Tag Archives: orthography

Concern at Spanish universities about students’ language skills

31 Mar

Spanish students have several spelling problems and a severe lack of reading comprehension. Teachers wonder if besides specific knowledge, language skills should be also evaluated to avoid spelling mistakes, considering that, for instance, some students are used to write like if they were sending text messages.

Some of these spelling errors, like an extra “h” in “habrir”, are inappropriate. Such error looks like it has been done on purpose. For example, people who occupy uninhabited places are “okupa”; an incorrect form of the Spanish word “ocupar”, to occupy in English. It may seem strange, however, when a Spanish teacher of Linguistics and a science agronomy specialist think about coincidences searching usual spelling errors made by their pupils. Both specialists find “Habrir”. How can they write such a bizarre word? They speculate that maybe they can’t differentiate between “habría” (past of to be) and “abría” (past of open). Spelling and grammar mistakes usually happen in high schools. Despite the fact that most teachers are realizing about this situation, just a few of them are willing to low the grades.

Salvador Gutiérrez, coordinator of the polemic latest edition of the Spanish orthography, explains: “this is both myth and reality. Excluding metric, poets would gladly say that old orthography was way better. In the past there was a part of the population who hadn’t been educated so they could barely write. Nowadays, we have an education so this part of the population has to write better. Nevertheless, those who studied longer had to endure a long and hard process in which they acquired idiomatic correction. Because of this process, their spelling ability was higher than those who are currently applying for going to the university.

 Flor Salazar, lecturer of Spanish philology in Complutense University of Madrid, thinks that there are more problems than spelling. Orthography is used incorrectly. For instance, we have punctuation: Periods, colons… A Spanish speaker may understand “Baca” as cow even if it is written with B instead of V, but they may not understand the speech if it is not organized correctly. It might be difficult to punctuate but they just don’t even try. For example, it is trendy not to put indentations after periods. They copied it from English speakers mostly because it was useful. She recalls that she had to write essays daily. Current students should also do it. “I still remember a classmate at university who misspelled the word diminutivo (diminutive, in English) and got a Zero as score. It happened fourteen years ago”

A former teacher of Spanish at high school, Amparo Medina Bocos, remarks the importance of stressed syllables in Spanish . Depending on which syllable is stressed “revolver” it may mean “revolver” (to stir) or “revólver” (handgun). Strangely, people don’t bother so much about this error as they do with confusing B and V. People are guilty of sloth. On streets, you may find words like “antiguedades” in instead of “antigüedades”. Even shop’s names are written incorrectly.


                     Some students with their smartphones


José Luis Pardo, professor of Philosophy in the Complutense University of Madrid puts as an example: If a student writes incorrectly that the Storming of the Bastille was two years before it really happened it is unlikely he will get the full score but he won’t fail the exam for sure. However if he moves the year 2 centuries he may fail it. Time ago, a student mistook just a letter; this mistake changed the meaning of the expression to the “Storming of the pill”. In such cases, the student does not need a mark but a warning since he hasn’t reached the needed level for getting a qualification. It also happens with spelling errors. It is not the same if a philosophy freshman writes the German surname Wittgenstein without double t than if he writes the Spanish word for should wrong. Such error would make him fail the text, as there is not another method to explain him that his level is not enough for getting a qualification. It would be like asking an engineer if a bridge should be built correctly or “it is ok to just build it carelessly”. Maybe a sudden squall collapses it.

Professor of physics, Jose Manuel Sanchez Ron has decided recently to introduce some changes in History of Sciences, his elective subject. This time he is going to penalize both orthographic and spelling errors. He considers that these errors won’t determine if they pass or not. “If I tell them to pay attention, they will be more skilled on the future. They would probably ignore it. That’s why I chose to penalize them instead.” Of course, the first day of the course he reminds them about how important writing skills are. “I’m not one of their buddies. They can’t write like text messages in my lectures”.

Mr. Ron explains that English is the most important language in Sciences but he doesn’t want his students to use it as an excuse, because solving mathematical theorems and problems are enough for them. Spelling is not relative but absolute. it is like the manifestation of some sort of Postmodern Movement.

Reaching an agreement about if they should evaluate structure besides contents is not easy. Ten years ago, some Spanish Philology teachers at Complutense university of Madrid, told the rectorship about creating a common regulation for dealing with students. However, he replied that it was beyond his competence. “The score should be lowered for really huge mistakes or if the student continues to have the same mistake again and again” “Since we don’t have regulations such as being fully clothed or not to bring pets, we don’t need a regulation for this issue. Also dignity (The felling of shame to common reproach) should be enough to make anybody think twice before doing so. Obviously, as it no longer works, a common regulation or even a state regulation is needed. It may be the easiest way to stop it. So that we don’t need to warn students about something they should already know”.

