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Education

Is Germany Raising a Generation of Illiterates? 431

Posted by samzenpus
from the me-write-pretty-one-day dept.
StartsWithABang (3485481) writes "Over at Starts With A Bang, the weekly question comes in from Germany, where we're informed: 'In Germany, many teachers have adopted a new way of teaching children to write properly. The way is called "Writing by Reading" and essentially says: Write as you wish, you're not bound by any rules. Recently, this way of teaching has been heavily criticized [link in German], but not before it has been "tested" on several years of school children.' The reading wars have been going on in the US, too, but will this wind up having a negative outcome? Or, as this piece argues, is it likely to be a wash?"
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Is Germany Raising a Generation of Illiterates?

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  • by ArcadeMan (2766669) on Sunday April 13, 2014 @03:03PM (#46741503)

    i rite az i wish and it doz afekt my wrighting.

    • by rrohbeck (944847) on Sunday April 13, 2014 @03:18PM (#46741589)

      This seems perfectly par for the course as far as Internet comments go.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Opportunist (166417)

        Using the internet for a judgement on grammar is like using the paralympics for a judgement on top performance.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        All foolishness aside, this does go to the fundamental purpose of language, both written and spoken. The purpose that the vast majority of society expects language to fulfill is to provide a medium for communication. Up to the early 20th century, words were spelled phonetically, and as long as you had a grasp of phonetics, you could both read and write any word that you knew, and many words had multiple spellings that yielded the same phonetic result. In came the spelling/grammar elites and decided that

        • by MakubeX (1708572) on Sunday April 13, 2014 @04:42PM (#46742161) Homepage
          I'm torn between the issue. I discovered old letters in my house from the 1800's and was able to glimpse in the past of how life was like back then. The letters had their words written phonetically, and while I did "notice" what I perceived to be errors at the time, I did understand the letter and remembered that eduction wasn't necessarily standardized back then and not everyone had access or could afford to attend school.

          Fast forward to today and a part of me believes that if an educator is actually teaching words and meanings to students that their should be actually definitive meanings for terms when given the chance. We know that written language is derived from verbal communication which is why we used phonetics in the first place. So, for example, if a teacher was teaching the world "there" without a definitive meaning, then students would always have to rely on context clues to figure out if the communicator is saying the equivalent to "there, their, or they're". Which can become even more confusing if there are other words that are also homophones in the same sentence.

          Granted we already did with this when we speak, but if you are reading words, then there is the chance to be explicit and avoid the confusion from the beginning as you can specify intent with words.

          Again, I'm not the grammar police (English was always my worst subject), but I'm torn between if grammar is overbearing or necessary. Instructions are clearer when a standard exists, but then again someone being pedantic about bad grammar (commas) when the meaning clearly gets across merely seems to belittle someone to feel superior about something irrelevant to the topic. Case and point, when I write a paragraph to defeat someone's argument and they point out that I didn't capitalize a nationality, inferring my argument is thus invalid.

          -my 2 cents
          • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 13, 2014 @05:59PM (#46742567)

            I'm hungry. Lets eat grandma!

            I'm hungry. Lets eat, grandma!

          • by Culture20 (968837) on Sunday April 13, 2014 @06:50PM (#46742883)

            Fast forward to today and a part of me believes that if an educator is actually teaching words and meanings to students that their should be actually definitive meanings for terms when given the chance. We know that written language is derived from verbal communication which is why we used phonetics in the first place. So, for example, if a teacher was teaching the world "there" without a definitive meaning, then students would always have to rely on context clues to figure out if the communicator is saying the equivalent to "there, their, or they're". Which can become even more confusing if there are other words that are also homophones in the same sentence.

            Is this irony or coincidence? I was never taught the difference.

          • Case and point, when I write a paragraph...

            *Pushes up glasses*
            Ahem. Case IN point.
            *Smiles smugly*
          • Granted we already did with this when we speak, but if you are reading words, then there is the chance to be explicit and avoid the confusion from the beginning as you can specify intent with words.

            Additionally, when speaking, you (generally) have a real-time situation going on, where you can query the speaker and get them to clarify if their language is imprecise. Exceptions to this (recorded sound), significantly post-date the phonetic evolution of the English language, in the same way the written word does. And of course, you don't have the additional communication channels (inflection, tone, body language, etc) that generally accompany the spoken word.

            English is pretty robust, really. Make a coupl

          • Fast forward to today and a part of me believes that if an educator is actually teaching words and meanings to students that their should be actually definitive meanings for terms when given the chance. We know that written language is derived from verbal communication which is why we used phonetics in the first place.

