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    #1

    Why are so many native English speakers bad at writing their own language?

    I have been using Internet for 15 years. Every time I see anything written by native English speakers (Facebook, Twitter, forums, blogs, websites, e-mails etc.), I notice that most of them, even educated ones, make a lot of mistakes in pretty basic things. They misspell many common words, can't distinguish between homophones and have bad grammar. Their writing skills in general seem to be very poor and nobody seems to care about it. People who studied English as a foreign language tend to write much better, but even when I see immigrants who moved to an English speaking country when they were about 10 years old (and couldn't speak English before that), their writing is often perfect. Why is that? And how is it possible?

  1. Raymott's Avatar
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    #2

    Re: Why are so many native English speakers bad at writing their own language?

    That's possibly true. But can you always tell who is a native speaker?
    Yes, to someone who likes English, or writing and language in general, most people who write informally on the web, and to newspapers' "Letters to the editor", etc. are semi-literate. English is a difficult language to get right when writing. It's very easy to get "your, you're" and "there, their, they're" wrong. Non-native speakers who are bad at learning language probably simply don't write English, whereas native speakers have to.

    Also, the standard of English teaching in the last 50 years or so has been abysmal, with concentration on critical thinking, etc. rather than actually being able to spell and punctuate. Many schools stopped teaching grammar, whereas most ESL students do learn grammar. There might also be an element of non-native writers trying harder to write correctly.
    When you say that nobody seems to care about it, how can you tell? A lot of people care. There are complaints in the press here all the time about the poor English teaching standards, and how first year university students need to be taught basic literacy skills.

    What's the Bosnian language like on Bosnian forums and chat sites?

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    #3

    Re: Why are so many native English speakers bad at writing their own language?

    Quote Originally Posted by Raymott View Post
    That's possibly true. But can you always tell who is a native speaker?
    I can tell who is a native speaker by their names and personal info on social network sites, because I use those a lot. I communicate with a lot of people from all around the world. No offence, but I have to admit that so many of them appear to be quite illiterate, even though some have university diploma. (And yes, the your/you're thing is so common, at least 90% of people online make that mistake.) Interestingly, many foreign kids who grow up in English speaking countries pay much more attention to it. Even some of my relatives who moved to America or Australia during the Bosnian war write much better and more correct English than native speakers.

    Quote Originally Posted by Raymott View Post
    When you say that nobody seems to care about it, how can you tell?
    Because usually when someone corrects them, they say: "Who cares, as long as you know what I mean."

    Quote Originally Posted by Raymott View Post
    What's the Bosnian language like on Bosnian forums and chat sites?
    I have to admit that using Internet (especially international sites) is still not as common in Bosnia as it is in western countries. Bosnians who write online are usually diaspora (people who live abroad), even though, of course, a lot of us in Bosnia use it as well. Bosnian language is essentially the same as Serbian and Croatian; we only use different names for political reasons. Our language is completely phonetic, so spelling is not a problem, but when I was in school we paid a lot of attention to the grammar and had to learn it extensively. For me personally, it is very hard to understand how someone can be unable to write in his/her own language correctly. Until recently, most people here didn't speak foreign languages, but nowadays our educational system has changed and learning English is very important.

  2. konungursvia's Avatar
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    #4

    Re: Why are so many native English speakers bad at writing their own language?

    It is a question of vernacular English as well. You learnt English in a very narrow sense, the most standard written English. No one speaks that way, not all of the time. English grammar, loosely defined, allows many different levels of speech, and alternate constructions. A few examples:

    'Nuff said.
    Hella good player.
    Sup?
    Is you is, or is you ain't, my baby?

    Another point is spelling. For most of the history of English, it has been a very free language. No Académie Française telling us how to speak or write. Even spelling was purely personal until the Chambers Dictionary.

    It is also a good deal harder to write well when our structures allow such a variety of possible forms. Most languages are more rigid in grammar. For example, Chinese, in which you must write declarative sentences in this order: When + who + what they did.

    So, in Chinese, this is not possible:

    Lying in the sun, soaking up the rays, just relaxing.... my whole family and I spent the first week of July in Jamaica, and it was awesome.

    The only possibilty in Chinese is something like this:

    In the first week of July, I with my family went to Jamaica, where we lay in the sun, soaking up the rays, just relaxing.