If there is someone who may be interested on this, it would be our next teacher. This teacher works in a communication degree in a prestigious university. He was confronted by his students because he lowered scores of those who committed spelling or orthographic errors. Some students even failed the exam. “It is both students and teacher fault,” he explains. Teachers have lowered the required standards too much. We have forgotten that we ought to make them realize that they need to know how to write properly. In some cases, students have requested to be graded for their knowledge, not for their writing style. Editors are not so frequent in the present. And there is no time for correcting most of the texts. Also, even if their texts can be corrected, this shouldn’t be used as an excuse.

This teacher suggests a hopeless present and future at University: “The educational community is more and more afraid to prevail. Students dare to say and do things that we would have never say or do in our generation.” Some teachers get frightened; some of them just try to avoid dealing with problems. Mostly because, in the actual crisis, seeing as their income has dropped, as their job increases. They would rather not to bother about it than to face their students complaining.

In Valencia, Education professionals are considering setting a limit for orthographic errors on university admission exams. Right now, these errors are taken into account just on Language and Literature subjects. It would reduce the score up to three points for grammar mistakes and four by 2015. This plan will be set gradually so that high schools can solve this problem. The Ministry of Education reform forecasts exams at the end of most pre-university levels. These exams will probably make spelling and orthography being taught more carefully.

Journalist and language teacher in high school, Javier López, complains about how difficult is to vanish grammatical mistakes. Unrelated people think this is just part of language, so they think they should not bother about lowering scores for it. Some of them even complain about language teachers’ attitude. “If they don’t make their students fail their exams for it, why should I do it? My subject is history.” But he explains “The correct use of the language is not just a part of Spanish classes but is part of every subject. Every different field of knowledge has specific terms which students need to learn. This vocabulary ought to be written correctly. For instance, a math teacher would not allow the term for angle written like “hángulo” with an extra h.”

Three years ago, thirty seven year old Mr.López, started to teach Language and Literature. He was speechless when he found teachers using learning methods similar to those used in the XIX century. Despite exercises like dictation or copying errors used successfully by previous generations of students, those methods no longer work. He frequently talks with his students through Social networking sites and forces them to write correctly. When you had to write a letter even if it was for a friend, didn’t you struggle to write it? It was because that piece of paper showed who you were. What I’ve done was to make them understand than in websites like Tuenti or Facebook it is possible to write correctly. I know that the communication between a student and a teacher would never be the same as how they communicate between themselves. Mr. López became famous with his “Your ignorance feeds me” campaign. For every mistake, he would lower the score of the exam. Students who wanted to get the full score back had to bring some sort of food. This is how they were able to donate half ton of food.

Not everything is bad. There is a certain minority of people who are concerned about how to use the language, as it is explained on the department of Doubts of the Royal Spanish Institute of Language. This website, Today’s Spanish, receives more than a hundred questions every day. More people have access to medium education, high education and so have good knowledge of language which is essential for most skilled works. Now people have several different ways to get such information or solve language questions easier without requiring to use harder-to-understand or complicated grammar and reference works.


There are some serious errors


As Mr. Pardo suggests “in the police entrance exams of Canary islands, at the south of the country, they decided to set an othographic exercise for measuring it. Just 17 out of 168 people passed it. THe polemic exercise consisted on searching othographic errors in 22 phrases in 10 minutes. SHould they lower the level?” “They shouldn’t be harsh but fair,” replies Mr. Gutiérrez, Language teacher in University of León. Those who want to work in public administrations must know not only the requirements for their desired occupation, but also the language they need to use. If a police officer have to fill a report, he should be able to show in public that they can do it.”

Mr. Pardo does not believe it. Those who infringe the most basic principle of coexistence: respecting, using and sharing the same language are the one who sued the authority. If such infringement is allowed – something really regrettable – everybody would be able to do the same. Such public morality shall not be allowed. The authority should penalize them as it does with those who disobey traffic laws.

According to the Minister Wert’s new law of Education, high schoolers will have at least 25% of maths, 25% of English, and 25% of Literature classes. So maybe the tragic story of spelling mistakes would end soon. Or at least it will be less prevalent. This may be the end of the latest Spanish Internet meme, version of the slang “watcha doin?” “Ola k ase”.

Source:    http://sociedad.elpais.com/sociedad/2013/02/16/actualidad/1361037969_843190.html