Journalist and Writer
Hilary Wilce specialising in all aspects of education
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The Quandary - 03 May 2007

My boys never speak in sentences. They only grunt. Why donít schools teach children to speak properly?

Hillary's Advice

I wonder if your boys grunt in class, or only to each other and their friends? Children notoriously speak different languages in different circumstances.

But letís say that grunting is all they know how to do. Where does their experience of language come from? Partly, of course, from school, but also from home, television, movies, the internet, music lyrics, mobile phones and texting. All these things contribute to the way language develops and evolves, and how children learn to use it. Do you yourself talk properly to your children and make it clear you expect them to reply in similar vein? Did you read to them when they were younger so they could hear the rhythms of language? Do you encourage them to read things out to you now Ė football reports from the paper, say, or movie reviews?

For some years now primary schools, at least, have been trying to encourage children to speak up and be more articulate. Long gone are the days when children were expected to be seen and not heard. But we still lag far behind other countries such as the United States in this, and too many of our children can only mutter and stutter their way through a public sentence or two.

But a new scheme to encourage young children to use complex sentences has recently been launched to help this. Speaking for Kids offers pictures and lessons plans for three- to six-year-olds which allow teachers to pose questions and then expect children to answer in increasingly elaborate sentences. But whether it, or anything else, will ever persuade pre-teen boys to speak as the Professor Henry Higginsís of this world would like is doubtful.