Are we losing our written language skills?

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I have a precious piece of history I keep tucked away in a silken little box, it is a letter. I take it out and look upon it every now and again, careful not to damage the decades-old paper. I am enraptured by the beauty and attention paid to every stroke of each letter. I am in awe of the thought and care put into the choosing of every word, each flowing into the next as though they were always meant to be one. It’s a simple letter, yet so much more; it was written in a time when words were used with pride and given a place of honor and prestige in the world. There is magic woven throughout the beautiful tapestry of the words.

As a writer I respect the written word. I am careful to properly use it. Spelling, grammar and punctuation seem to be fading, no longer important in the age of the social networking, email, and texting. Internet shorthand has become the norm for many, time is of the essence in today’s world and unfortunately, it seems to be creating ignorance and laziness when it comes to the way things once were in regard to the written word. Yes, efficiency is essential, but at what price? What of words? Should they fall to the wayside, giving way to acronyms and simplistic shortcuts?

I am often sent pieces to critique, usually from beginning writers seeking advice, I’m finding many of these writers are sending me not only creative works, but articles and essays with little to no punctuation and words chopped into pieces. They appear to have a non-existent grasp on grammar. I’ve read entire stories without capitalization, paragraph breaks or attention to spelling.

I am certainly not an expert and I make my fair share of grammatical missteps, but I certainly try to avoid them. Before you submit an assignment or an article expecting an editor to give it more than a passing glance, it needs to be written correctly and with care.

Recently, I found my youngest son copying and pasting the definitions to his vocabulary words. When I read the assignment sheet, I was shocked to find this was the instructed method given. It was disheartening to say the least. Teachers are accepting what should be considered substandard work from their students.

How are they to learn if they are not held accountable? If they are indeed being taught the basics in schools, why are they not expected to utilize what they have learned? High school students are graduating with the handwriting of grade school children simply because they were allowed to type their assignments as opposed to writing them.

I am quite thankful computers were not around when I was in school to be quite honest. One may argue I am a bit hypocritical as the medium used to share this opinionated rant of mine was indeed typed upon a screen, before it was written here however, it was first penned to paper by my own hand. Human flaw is inevitable, none are immune to mistake, but there is something immensely satisfying in a job well done, to the best of your ability.

I fear for what the future holds if the fundamentals of writing are lost. I admit to being one of the many dependent on the Internet, but I will not forego all I’ve learned because of it. Our language skills are lacking in the spoken form as well, slang has replaced everyday speech and this seems to be acceptable to the masses, even making it into well-known and respected dictionaries.

I do believe we are losing many skills in the area of language. We all express ourselves through the written and spoken word, many are leaving a very poor impression. We can change this trend by showing the younger generation the immeasurable value of the written word. We need to impress upon them the importance of punctuation, spelling and grammar.

We tend to speak the way we write, we tend to write the way we speak. We need to place greater focus on what we are teaching the younger generation, we must do this by example, expectation, and praise. I’m not implying we forgo conversational speech or even the ultra-relaxed slang which has become as ingrained in our language as the letters which form them, I am simply saying we mustn’t forget the importance, the power, and the necessity of the written word as it is meant to be written.

Preserving the written word is a worthy undertaking which would benefit all.

Crystal R. Cook

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