Opinion Article : Bad Grammar, Bad Impression

September 10, 2001

The following opinion article was recently mailed to newspapers throughout West Virginia:  

Bad Grammar, Bad Impression  

by Sandra M. Chapman President, West Virginia Board of Education  

First impressions last.  

The old adage, "actions speak louder than words," may be true, but words are often more important than actions when people form first impressions. For many who have learned the proper use of the English language, listening to bad grammar is like hearing the sound of fingernails scraping across a blackboard.  

The words we use and the manner in which we use them are viewed by many as an indicator of our intelligence. The reality is that often people use bad grammar because the improper usage of words has been ingrained in them.  

Imagine the child whose parents or grandparents regularly say "I seen" instead of "I saw." By the first day of school, the child has heard this expression countless times. The child may be corrected once or twice by a teacher in school, but when at home, the child continues to hear the incorrect use of the verb. As a result, improper usage becomes firmly entrenched.  

Poor grammar may negatively affect a person for a lifetime. When interviewed for a scholarship, the student may discover that poor grammar blocks the chances of obtaining funding for college. When interviewed for a job, the applicant may discover that improper use of language may tip the scales in favor of another candidate. When an individual obtains a job and must make a presentation in front of peers, he or she may lose their interest and respect if using words improperly. The ability to communicate properly and thus effectively may ultimately determine if an increase in salary, added responsibilities or a new title is awarded.  

Students who spend six hours a day in class with teachers during the school week spend 18 hours at home. Students who spend a total of 30-35 hours in school during the week are at home almost 140 hours each week. When students are home for summer vacation, they spend all of their time with parents, family members and friends who may or may not make grammar a priority.  

In order to break this cycle, public schools must do a better job of emphasizing the importance of good grammar. Grammar must become a priority, not just in the English class, but in every class and also in every home. All school employees must correct students when they use words incorrectly so that proper usage becomes a habit a habit that lasts a lifetime. School personnel must receive regular staff development to learn the importance of using and emphasizing good grammar and to educate employees who need additional training. Also, more programs must be implemented to teach parents and grandparents grammar.  

Bad grammar is passed from generation to generation. Bad grammar can be eradicated in West Virginia through a comprehensive, statewide effort focusing on children and all who teach them.  

The cycle of bad grammar can and must be broken.