Good English for a global audience

Most people say good English means using:

  • Correct grammar.
  • Correct punctuation.
  • Correct usage.
  • Correct spelling (of words in written work).

However, most people would be hard-pressed to identify precisely which rules of grammar, punctuation, and usage must be followed in writing and speaking or which words must be spelled correctly for the writing to be "good English."

Many times correctness is more a matter of appropriateness than of compliance with a grammar rules: If the audience readily understands the message and are not offended by the language in which it is presented, that message is correct enough.

Unfortunately, in today’s world, it is hard to know what is appropriate.

Many times an audience is global rather than local.

Many times writers/speakers do not know who their audience is.

Many audiences do not know how to access—or do not have access to—references to help them interpret non-standard language such as abbreviations, idioms, and jargon.

In a global economy, our students will have to work with many people who will not understand the breezy, informal, idiomatic, and often sloppy language use that characterizes American culture.

Living in a global society, we must hold ourselves and our students to a higher standard of correctness, much closer to textbook rules, than we might have demanded in their speech and writing 10 years ago.

Fortunately, we do not have to teach (or know) all the rules for comma placement. We do need to know and teach those rules that, if violated, are most likely to impede communication of a message.

Research into the writing people do reveals a high concentration of a very few errors. (See Connors and Lunsford, Lunsford and Lunsford, for example.) Most writers’ repeated errors are violations of rules taught in elementary school, such as confusing its and it’s or failing to mark the boundaries of a sentence with a capital letter and closing punctuation.

We must teach those few rules thoroughly, until they are as much a part of our students’ mental processes as their elbows are parts of their bodies.

Bottom line: To equip students to live in a global society, we can teach fewer rules of "good English" but must teach those few far more thoroughly than ever before.

© 2008 Linda G. Aragoni This information previously appeared at Ezine Articles.