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Friday, October 12, 2007

The Internet and the decline of language skills

Is it just me, or has the rise of the internet paralleled the decline in language skills in the US?

A group of my friends online were discussing this the other day, because one child had brought home a spelling list that included some real head-scratchers. He's in the "challenge" spelling group at school, so that was no surprise. What was mind-boggling to me was the number of people (at least on that forum) who didn't know how to examine the components of the words in order to reach a rough approximation of the definitions. The members who did that were, shall we say, more "seasoned" people, who went through school before the advent of email, the internet, blogging and text messaging. (And if you're here from CS, I apologize if you were in the group of people who didn't know how to figure them out.)

My 10-year-old niece is in a TAG (talented and gifted) program at her school. At the beginning of the academic year, teachers gave all students in her program an assessment to determine groups for spelling assignments. Most were within a couple of grade levels of their actual grade. But WonderNiece kept going, right into the Grade 10 words. She doesn't have typical spelling lists this year; she will be given Greek and Latin roots to learn and apply. If you ask me, that's a much better application of her time and energy than learning some words by rote. Don't get me wrong - it's fun to have a couple of "$5 words" in one's arsenal to impress people, but being able to figure things out and do so intelligently is a far more valuable skill.

In my day job, I work for a large software and IT Services company, in the services division. I've been "on the bench" for a while, and have joined the internal resume team while between client assignments both for something to do and to make myself useful (and therefore less likely to be let go). The resume team is responsible for proofreading services division internal resumes, the documents account managers send to prospective clients. We've got a detailed instructions document that partners with a pre-populated template for employees to use. Long story short, if we could let people go for inability to follow directions, the company would be more profitable, but unemployment in Michigan would be higher. I think the poor English language skills are because the employees in question are technical people (i.e. programmers) and managers (i.e. project managers) who either think in programming languages or, well, don't think.

So don't be a techno-speaker. Learn to use your words. Use them correctly. And challenge yourself to learn more of them.


1 comment:

Rae Bates said...

I'm wasting time today, trying to look productive. I'm doing that by reading through your older blogs. I have to say that this one really caught my interest. I'm with you. Etymology should be taught as part of standard English courses in high school.