Child 1: “Miss, why do we need to learn English?”
Me: “Can you speak English perfectly?”
Child 1: “Yes! I am English.”
Me: “Can you spell all the words correctly and not make any mistakes with your grammar? We learn English at school because it looks at all sorts of things.”
Child 1: “Umm…”
Child 2: “Yeah, sometimes it’s tricky like how we say ‘war’er’ but you actually have to spell it w-a-t-e-r.”
Me: “Well actually, we say ‘water’ not ‘war-er’…”
It pains me to admit that this was a conversation I had to have with two 7-year old children as we walked to our swimming lesson a couple of weeks ago. While I will not confess to being an English expert, I am somewhat dismayed with much of the spoken English I have heard whilst living in the UK.
Despite excellent phonics skills, many of the children I have worked with over the last several months have great difficulty with spelling because they generally believe that we have ‘teef’ instead of ‘teeth’ and that we ‘fink’ instead of ‘think’. They drop consonants left, right and center, they swallow the ends of words when speaking and they split infinitives in a way that would make my old English teacher, Mr R, yell “Cretins!”
What is particularly frightening, is that they are only mirroring the English that they hear at home, in the shops, in the streets and, sadly, at school! One of the things that has really shocked me at school is the conversion of ‘toilet’ from noun to verb… I can recall that when in primary school we had an ICT teacher who was pedantic about using ‘may’ and ‘can’ in the right circumstance.
“Can I go to the toilet?” was always met with the response:
“You can, but you may not,” or alternatively, “I don’t know, can you?”
Now I am overwhelmed with requests from children:
“Miss, Miss – can I go toilet?”
I am trying to model better English by responding:
“Yes, you may go to the toilet,”
but it feels a little like a lost battle when other members of staff reply:
“Yes, go toilet,” or “Do you need to go toilet.”
English is by no means an easy language to speak or learn; but for those of us with English as our mother tongue (and sometimes, the only language we speak), there is no real excuse for this. If we cannot model correct English to our children we are headed for a new era of dropped letters, new spellings and, potentially, new words with no-one to blame but ourselves – wot do u fink?