            While this is clearly what most lay-people in the West think, a reasonable number of linguists (the Roy Harris' Integrationists, among others) and historians (particularly of the "Toronto School") think looking at it this way gets us into a whole lot of trouble. Before the printing press there was very little standardisation, particularly for "real" languages. Latin doesn't count for the middle ages because virtually no one actually spoke it day-to-day, so any standardisation came from it being an artificia

        • by rmdingler (1955220) on Sunday April 13, 2014 @06:07PM (#46742617)
          While it grieves me so to contradict a popular opinion, a common misconception is that a language will remain a medium for communication without rules.

          Allowing too much variance in meaning, spelling, sentence structure, and so on will eventually lead to different languages entirely. None of us speak the King's English, or Spanish by-the-book in everyday speech already... our conversation is peppered with idioms, movie quotes, and slang.

          Without a master set of rules to reference and abide by, in no time, it's like I'm talking to my brother-in-law's kids in County Cork.

        • by Panoptes (1041206) on Sunday April 13, 2014 @06:19PM (#46742685)
          "Up to the early 20th century, words were spelled phonetically" Utter poppycock!
        • by Teun (17872) on Sunday April 13, 2014 @06:35PM (#46742797) Homepage
          In the case of Germany and German you'd at least have to go down another century to find the first attempts at standardising the spelling.
          The German language is strictly regulated, possibly even more so than present day French.

          Contrary to many other European languages for phonetic reasons they decided to change out the Latin leading C to a (greek) K but also felt the need to retain the Latin 'a' that's in German plural phonetically an 'e' by adding an Umlaut: ä.

          It's this partial wish to retain compatibility with original Latin and Greek words and the slightly different phonetics to Latin and Greek that is so difficult to incorporate into Germanic languages.

          English is a whole different matter, the English phonetics changed drastically from their Germanic roots during/ due to 'The Great Vowel Shift' [wikipedia.org]. Strange enough the spelling remained basically Germanic but the pronunciation is nothing like it used to be.
          This vowel shift is even more pronounced in American, the (a?) reason they have great difficulty in comprehensively speaking European languages, including Church-Latin.

          So the results of the suggestion to allow phonetic spelling depends greatly on the alphabet used, Germanic, Latin, UK-English or US-English are some of the options.

          • by Solandri (704621)

            English is a whole different matter, the English phonetics changed drastically from their Germanic roots during/ due to 'The Great Vowel Shift'. Strange enough the spelling remained basically Germanic but the pronunciation is nothing like it used to be.
            This vowel shift is even more pronounced in American, the (a?) reason they have great difficulty in comprehensively speaking European languages, including Church-Latin.

            English is a mish-mash of other languages, [oxforddictionaries.com] which also gives it more words than other lang

  • The US has been raising illiterates for decades (if not longer). In this metric we can truly shout

    We're number one!
    We're number one!
    We're number one!


    I doubt they could catch up with our functional illiteracy rates even if they tried.
    • by Karmashock (2415832) on Sunday April 13, 2014 @03:30PM (#46741695)

      That statistical argument ignores the details in those statistics.

      If you ignore all the demographic information that actually tells you what is going on in the population and only focus on ONE variable then you find a high level of illiteracy.

      However, if you filter the list you'll find that much of the illiteracy is in communities that have been historically prone to that status for... literally... ever. Nearly all of it is in America's urban squalor. And even then you don't find Asian Americans with high levels of illiteracy despite the fact that many of them either still live or recently came from those urban blight zones.

      We have certain demographic groups in the US that are having a very hard time. The reasons for this are debatable but to pretend that our problem is universal and broadly distributed throughout our society is merely to admit ignorance of the facts.

      Certain groups are having a problem and they need help. Their failures however do not speak to the general ignorance of our population as a whole.

      The US remains one of the better educated populations on the planet. What drags us down is that we have a diverse population where as Japan for example has a very homogenous population. There isn't much immigration from mexico for example or a large discontented african american population that has sadly enshrined ignorance as a badge of honor. Those are facts of the American population at this point. And it isn't reasonable to expect any society to be able to raise everyone up to the same level especially when factions are currently being encouraged to resist integration.

      The mantra of the day is "be different, honor your distinctions, etc" and that's fine if your differences are either neutral or admirable. However, if they're a general detriment to yourself and society maybe adopting a more successful attitude might be in everyone's interest.

      Here is where someone calls me a racist or a bigot. I am neither. My comments were not anti race but anti subculture. And only against subcultures that have failed. The US is full of subcultures and most of them are successful. If it works, then keep doing it. You'll hear no complaint from me. But if what you're doing isn't working and you're draining national resources to keep your subculture on life support... maybe that should stop.

      These communities get enourmous amounts of money from the federal, state, and city governments. Society at large wants to help. We want them to be successful. But it will NEVER happen until these subcultures either adapt to be independent or are supplanted with a more rational framework.

