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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Pay attention to effects of sloppy usage of language

I APPLAUD the excellent letter “Poor English a complex problem” (The Star, April 5) on the matter of raising the standard of English in this country. I fully agree with the writer’s views.

As an ex-Malaysian living in Australia I can perhaps contribute to the discussion.

Before even changing the teaching methods and resource allocation, one must arrest the decline of the standard of language by paying attention to the detrimental effects of sloppy usage of language for the sake of expediency or deliberate, attention seeking antics in advertising and the entertaining media. I see too much of that in Australia, Britain and the United States.

There is also the matter of attitude that near enough is good enough. In Australia, I constantly see examples of poor spelling and poor grammar, even by journalists and prominent young writers.

Inappropriate treatment of singular entities as plural is one of my pet hates, e.g. “The Government are” instead of “The Government is”, “The company are” vs “The company is” etc.

Many people speak sloppily, uttering expressions such as “There is many ...” or “There is lots of ...”. And then there are expressions such as “I should of” instead of “I should have”; “If I had have” instead of “If I had had”; etc.

In addition a common problem is the failure to distinguish words such as “effect” from “affect”, “dependent” from “dependant” etc. These are people born and bred in Australia, not immigrants from non-English speaking countries.

Editing letters, memoranda and reports drafted by my workers takes up a lot of my time. These mistakes are made by the educated and the lowly educated alike.

There is a common perception in Australia that near enough is good enough when it comes to language. “As long as other people understand my speech and writing ...” is an oft uttered sentiment.

Attention to good grammar and spelling or choice of vocabulary is often regarded as pedantry. As a result there is rapid bastardisation of the language in that society.

The Australian government has recognised, as have many Australian employers, the problem of declining English in the so-called Generations X, Y and Z of the country. New educational policies are being introduced in an effort to reverse the situation.

Alas, I see years of pain coming, because generations have grown up not knowing any better, taught by teachers who also do not speak and write properly, in a system which has overemphasised the importance of “writing as one speaks”, or “teaching facts rather than rules” over good grammar and spelling.

Malaysia must act now, and act quickly. Importing foreign teachers is not a good solution. There are many Malaysian teachers with impeccable English. I know. They just need greater support and more resources.


Canberra, Australia.

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