Children are stupid these days. It's the only logical conclusion from this story.
Children are struggling to read and write at a young age because of the sheer complexity of the spelling system, says Masha Bell.
I knew a kid at school called Masha. It was a nickname. This can't be the same one because the Masha I knew was male and could barely communicate without certain hand gestures that generally connected with someone's face. He had no need of language to make his point.
Okay, learning to read and write wasn't easy but it's a cumulative thing. You learn a bit at a time and add it all together. It takes time, some kids take longer than others, some leave school not knowing they shouldn't use a preposition to end a sentence with. Some, even now, manage to boldly split infinitives no man has split before. It doesn't make them illiterate. English rules can be broken and the result can still be perfectly intelligible, if sometimes grating.
Yes, English is a swine to learn because it's developed over centuries and it's had bits added and taken away all the time. How many people use 'dastardly poltroon' as an insult these days? I have a nasty feeling it's going to be only me, isn't it? So, what's Masha's solution?
Masha Bell, author and literacy researcher, will tell a conference of English teachers on Friday that sweeping reforms are needed to the spelling system to improve children’s linguistic skills.
This might, after all, be the same Masha or maybe a close relative. What she proposes is right in Masha's old skill set. If it's too difficult, don't learn it. Make it easier instead and then you'll look clever without having to work for it. Dumbing down the entire language will not improve anyone's literacy skills. They'll all be calling each other 'bro' and ending every sentence with 'innit' just the same. The only difference is that the rest of us will be expected to do it too.
Learning the full set of English skills is very difficult. Learning enough to be intelligible is not. If you want to write like Milton or Shelley or Dickens, you'll need to know all the rules. If you're going to write a business letter, you only need the basics.
I hang around writer's websites and they have the full spectrum from 'Look, it's just a story' to 'You can't put a comma there. It has to be a semicolon.' Hardly anyone uses semicolons any more; few people even know what they are for. A misplaced comma, a confusion of 'its' and 'it's' are things I'll notice but let's be honest, most people won't. One business contact who sends a lot of work my way peppers his Emails with random commas. It irritates but it does not prevent me understanding what he's talking about. I've been in his car. It has seats that you can adjust every aspect of, electrically, with a set of buttons on the door. The cellphone is built in to the dashboard. It cost more than I earn most years. So his shotgun approach to comma use hasn't really held him back at all.
See, the thing about English is that it is hard to learn and takes time. While learning it, you learn how to learn. The mad spellings of some words, the changing meanings of others depending on context, force you to concentrate. You have to watch for subtleties and nuances. It produces philosophers and scientists precisely because it is hard to learn.
According to academics, children in Britain normally take three years to read to a decent standard.
But in Finland – where words are more likely to be pronounced as they look – children can read fluently within three months.
Yes, but the Finns are descended from the bloody Vikings, who were hardly famed for the libraries they built in their conquered lands. Not too many books on the longships, I think you'll find.
So a child takes three years rather than three months to learn how to read fluently. What's the rush? They are in school from the age of five to sixteen (have they increased it further yet?) and they should be expected to be fully conversant in English and at least one other language by then. It's what was expected in my school days - although my French O-level was never put to use and I doubt I could make myself understood these days.
The English teacher at my school never struck anyone. She had no need. Her command of the language was such that she could reduce the toughest bully to jelly with nothing more than words. Now that was inspiring. That caught our attention. Nobody failed that class because she taught us English as a weapon.
Nobody failed, also, because there were rumours that the last person who did had their head on a pole at the school gates, but that was most probably untrue. Believe me, if you'd been in that class you wouldn't have been sure.
Ah, wait, here comes Masha's 'proof' -
“The antique, inconsistent spelling system of English is probably the main reason why the UK has a far longer tail of educational underachievement than any other European country, why more of our young people are Neets (Not in Education Employment or Training), why many end up in jail, and why improving their chances of re-offending while in prison is much more difficult too.”
The UK is underachieving because of the language? It was no hindrance when we occupied a large part of the planet. It did not deter Stephenson or Brunel or MacAdam or a host of others. This education collapse is recent, Masha. It has nothing to do with the language. It has to do with the dumbing-down of the entire education system and bringing the language down to the same level as the rest of the now-worthless subjects is not going to fix that. It is going to make it a hell of a lot worse.
Masha want newspeak doubleplusgood innit? Masha make all to Poet and Author and all speak sameway write sameway easygood. None better than other. All same. Innit? All thicko, innit?
If this lunatic wench gets her way, we could solve the energy crisis by wrapping the corpse of my old English teacher in copper wire and putting a magnet on either side. She'll spin fast enough to generate power for the whole country.