggests that grammar can be taught from a very early age. It makes sense to start young to minimise the trauma of having to unlearn bad habits.

I think it helps to have a grounding in the basic rules, but it is also important to have plenty of examples to follow. This is one reason why reading is an important leisure activity: you can have fun & gain information while absorbing grammar & spelling.

Analysing the mechanics of language only goes part of the way to help you learn about a language. Knowledge of the parts of speech is useful when getting by in another language with the help of a phrase book. On the other hand, my school decided to use an exam when we were 11 to find the best linguists. That exam tested knowledge of irregular verbs. I got a very good mark, because I could recite the things, but I never got the knack of using that knowledge to make sentences. On the plus side, success in that exam put me in the Latin class, which has given me some very useful background knowledge. 

Methods of teaching grammar in schools need to avoid dullness, for example by including games and rewards for good grammar. Making the basic knowledge easy to acquire & as accessible as possible is a very important aspect of lesson planning.  It is also important to use other lessons as an opportunity to practice these basic skills.

For those of us who continue to strive for improvement it is also important to bear in mind the source of our support. Advice for improvement needs to be selected to suit our needs, for example it can be confusing to read a book published to assist those in another part of the world.

So how can we make our English correct? Constant practice & vigilance.

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About The Proof Angel

I am a freelance editor and proofreader. I work with a wide range of clients, from companies to self publishing authors. I can help you to communicate clearly in print or on line by providing a fresh pair of eyes, carrying out a final check, or by suggesting ideas to improve the flow of your message.
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4 Responses to How can we make our English correct?

  1. My English is pretty good – it needs to be, because I’m a writer. Unfortunately to sell I need to be on the internet everywhere, and I see so much poor grammar and spelling that I begin to have problems remembering how to use it correctly, and spelling it correctly myself. I’m a bit of a pedant, which helps, but I don’t think having an online presence does anything to help one’s English.

    • It is a bit depressing, isn’t it? I agree that the perceived need to be everywhere on the internet probably makes things worse. People type, click send & move on to the next task. They used to write, put it on one side, re-write…

  2. Lol, I have become quite neurotic about editing even my tweets, in case people think that slight typos in a tweet indicate a poorly edited book. Unfortunately on some sites the print is very small and tiny slips escape me. These always happen on the sites where you cannot get back in to edit! Eeeeeek! Also on Facebook, you can edit comments but never the lead post. If I spot a mistake after 20 people have “liked” it – it’s too late to edit or I’ll lose the likes. It’s all rather challenging.

    • The bit I can’t manage is to work out whether I really can see the screen on my phone. I think I can, then when I look at a bigger screen all sorts of odd characters are in my tweets.

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