Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Making the 'right' English 'mistakes'.

This new study on English does not surprise me in the least:
British students have a poorer grasp of spelling, grammar and the English language than their peers from overseas, research by Imperial College, London, suggests. They are more likely to make basic errors in their written work than those for whom English is a second language.
Another finding of the study concludes what I have also often noticed before : many English natives - 78% of British students in the study - mistakenly included an apostrophe in the possessive pronoun “its” (which becomes "it's" ) compared with 25% of overseas students. That's really a high number. I am certain that the result would be similar in the US. I find the same mistake to be quite common among many Americans. (also with "your" and "you're" and less often with "they're" and "their").
Undeniably, those mistakes are considered 'bad' by a majority of people (when they notice it!).
The funny thing, is that if you want to speak like a native you also need to learn to make the 'right' mistakes, that is those of the native English speakers or you draw attention for speaking too 'properly'. If you have no accent, people can't necessarily figure out where you're from but they can tell you're English is... odd. That's because you speak 'like a grammar book'.
Aa illustration I have in mind is the use of "well" (an adverb) and "good" (an adjective).
So to the question "How are you?", the answer "I'm good" has now become accepted as common usage in spoken English to mean "I'm well" even though it is not supposed to be proper grammatically. It is clear that teachers should teach both - the theory and the reality, and they should not focus too much on "the right mistakes". As we said before, there is no such thing as a "pure language" anyway!

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