Thursday, December 14, 2006

Yeah but, no but

Spoken English

Two reports and an editorial in the EDP seem to substantiate rumours that youngsters today are all Vicky Pollard sound-a-likes; or, possibly look-a-likes; or, possibly even worse, both.

No less an authority than the Chief Inspector of Schools (no not that fascist has-been Chris Woodhouse! but) Christine Gilbert called for action to improve the speaking skills of today's youngsters. She was responding to a study by Professor Tony McEnery of Lancaster University whose premise, that the Vicky Pollard stereotype was becoming more accurate, she supported. She went on to stress the importance of oral skills in procuring employment and in life generally.

So, what's new?

Like all good comedy, the reason Vicky Pollard and her antics and speech are funny is that they are true to life. Yes, children actually speak like her. Wake up! It's a bit like the “happy-slapping” craze a few years ago. Youngsters often wander around assaulting each other. They seldom need instruction, encouragement or a popular television programme to inspire them! Therefore, children are not mimicking Vicky Pollard; Ms Pollard is mimicking them. What is most disturbing is that the media provides an outlet to make sure her inanities spread to all teens – instead of just most. Teens shouldn't be watching Little Britain anyway – in my view.

What is important is that children are taught a range of spoken English and how to fit their speech to the purpose at hand. I'm sure I read that, or something very like that, in the National Curriculum for English. As long as children recognize that Vicky is a comic character and can adapt their speech to fit their surroundings and their situatiion, there is no problem.

Problems begin when children assume that their human rights are being violated because they are not “allowed” to speak any way they want. The culture of, “I'm entitled to do what I want when I want to” is more applicable to slovenly speech than the spurious notion that teachers don't try to teach children to communicate in a variety of forms and suit each form to its specific circumstance.

It is more important that children are taught that others are going to judge them (perhaps rightly, perhaps wrongly) in part by the way they speak. However much we might think this is wrong, there is very little we can do about it. Children can moan as much as they like about it being “unfair” (another favourite of teenagers!) as long as they realize that it is up to them to adapt their speech to suit prospective employers – not the other way round.

To be fair: most children, once they understand this, are quite capable of recognizing when and where speech needs to be modified so as not to disadvantage themselves. They really don't need the Chief Inspector of Schools to tell them. All they need is a modicum of common sense.

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