Education Quandary: 'Text-message spelling in school? Have we gone mad? Why does everything have to be made so easy for children today?'

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Hilary's advice

At first, I agreed with you. I am deeply wedded to apostrophes being in the right place and people being "bored with" things, not "bored of" them. Our language is beautiful, I thought. It is the language of Shakespeare. We must preserve it at all costs. But then I thought that there was no one more inventive with language than Shakespeare, and, if we didn't move on, we would all still be saying things like: "Nay good sir. Prithee keep up thy quillets." And how good would that be for our 21st- century realities?

So the recent suggestion by John Wells, president of the Spelling Society, that phonetic and text spellings might replace the spellings children now have to learn, is a serious one and not without merit. It's coming anyway; many people no longer know that there should be an apostrophe in the first word of this sentence, or care if it was missing – so why not embrace the inevitable?

The function of grammar and spelling is to help people communicate clearly. If everyone now understands "c u l8r", what's wrong with writing it as well as texting it? In fact, some research shows that texting seems to be making people more literate rather than less. For that we should all b v gr8ful.

Readers' advice

Children are sophisticated in understanding how to make language work for them, and knowing that different types of language are for different occasions. Just like they know when they can get away with swearing, and when they can't. Teachers must teach them how to spell and write properly so that they can when they need to. You can't apply for a job in text speak, or talk street in an interview.

Helen O'Regan, Liverpool

Our skater son and his friends use expressions that mean nothing to us and change every week. Mongo footed? Doing a slappie? I love the way they play with English and make it their own. It's inventive and imaginative; how language should be used. But teachers must not collude with that. Their job is to hold on to proper English so that only useful changes get assimilated.

Moira Goom, London E8

Children don't like things being made easy for them. We patronise them by thinking they do. My son loves learning his spelling lists. The harder the words, the better.

His class teacher – a man – has turned spelling into a class competition, with points and prizes, and everyone wants to do well at it. Children like mastering hard things and competing among themselves. Why stop them?

John Coyle, Kent

Next Week's Quandary

The Steiner school in my area is really popular and people keep telling me to get my little girl on the waiting list, but I always thought it was quite a hippie sort of education, and the parents I know who use it all seem off-puttingly fervent. Is it something worth thinking about, or not?

Send your replies, or any quandaries you would like to have addressed, to h.wilce@btinternet.com. Please include your postal address. Readers whose replies are printed will receive a Collins Paperback English Dictionary 5th Edition. Previous quandaries are online at www.hilarywilce.com, where they can be searched by topic

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