Saturday, June 5, 2010

Losing Our Language

During this time of year, I volunteer my time at the local Catholic high school where I prepare the used textbook sale for the coming year. I take in students' books, go through them to be sure they are still sellable and sort them all for the day of the sale. This process has allowed me to peek into the minds and writings of this generation of youth. Most scribble some sort of notes in their books. There are those who write their own names over and over, those who love so-and-so, those who write notes in Korean that I can barely read (there's a sizable Korean exchange population), and the obscene notes.

But there are also real academic notes taken, most often in English texts. Usually this is to put confusing Shakespeare talk into plain modern English. Reading these notes has left me disturbed at the state of literacy in this country. Never mind how much they can't read, which cannot be gauged this way, but the way they write, and even worse the way they spell, is atrocious for students who are high school seniors. Has the system failed them, have they failed at it, or is it both? To illustrate, I will now list a number of misspelled words that I found in textbook notes. I assure you, these are all real. I wish they weren't. Can you guess what they meant?


Among these, the most painful I think is "flosify"; would you have guessed she meant "philosophy"? Or fallacy ("faillecy")? While I had resigned myself long ago to the fact that young people use "like" every other word as an expletive, I never thought I would see it spelt l-y-k.

In looking at this, I began to think that perhaps the way we've been teaching English literature has been all wrong. Generally, it is taught chronologically, beginning with Shakespeare or earlier Middle English, through the King James Bible and stodgy American writings of the 18th Century. Even the language of 60 years ago is vastly different to the young today. I propose that language is difficult for this generation to wrap its head around, and they need consistency. Can we expect them to use standardized spelling when they are reading works which feature non-standard spelling and usage? For my part, I think maybe these readings should be taught in REVERSE order. In that way, students could be eased into the more variant language, and hopefully have a stronger foundation. Can we really expect the attention deficient youth who don't use full sentences or words in general to read Chaucer and not be confused? I'm not sure if there is a solution, but I wonder if that might help make a difference.

The title of this post I took from a fascinating book of the same name which analyzes how the reading selections given children in grade school are far more simplistic than they were years ago. If you have any interest in the subject, I highly recommend seeking it out.


  1. what is 'wimon' ?

  2. "wimon" is supposed to be "women". I know. How sad is that?

    Thanks for reading!