    Also, the liberalism of English speaking countries means, for better or worse, that we generally spend less time admiring and respecting that which has gone before than other cultures. Those who spell in a telegraphic way, for brevity, and those who write informally, are tolerated, when the discourse is *not* intended to help learners, as is the case here.

    So, your view of English may be narrower than mine.
    Last edited by konungursvia; 19-Jul-2014 at 14:25.

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    #5

    Re: Why are so many native English speakers bad at writing their own language?

    Quote Originally Posted by konungursvia View Post
    You learnt English in a very narrow sense, the most standard written English. No one speaks that way, not all of the time. English grammar, loosely defined, allows many different levels of speech, and alternate constructions. A few examples:

    'Nuff said.
    Hella good player.
    Sup?
    Is you is, or is you ain't, my baby?
    I understand informal and colloquial speech, but that's not the reason to not know the difference between "to" and "too", or "than" and "then", or many other basic things. Some of the things I see are pretty shocking, and it's so common that I see it almost everywhere.

  3. konungursvia's Avatar
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    #6

    Re: Why are so many native English speakers bad at writing their own language?

    When I read Le Monde, and have a look at people's private blogs, even those linked by Le Monde, I am equally surprised at the spelling of native speakers. But you and I are a skewed sample. Educated people who are educated enough to acquire a second language accurately, and educated enough to accurately judge how well native speakers write that language. But there are plenty of people for whom formal education is not a big feature of their lives.

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    #7

    Re: Why are so many native English speakers bad at writing their own language?

    Quote Originally Posted by konungursvia View Post
    But you and I are a skewed sample. Educated people who are educated enough to acquire a second language accurately, and educated enough to accurately judge how well native speakers write that language.
    In my experience, most Europeans are multilingual. Learning English is very important in Europe and many people speak some other foreign languages too. So, I don't think it's a skewed sample, I think it is pretty common. Learning to use your native language correctly in both spoken and written form should be even more important.

  4. Raymott's Avatar
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    #8

    Re: Why are so many native English speakers bad at writing their own language?

    So, let's clarify this. You're not really after explanations for your experience that English natives write worse than others. Your aim is simply to make sure we know that they do, and that they shouldn't. Is that a fair assumption? Because you seem to be rejecting every attempt to explain it.
    You say, "when I was in school we paid a lot of attention to the grammar and had to learn it extensively" and I said that the teaching of grammar in English classes for English-speaking students is abysmal. Wouldn't that have some effect?
    You also say that Bosnians don't use the 'net as much as other people. If every Bosnian child had an internet connection and felt compelled to post their every thought on the 'net, do you think the incidence of bad Bosnian language might increase?

    When you say that nobody seems to care about it, how can you tell?
    Because usually when someone corrects them, they say: "Who cares, as long as you know what I mean."
    Ah, you mean that no one who does this cares. That would make sense. That's a different claim from "Nobody cares" Many of us care, as I've explained.

    But if you accept none of our possible explanations, what do you think might be the cause?
    Last edited by Raymott; 20-Jul-2014 at 04:10.

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    #9

    Re: Why are so many native English speakers bad at writing their own language?

    Quote Originally Posted by Sakosomo View Post
    So, I don't think it's a skewed sample, I think it is pretty common
    Any sample that isn't wide enough is skewed, and yours, which comprises a narrow selection of web sources seen through a prejudiced eye, is very probably skewed. I am not saying there aren't problems with people mistaking to/too on the web - there definitely are. However, for a figure to have any meaning, it would have to be compared to something else, so that the decline could be measured.

    One factor that you haven't included is the number of residents in English-speaking countries who are not native speakers- that is a consequence of having a very multicultural society, which means that comparisons to less multicultural societies is less valid than comparisons to equally multicultural societies.

    You are right to say that there are issues, but your 90% figure for your/you're is simply made-up. If you want to establish the real figure, and it will be high, you'd need to do more than throw out a random number that suits you. You would have to design a test that would show what people really knew, and not an exaggeration of what spellcheckers didn't spot for people writing BTL. It would be worryingly high, but not near this 90% nonsense.

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    #10

    Re: Why are so many native English speakers bad at writing their own language?

    Quote Originally Posted by Raymott View Post
    So, let's clarify this. You're not really after explanations for your experience that English natives write worse than others. Your aim is simply to make sure we know that they do, and that they shouldn't.
    That is not true. I am very interested in the reasons why it is that way.

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