The Standard and Non-Standard English Language
Use of standard and non-standard English may cause many difficulties in many educational situations. To explain this, I would like to concentrate first on what standard and non-standard language is. Standard language is the type of language which is thought as a ‘correct’ in schools, using ‘correct’ grammar and avoiding slang words and expressions and mostly used in formal situations. This type of language is written in a ‘correct’ form of spelling and it is spoken in a ‘standard’ accent such as English Received Pronunciation. Non-standard language is mostly used in informal situations and it’s using grammars and words and accents which are special to a particular place. It often contains expressions which are regarded as ‘incorrect’ in standard language.
Children first identify themselves with language of their parents and they construct language system which accords well with those around them. As they increasingly interact with siblings and other relatives, they learn the language of interaction with peers or language of the neighborhood (the local dialect). In school they meet different form of language, Standard English. Therefore, they start to learn that they have different identities which they share with their families, friends and community and that they have a linguistic loyalty to them. Children usually cope well with this mismatch: they learn there is a ‘school’ language and how to switch from that language to language they speak at home. This process is called code switching. But it also causes lots of difficulties and teachers are trying to help children to become more aware of the grammatical differences between the formal “Standard English” and the informal home language. These way children learn how to select appropriate language to use in the given context.
As a part of a government pilot programme, banning British children from speaking patois in school, student at one of the schools at South London were taught that speaking non-standard language is only appropriate in certain circumstances and that they need to use Standard English. Inspectors found that children were using very often in their work local speech, colloquial phrases and Creole. Bill Cosby, one of the most famous American comedians was backing up this campaign. He was mainly concerned about constant use of street slang contributing to educational failure of black pupils, particularly boys from Afro-Caribbean backgrounds. This “playground patois” has become the only way of communication for some children very badly affecting their educational achievements. Emma Thompson, famous British actress also commented about the necessity of speaking two different types of English. Her comments were based on recent studies which have shown that half of teenagers can’t see the difference between Standard English grammar and colloquial language. This is all happening because of use of social networking websites and the popularity of mobile phone text messaging which is undermining children’s literacy skills. Also, TV programmes which use a great deal of slang are an issue. Some parents and teachers have complained in the past that children are picking up slang and catchphrases from watching TV programs, and the hearing poor English on television can affect the way kids write and speak. Even some of the MPs were worried about the use of slang and non-standard English on children shows. They were worried that children would pick up bad habits and they will start using some of the phrases like ‘ain’t’ and ‘you was’.
I think teachers should have a biggest impact on children in using the right form of language by showing children that all equivalent forms of language are correct when they are used appropriately. Instead of regarding that Standard English is correct in all cases and outlawing all dialect forms we need to explain to students that both, their Standard English and local dialects are good to use but in the different context for which they are appropriate. Secondly teachers should encourage students to use spoken Standard English in the classroom, not by correcting them but by giving them experience of speaking in many different kinds of public roles such as judges, newsreaders or interviewers. They could take part in oral presentations presented to several classes or even had a chance to ask questions some of the visitors to the school like of policemen or firemen.
Children should be able to see difference between standard language and colloquial language and should be able to know when to use it. I believe not being able to do so could hugely affect their future. Children who are only fluent in non-standard language are more likely to have problems in academic field. Those who only speak nonstandard form of English have often difficulty reading and writing with proficiency in Standard English. This leads to situation that children are uneducated and, in a future, they are less likely to advance their careers. Using ‘proper’ language overall leads to higher pay jobs, bigger social mobility and a great social success. It creates powerful impression when we speak Standard English. Other people see us as intelligent and well informed when we use ‘correct’ grammar and when we show high level of vocabulary. It opens up opportunities that are closed for those who use any form of non-standard language.