The falling standard of written English

Thursday, November 17, 2016

At a panel discussion yesterday organised by the University of The Gambia School of Journalism in collaboration with Francis DeGaulle Njie Foundation on the role of journalism in national development, a lot of emphasis was put on the standard of English language in The Gambia.

The escalating problem of English language ineptitude among most Gambian journalists, particularly those with the newspapers, has and continues to attract discussion in academic and professional circles.

This is not a vain criticism of our media practitioners for it is daily manifested on the pages of the newspapers.  It seems not to be getting any better, even though criticism escalates.

It was not like this before.  Some of us had the privilege of going through some Gambian newspapers of the 1940s towards the 1980s.  This was when newspapers like the Gambian Outlook, the Gambia Onwards, the Senegambia Sun and the Gambia News Bulletin, among others, were in circulation.

The language prowess of the journalists then, as manifested in the newspapers, was remarkable.  Their mastery of the English language was just awesome.  Most of those people were not even professionally trained journalists, but any single article they wrote, you can see their depth in language.

From empirical evidence, the English standard in the media started to fall in the early 2000s, and the meteoritic slop continues. 

But has it not been said that the media is the mirror of the society?  It is the kind of mirror through which we can see the happenings, occurrences and events of the society. 

Through the media coverage and reporting, one can make an inference on the state of affairs in that society.  Now if that is the case, would it not be right to conclude that the poor standard of English language in the media is a reflection of the level of English language generally in The Gambia, at the moment.

The standard of English language in the media started to fall at a time when the education system in the country is dramatically falling. For example, products of primary schools of yesteryears could easily write letters, whereas secondary school students of today cannot.

In the media, we deal with people of different academic and professional backgrounds, and receive numerous letters.  It is a pity that even so-called degree holders find it difficult to write a concise three-paragraph letter of invitation. 

A lot of our people can seemingly speak very good English.  Or they have almost no difficulty in expressing themselves orally.

Give them a pen to write, and there will be confusion.  A lot of the so-called graduates and educated guys miserably butcher the language.  We have the speeches, presentations and press releases of people at the level of director or higher, but the number of malapropisms, grammatical shortfalls, incorrect spellings, wrong punctuation, and sentence ambiguity is mindboggling. 

One of the biggest problems of written English in The Gambia is the careless mixture of British and American English.

As a way forward, it is imperative for people to regard the poor standard of English language in media as a national crisis, not just a journalists or media problem.

Maybe there is a need for a revision of teaching methods in schools, including at the university and colleges, for that could invariably improve the writing and speaking of English from the basic to the tertiary level, and even beyond school.

Heaping the blame on the media because they expose their mistakes to you is not going to solve the problem. 

This is, however, no excuse for the media practitioners for journalists are supposed to be above average in their grasp of the language.