Letter: Success and failure in the teaching of English

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The Independent Online
Sir: Angela Lambert's comments on the teaching of punctuation (19 April) and today's correspondence seem to me timely. As a postal tutor, I set and mark a use-of-English assignment which forms a preliminary to a variety of professional courses. It is not enough, though better than nothing; I have certainly written more dissertations on the correct use of the possessive apostrophe than I care to recall.

However, the sad thing is that the students are themselves aware of their lack. The feedback I receive includes comments such as 'I feel very unsure of grammar and English isn't a strong point'; 'I need a book telling me about nouns, verbs etc' and 'the exercise showed up faults in my use of grammar of which I was not aware'.

It is high time that English teachers returned to the nuts and bolts of the language. How else will children be able to cope with pre-1900 texts such as Jane Eyre, Robinson Crusoe and Wessex Tales (all on the reading list for children aged 11-14) and read them with any degree of enjoyment?

I am sorry, but not surprised, when I find that students from the Far East, for example, have a better grasp of the technicalities of our language than do our own students. Teachers are doing our children a grave disservice if they do not equip them to compete on equal terms, in their own language, with students from other countries.

Yours faithfully,


College of Estate Management


Reading, Berkshire

20 April