Friday, 1 April 2011

Why Can't the English Teach Their Children How to Speak (or, at Least to Read and Write?)

The above question was posed a century ago , first in Bernard Shaw's play "Pygmalion," and later, in the more well-known adaptation, "My Fair Lady."

The question is followed up by the observation:

Arabians learn Arabian with the speed of summer lightning.
And Hebrews learn it backwards, which is absolutely frightening.
But use proper English you're regarded as a freak.
Oh, WHY can't the English learn to speak?"

It turns out, not only are the English unable to speak, a good lot of them can't read or write, either.  According to a recent article by U.K. Secretary for Education Michael Gove, writing in the Daily Telegraph, 63% of white, working-class English children could neither read nor write properly.

His solution is to try to encourage a culture of reading, which of course, I am all for.  It's a terrific idea that children should carry around books rather than tweeting, bleating, blinking gadgets.

I do, however, find it somewhat amusing Mr Gove's observations that similar U.S. youngsters have an inculcated love of books and reading, and that, for once, someone is wishing the youth of his nation be more like Americans:

Visiting America last month, I was struck by the way a culture of reading is instilled in every child at the earliest possible age, even in schools serving the poorest pupils. In Washington DC, a group of children stopped, in the middle of an engineering project, to tell me about their favourite novels

All I can say to that is, "Huh?"

Shaw, also in "Pygmalion" commented, on the use of English, that "well, in America, they haven't used it for years."

Shaw once famously quipped that the British and the Americans are two peoples separated by a common language.  Here, I might suggest to Michael Gove that that separation has been replaced by a common intellectual sloth and laziness.  In the abandonment of proper diction and grammar, I would suggest that that gap has closed, though who has raced to close it is subject to debate.

Hint: In my opinion, it's not that Americans have run to catch UP...