GUEST COLUMN: Two bee or not too be
Monday, 25 February 2013 by Mark Magnan
Over the past couple of years I have had a lot of contact with people that are bilingual. No, I am not talking about people that speak both American English and Texan. I am referring to, mostly, Europeans that speak their native language and also a version of English. When I say a version, I am speaking of English that is subject to the dialect of their native land. What is amazing to me is that most of these people know their country's main language, perhaps a different language of a neighboring country and English. Most speak and write English very well. It seems like a fair amount of American youth don't speak English this well. Of course I am not implying our schools and teachers are at fault, but perhaps the other social influences, such as music and of course that demon, "text speak". At time even in a formal written communication words are abbreviated or reduced to "slang" or "numbers". (I base my beliefs on a statistical sampling of some younger generations, although some of the sampling places may be biased.)
I was lucky that I grew up at a time when written communication was valued, and a type written letter was still a valid form of the interchange of ideas. I learned to type on a manual typewriter that had no letters on the keys, that was my choice. The poor thing was left to rust quietly in the corner of the typing class with no one to give it any care and attention. I purposely chose to use this tool to hone my typing skills, although it seems sadistic. It must have worked, as I do quite well now, rarely having to correct anything other than basic mistakes. But part of that class was to type accurately and not take shortcuts. My teachers would have had a coronary had we use "UR" in place of "your", or "4" instead of "for". My English teacher was one of the greatest teachers of her time. She took my idle mind and excited it with the works of Shakespeare and others. I had little or no interest in learning much past spelling, which mostly ended in elementary school. But her flair for the dramatic seemed to really strike a chord in me. She would make such a ridiculous show of the misuse of words or sentence structure, that even today I can recall those when I see something horribly wrong that is said or written.
Back to the European communications, they mostly seem to have a good working knowledge of English, yet the sentence structure is so different. English must be so complex when it comes to how we form a sentence. But most of the times I read something written from a foreigner, the proper words and terms are used, the only real issue is with how the actual sentence is laid out.
I wish I could say the same thing for some of the writings of Americans that I see. We rarely learn more than one language here in the US. We spend our entire school careers working on a single language and we still fill a page with such basic errors. But it can be confusing, perhaps I was just lucky to have such a wonderful teacher and her antics permanently etched into my mind the basic rules for certain words.
One of the biggest violations is; there, their and they're. 'I must go there to their house while they're home'. Confusing, yes. But a few simple thoughts about proper usage and it works out well. When I see these basic mistakes on a formal written communication it lets me know the writer doesn't care about what they are writing.
Some others are are equally perplexing. Not and knot, or know and no. And the big three; too, two and to. 'I have to show my two steers at the fair too'. An even more horrible misuse is when someone substitutes the number "2" for either 'to' or 'too'. It is like fingernails on a blackboard, or perhaps a horrible pre-game rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, just something so uncomfortable. Using "4" is no longer a novelty as in "4 Sale", it doesn't attract attention any longer.
Of course I blame 'texting' and online writing for the degradation of our English language. We try to save time and space with abbreviations, but all we do is further dilute the basis of our culture. It is sad to know that high school graduates in foreign countries have a better understanding of our language than many of our young people today. I suggest cellphones come with a program that refuses to send a text or e-mail until all the basic corrections are made.