The Power of Language

“Teenagers are gonna wanna do their v best in exams but gotta be thinkin about not using too much slang.”

So began one of the articles in the Times on Wednesday. According to an online tutoring agency, ‘slanglish’ is partially to blame for teenagers failing their English GCSE. “tonite” and “pls” are apparently among the most frequently misspelt words.

You will no doubt be quick to identify the main influences: texting and social media and a reliance on auto-correct (which, we know, can lead to some most unlikely and amusing substitutions!). Concerns have been raised by academics that texting and abbreviations may have a negative impact on pupils’ ability to write in formal English, as messages are often devoid of grammatical structure. However, one of the main examination boards found little evidence of candidates using textspeak in scripts scrutinised in 2016. It may therefore be the case that youngsters, well educated, are able to move between registers without too much difficulty.

Whatever the case, I would hope that our pupils are not prone to such sloppy English when writing; they certainly achieve very well in their examinations. Correct English is, of course, vital for fluent expression in virtually all subjects, as well as for communication (oral and written) throughout life. And we (teachers and parents) should teach our children how to express themselves in different situations and with different interlocutors. I do believe it is therefore important to correct sloppy expression, although I know as a dad that it was prudent and more effective to choose my moments to do so with my own teenagers! I am also pleased to note that the omnipresent filler ‘like’ seems to be on the wane!

Our language has an amazingly rich vocabulary, and the acquisition of a wide vocabulary stems from reading. So it is equally important that we encourage our young people to read – and, we hope, to love reading. The Publishers Association recorded a 9% drop in the sales of ‘physical’ fiction books last year, with audiobooks and e-books only partially offsetting the decline; streaming companies such as Netflix and Amazon, as well as the box set, are apparently to blame. However, the good news is that the sales of physical children’s books rose by 3%. Let’s therefore hope that our children will enjoy the wonderful habit of reading and, even if some read less in their teenage years, that they rediscover the joy in later life.

That’s enough for tonite.

Best wishes
John Watson

Headmaster and Chief Executive