LOL. OMG. “Your” instead of “You’re.” Misplaced homonymns.
Go search around Facebook these days (go ahead; we’ll wait!) and you’ll probably find a common that looks a lot like the previous paragraph. The problem is not about the actual content of the status updates, wall-to-wall messages, and biographical descriptions. We’re talking about how that content is delivered: usually, with poor grammar. It’s this poor grammar that’s not only confounding the educated among us, but ultimately getting the older generations to wonder aloud: whatever happened to spelling and grammar?
The truth is that spelling and grammar has indeed suffered a setback in the 21st century, but that the reasons for this can’t be put on any one single problem. Rather it is a multitude of problems that has led to the current “LOL” generation, and if we’re going to solve it, we’re going to have to be honest about each of these problems.
So in the interest of answering that crucial question – why have spelling and grammar languished so much recently? – we’ll introduce a few problems that we believe may be potential suspects in the 21st century murder of high spelling and grammar standards.
Problem #1: The Changing of Standards in the Education System
Let’s be honest: when’s the last time you saw your child get marked down for grammatical or spelling mistakes in social studies? When was the last time they were held to any degree of accountability for these mistakes in any class other than English?
Sure, English class still exists, and spelling and grammar play a major role in those classes. English remains a core part of many schools’ curriculum. But outside of an English setting, the quality of English has deteriorated. With the introduction of national and standardized testing, it is not so important that students be able to articulate their answers as simply know them.
It’s also important to know just how prevalent multiple-choice testing has become in many schools. With new technology like Scantron sheets available, there is less and less emphasis on the ability of a student to convey an idea through the written word; they need only to fill in a series of small circles in the right order to perform well these days.
Additionally, the English grammar standards themselves have changed. It’s no longer required to be exemplary at spelling and grammar to succeed in English class; one simply, again, has to know the right answers rather than be able to actually exercise and demonstrate their capabilities.
These lax standards have been reported by teachers from all over. But before you start to blame the schools or the teachers, consider that a few other elements might be coming into play in the spelling and grammar issue.
Problem #2: Autocorrect
As you yourself might have heard from a purist math teacher back in your childhood, calculators can do a great deal of good – but they also lead to the atrophy of your own addition, subtraction and multiplication skills. Why? Because you’re not using the “mental muscles” to do any of the work when a machine is doing all of the work for you.
If you didn’t think this could happen in the area of spelling and grammar, then you haven’t met autocorrect. It’s not the same thing as spellcheck, which at least gave you the chance to review your spelling errors before you corrected them. Word processing software these days can often detect spelling errors as you type them, correcting you before you even noticed that they occurred. If you’ve ever written anything in a piece of modern word processing software, there’s a good chance that you yourself have been introduced to this convenient feature.
And while it’s difficult not to enjoy such a modern convenience, we do have to admit to ourselves that some people use it to bypass their weakness in the area of spelling and grammar. Simply type something up, they figure, and they’ll come across as intelligent because of the word processing software.
But what about when someone has to write something down on paper? Where’s the autocorrect on a piece of paper?
Many people still make spelling and grammar mistakes online because autocorrect is not as prevalent in web browsers. But one day, it just might be.
Problem #3: Mobile Phones
Sometimes, the use of technology introduces a necessity that leads to an invention. Consider the terse prose of the telegraph age, when words came at a price and therefore needed to be cut as much as possible. This helped cut out excessive verbiage.
But there is a problem with these modern conveniences too: sometimes we cut too much. That’s the case with mobile phones, which aren’t as easy to type upon as a natural keyboard. Many people therefore shorten their phrases into abbreviations or simply neglect to fix spelling mistakes. This leads to a kind of intellectual laziness that pervades into different areas of our culture. Look online anywhere and you’re bound to find more mistakes than would be tolerable to any English teacher that wanted to avoid having a heart attack.
Between the “LOLs” and homonym errors, mobile phones are responsible for many sins against proper English – and there’s likely little that the education system and teachers in general will be able to do about it. Even so, the correct usage of the language should not be considered a relic of days past.
What to Do
Changing the quality of grammar and spelling in the world also requires that the standards be changed. Students should get as much practice writing as they can so that they’re better at it later in life. Teachers should correct spelling and grammar even when it’s not their territory – provided they’re applying the corrections correctly.
But at an individual level, it’s important for each of us to remember how important it is to use spelling and grammar to put our best communicative foot forward, to best articulate our thoughts and our feelings to the outside world. It is common language which allows us to cooperate with each other to the advanced degrees to which the human race has ascended.