A lot of journalists and reporters today are criticized for how much of their current offerings are negative in nature. There are a couple of reasons for that, I suppose. One is simply that it is easier to point to defects in something rather than extol its virtues. Also, many in this profession are truly hoping to call something to the public’s attention than can be corrected, and that they will be recognized for having contributed to the solution. Maybe that’s a long-winded way of alerting you to the fact that this article will be critical of a lot of people but, hopefully, will focus and keep the spotlight of public concern on the topic at hand.
The subject is the English language. Simple enough, if you speak it. And, if you speak it clearly. And, if you speak it correctly. If you fail at any one of these, a lot of your fellow Americans will not be able to understand you at all or enough to make sense out of what you are saying. In fact, they may misunderstand you and do the contrary to what you are asking.
Let’s start from the beginning. In the beginning, schools of all types were said to teach the “3 R’s,” reading, (w)riting, and (a)rithmatic. Notice that there’s no mention of “speaking.” I guess educators believed that the ability to speak clearly would come with reading well written materials and writing clearly enough for your teacher to give you a decent grade. But that’s not what happened.
Some may attribute our failures in this area to the large influx of foreign speaking residents over the years. But that development of our society and country merely masked what was festering inside all of this. In the schools, kids either were not being taught, or were not learning, how to speak not only so that others can understand what they are saying, but with sufficient clarity so that the listeners can understand what they mean to convey.
This certainly can happen when a local business outsources its customer service component to a firm in Asia, or India, or Jamaica, or anywhere else. The likelihood is that those answering the telephone are provided with scripts to respond to most inquiries, but if the conversation gets too “deep” they call in a “supervisor” to handle the situation. This surely exists, but the same situation exists all too frequently with those who were born here, grew up here, attended a local school, and perhaps even attended one of our great colleges or universities.
It is awkward enough when you have difficulty understanding your doctor or nurse, someone trying to sell you a new outfit, or business reps who cannot explain why your delivery is not even in the same universe as what your ordered. But it is far more perplexing, disappointing and upsetting when you receive printed letters or materials from a business that are replete with spelling, punctuation and definitional errors written and/or produced by people who should not be so deficient in the use of their own language. And this situation is magnified when you listen to talk and “entertainment” shows on TV, especially daytime TV, or listen to speeches by our politicians or would-be politicians, or even when you listen to much of today’s “music.” I will not even comment on the error-filled posts that unfortunately grace all of our social media today.
What has happened to our society? Have our kids just failed to convert reading and writing into effective communication, or do the schools just not concentrate on this area sufficiently to enable members of our population to effectively communicate with one another.
To divert for a second, this phenomenon has also permeated other academic subjects. Take geography, for example. I overheard a conversation the other day where two restaurant customers were discussing trips to Europe and surrounding countries. The subject of England reared its head, and it was variously referred to as an island, Great Britain and the United Kingdom. They’re all correct, but it was obvious that neither person knew that there is any distinction between those names. True, England is an island, and it is also part of Great Britain (together with Scotland and Wales) and Great Britain is part of the United Kingdom (along with Northern Ireland). But who knew, or perhaps even cared.
The bottom line is that we are all too swiftly falling behind our international competition not only in many areas of manufacturing, energy production, and electronics, but in the basics as well. And, if we are not able to communicate with one another, how in the world will we be able to negotiate with, or even get along with, our international brothers and sisters.
Let’s hope this condition is recognized by enough educators and politicians who are truly devoted to improving the country to generate some solutions, and do so quickly.