      And that is the problem with education, crime, etc in the US almost entirely.

      I'm sorry if that sounds politically incorrect but there is reality and there is delusion. Pick one.

      • Can you name some of these subcultures?

        Besides that, I'd like to warn you that you seem to be implying that there is nothing wrong with the education system in the US.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by ShanghaiBill (739463)

          Can you name some of these subcultures?

          To be blunt: black people, and to a lesser extent, first generation Hispanics. The difference is that Hispanics tend to approach the mean for their socioeconomic status by the second generation. Blacks have made progress, but just enough to keep the gap from widening even more.

          you seem to be implying that there is nothing wrong with the education system in the US.

          There is nothing specifically wrong with America's education system. When you correct for demography, America does about as well as anywhere else. Norwegian kids in Norway do great. Americans of Norwegian descent do just as well

          • by reboot246 (623534)
            And, may I add, the solution in the United States is NOT Common Core. Have any of you seen that crap?

            There's no reason for experimenting with education. We know what works; we're just too chicken shit to do it. Gotta be politically correct even if it kills us.
          • by russotto (537200)

            I suspect you'd find high levels of illiteracy among the rural white poor subcultures (the ones who smoke meth instead of crack) as well. But nobody cares about them; they're too poor to concern conservatives and too white to concern liberals.

      • by BoRegardless (721219) on Sunday April 13, 2014 @04:25PM (#46742083)

        Observation from Orange County, California: Kids who do well have parents who literally taught their kids to read and write BEFORE they entered a classroom.

        I have seen all races in this group, though some more than others.

        It is strictly a parental issue in believing in education and starting it at home, where it must start by example.

        • by lonOtter (3587393)

          Not entering a classroom at all if you have such parents is likely to be even better, as your kids will just be wasting their time getting a one-size-fits-all, rote memorization 'education' if they spend their time in a classroom. Almost always, anyway.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I do consider your post racist in that we have many people with darker skins that are substantial scholars even in urban ghettos. We can agree that there are subcultures within those groups who try to display a lack of education. But in no way can we see this as an us vs. them situation. It will take centuries to get a firm step away from the harm done by slavery. And it is also a fact that a majority race will tend to prosper more than a minority in a nation.
        However co

      • by readin (838620)
        Some years back when Bush II was running for president, someone pointed out how dismal education was in Texas, pointing to another state that was doing so much better (run by Democrats if I recall) based on test results.

        Someone else look at the statistics and compared the two states demographically.

        White kids in Texas were doing better than the white kids in the other state.
        Black kids in Texas were doing better than the black kids in the other state.
        Hispanic kids in Texas were doing better than the
    • Metric.

      How ironic.

    • by stenvar (2789879) on Sunday April 13, 2014 @04:31PM (#46742107)

      According to the Human Development Report, Germany's functional illiteracy is 14.4%, the UK's 21.8%, and the US's 20%. Given the large number of immigrants we have, I'd say we're doing pretty well. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/F... [wikipedia.org] And if you look at scientific literacy, university graduation rates, etc. the US beats most of Europe hands down.

      • by readin (838620)
        Some years back when Bush II was running for president, someone pointed out how dismal education was in Texas, pointing to another state that was doing so much better (run by Democrats if I recall) based on test results.

        Someone else look at the statistics and compared the two states demographically.

        White kids in Texas were doing better than the white kids in the other state.
        Before you get all smug about Bush being a racist you should know that
        Black kids in Texas were doing better than the black ki
    • by YrWrstNtmr (564987) on Sunday April 13, 2014 @04:41PM (#46742159)
      Well, of COURSE! In any report about any country having a problem, a comment about the USA being worse will pop up within the first 20 comments.
  • by mwvdlee (775178) on Sunday April 13, 2014 @03:05PM (#46741517) Homepage

    I take value in writing correctly (my native tongue is Dutch, not English, in case anybody finds errors).
    But language is not something defined by laws; it is alive, changing and evolving all the time.
    I may enjoy writing following proper grammar rules, but that's just my personal preference and just because I like it, doesn't mean everybody should do so.
    If the text written using this method can be read as easy and fast as text written according to the rules, what really is the problem?

    • If the text written using this method can be read as easy and fast as text written according to the rules, what really is the problem?

      The problem is that a lot of people with the power to hire and fire may pretend that they cannot read the text "as easy and fast as text written according to the rules". HR may judge a prospective employee as "uneducated" for not following traditional prescriptive rules.

      • by Rhymoid (3568547)

        Another native Dutch here. If you want to read poor Dutch, go read the shit HR writes.

