Memes and the (mis)use of English

I’ve not had a lot of time to write, let alone blog, for the past couple of months (due to work constraints) so have spent whatever spare seconds I’ve had flicking through social media. I’ve noticed that the majority of posts nowadays are memes. For those of you who just look at the stuff as it whizzes past your nose, these are the little images, videos, or pieces of text aimed at making the viewer smile or, occasionally, think. If you’re an avid social media user, you’ve probably noticed this yourself?

Now I like clicking on something that makes me smile. There’s enough crap happening in the world that we can all use an uplifting moment or two during the course of the day, but I can’t help but think that this is having an effect on how we perceive (and use) the English language nowadays.

Let me explain: aside from writing, I currently teach in Adult Education, and the vast majority of those I work with are aged between 16 and 19 years. Most are in work-based training, taking apprenticeship qualifications. Part of an apprenticeship is for the learner to achieve their functional skills in English, Maths and ICT. Some of these learners have gone all the way through school without gaining a single GCSE, and I have a year or so to impart this knowledge to them, or they don’t achieve their overall qualification. So; no pressure then!

I regularly receive work wherein the writer has made no attempt at grammar, has no idea of sentence structure, has used no capitalisation or punctuation, but has (if I’m lucky) had a vague stab at spelling. As a result, their work makes absolutely no sense to the reader (i.e. me)! I receive work written in text speak (along with abbreviations and smiley faces) and the general consensus seems to be that if they didn’t ‘get it’ in school, why do they have to learn it now?

I deliver qualifications to people who work with children.

Let me say that again: I deliver qualifications to people who work with children.

Surely it is of the utmost importance that anybody working with children should know about SPaG, or what hope is there for future generations?

Which brings me back to memes: how many have you seen that don’t have at least one spelling or grammatical error within them? So whilst I am laughing at the joke in the meme, the writer in me has a twitch in the eye as I pick up on each infraction. I can’t help it. I see them and wince.

Children are active on social media from a very young age and are regaled with these things in their feeds. They soak them up. It’s an escape from the pressures of school (and I admit that I go online for relief from work pressures in much the same way), but children absorb the information they read and bad spelling and grammar becomes ingrained in their subconscious and is perceived as being correct writing.

I take memes for what they are: light pieces of (sometimes) witty fluff, made to be looked at, smiled (or tutted) at, and possibly shared before I move on to the next one in line. I can ignore the errors whilst knowing they are there. Children learn from what they read. Don’t the people who create them have a duty to at least run a spell check over their work before they put it out into the world?

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