I’ve recently read this newspaper interview with a professor of General Linguistics.
Q: Do we have a low level of spelling?
A: In general, yes. Above all, young people. It’s more – it’s one of the perennial problems, our major battlefield. And that’s because nobody is born with the knowledge and the process of learning is very slow. It takes a lot of patience, a lot of practice, a lot of persistence and a lot of attention.
Q: What role does reading play in its acquisition?
A: It’s an essential process, seeing that reading and writing are basic. A pupil will be incapable of mastering any course of study who takes half an hour to understand a page. Guaranteed failure. However, not having this facility has nothing to do with intelligence, it just means not having the basic facility.
Q: Is the problem with the teaching?
A: Learning to spell is difficult and takes a lot of practice. It’s like gymnastics: you have to practice it constantly in order to be good at it.
Q: What role does syntax play in the correct use of the language?
A: Spelling has two sides: the letters themselves and syntax. The first can be learned with a lot of practice, and syntax is key to using punctuation. This is the part that children learn last. They have to know how to construct sentences, and for this, the rules of punctuation are key.
Q: Do young people arrive at university well prepared?
A: The majority not. In the university, during the first years, they are corrected severely, but we should be conscious of the fact that teaching spelling is not just a task for language teachers – everyone must be vigilant when it comes to the mastery of the language.
Q: Are the new technologies acting against the correct use of the language?
A: People blame the new technologies, but it isn’t true. The person who makes mistakes doesn’t know the spelling. They have to make sure they read a lot, correcting themselves, because it is a social problem. When they finish their studies, if they cannot spell correctly, they will suffer rejection.
Fairly obviously, from the reply that “they are corrected severely” in universities, this interview is not with a British academic. But where is it from? Answers on a postcard, please (no, not seriously!!). The answer next week.