This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Language as she is taught, by Jean Ure. A rant.

The Word Den is hugely honoured today to present a Guest Rant by the acclaimed author Jean Ure.

Jean Ure ran away from school to become a writer. She had lots of adventures while she was waiting to succeed, including becoming a waitress, a translator and an actress.
She lives in England with her husband and a surprisingly large number of rescued cats and dogs.


Well, perhaps not so much a rant as a rantette.

Scene in primary school staffroom.   Teacher showing book to another teacher.

1st Teacher (in tones of considerable irritation)   Why is it that children’s writers will insist on writing sentences beginning with and, but and so?   Why do they write sentences which don’t have any verb?   Do they think that because it’s for children it doesn’t matter?

 2nd Teacher (commiserating)  I really don’t know.

Visiting Author attempts to explain how there is a difference between formal writing and informal writing,  akin to the difference between playground language and “proper” language.   Author suggests that maybe the children should be taught this.

Idea received with total hostility.

This accounts for the fact that I recently read a review of one of my books by a young teenager praising it lavishly for storyline and characterisation, but adding,  “Sadly I have to say that it was very badly written.”   How so?   Well, yes, sentences beginning with and, but or so, sentences without verbs, words such as because shortened to ‘cos.  All the usual culprits, drummed into children from an early age and threatening to stifle any creativity they might possess.

In general I have the highest respect for teachers, but this total lack of literary imagination makes me seethe. 

Word of the day: teacher. This word is related to the Old English word tācen meaning token, and before that from the Old High German word zeihhan and the Old Norse teikn, meaning to sign.

So teaching wasn't originally much to do with words, then!


  1. Couldn't agree more! Everyone ought to learn about different KINDS of language and I actually thought that teachers were doing some of this, at least in some schools. You know, the writing of letters, journalism, reports, advertisements etc precisely to see HOW THE LANGUAGE DIFFERS in each form. Doh! is all I can say!

  2. This really made me wince and laugh too. But Adele,I'm sure most teachers do. Perhaps, Jean, sounds like your young critic was at the literal-thinking, law-abiding, snobbery-of-knowing-the-rules stage in life. (Or thinking they know the rules anyway...)

  3. Writers of fiction for the educational market certainly find their prose edited into sometimes inappropriately rigid English to comply with 'rules' like not beginning a sentence with AND.
    I've blogged before, for instance, about not being allowed to end a story 'And they all lived happily ever after'!

  4. A helpful phrase is "know the rules, then you can break them". Certainly it makes sense to kids in writing workshops - you need to know the rules, but only you can decide what's best for a particular piece of writing.