        First off, many Dutch are anglophiles: they think English sound really much cooler than their 'boring' mother tongue. People in HR are no exception. Many Dutch also think they read, write, speak and understand English really well. Few do. Even fewer don't have an accent thick enough to stop a bullet -- which is strange, given that the majority of movies, TV series and music we get here is anglophone, with a native or 'neut

      • by RabidReindeer (2625839) on Sunday April 13, 2014 @05:11PM (#46742331)

        If the text written using this method can be read as easy and fast as text written according to the rules, what really is the problem?

        The problem is that a lot of people with the power to hire and fire may pretend that they cannot read the text "as easy and fast as text written according to the rules". HR may judge a prospective employee as "uneducated" for not following traditional prescriptive rules.

        Not just hiring and firing, but anywhere where you wish to be accepted seriously based on how you write.

        The problem is non-standard writing is that every deviation is "speed bump" to comprehension. Sure, my relatives in Kentucky may own "worshing machines", but it's one thing to hear them say it and another to see it in print. Bad enough dealing with tyres on the quay through the month of February on Wednesdays, but at least we are used to seeing this kind of slop and don't have to stop and double-check while speed-reading.

        Silly rules are silly, but no rules are confusion.

    • by GenieGenieGenie (942725) on Sunday April 13, 2014 @03:22PM (#46741619)
      People who are encouraged as kids to be sloppy about their writing tend to emerge from adolescence sloppy about their thinking too. This is a cliche but it is, unfortunately, quite an accurate one. There are exceptions to every rule, of course, but where I live there is a generation of people who can't spell or read efficiently and this is reflected in how shallow their thoughts are.
      • by CRCulver (715279)

        People who are encouraged as kids to be sloppy about their writing tend to emerge from adolescence sloppy about their thinking too.

        Can you cite this from a peer-reviewed publication, please? If this is really such a problem, surely you can back it up with scholarship.

        • If you can formulate an objective measure for "sloppy thinking" and/or "depth of thought", I will apply with you for a grant from the NSF to do the study, and then write the paper together. One thing though - you will have to convince me that there's a chance you can convince them to cough up the cash. Until then, I'm going with feeling here.
        • by Anonymous Coward

          Just read the book by Lynne Truss, "Eats, Shoots and Leaves", to see how important the punctuation marks, comma and apostrophe, are for conveying meaning. She gives quite clear examples of how they are misused to completely obscure the intended meaning. Although it is not a "peer-reviewed" scholarly publication, it is peer-reviewable (for anyone sufficiently English-literate) by observation of the writings all around us. She observes the reality of poor communication due to poor usage of the rules of (En

      • but where I live there is a generation of people who can't spell or read efficiently and this is reflected in how shallow their thoughts are.

        Where I live, students score higher than anyone else in the state and regularly compete in National finals in spelling and composition contests. People are still pretty shallow.

        A walk through the ocean of most souls would scarcely get your feet wet.

        Deteriorata

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        There's a common cause that you're ignoring. Environments where "proper" spelling and grammar aren't encourage tend to be environments where other intellectual exercise is discouraged as well. Grammar and spelling are about efficiency, if you don't have to decode the word phonetically to know what it means, you'll read much more efficiently and thoroughly.

        Chinese is a completely unphonetic language to read, but once you know the characters its extremely efficient to read.

      • Interesting, but I think your causation is backwards.

        Kids that are not taught to appreciate form and style and who are not taught to be analytic and think on a different level, will never bother to write elegantly (not to mention about finding something elegant to write about). Forcing grammar rules on kids will not make them deeper thinkers, it will just piss them off. Give the kids a good book to read, discuss with them about it afterwards and show them that there is more than meets the eye, and they will

    • by damn_registrars (1103043) <damn.registrars@gmail.com> on Sunday April 13, 2014 @03:23PM (#46741633) Homepage Journal
      Language rules are critical to communication. Eventually if too many linguistic rules and word meanings are discarded, communication becomes essentially impossible as statements don't have the same meaning to both parties in the discussion. There are some rules that don't make a lot of sense, but they are what they are and mostly need to be adhered to in order to ensure that communication can happen.
      • Has it ever actually happened that a natural language has either achieved such unambiguity that reliable transmission of meaning can be expected, or such chaos as to descend into mutually unintelligible babble?

        Obviously, we muddle through, so it's not as though meaning is totally impossible to convey; but even areas of (pseudo)natural language, like contract law, designed and implemented by trained experts in the hope of mutually unambiguous expression are constantly hitting the rocks. At the other end,
      • by houghi (78078) on Sunday April 13, 2014 @04:03PM (#46741937)

        There are some rules that don't make a lot of sense, but they are what they are and mostly need to be adhered to in order to ensure that communication can happen.

        Dutch has had several changes over the last 100 years. This is to follow the evolution of language.

        I do not believe English has had the same done to it. Otherwise you would not end up with something like:
        Dearest creature in creation,

          Study English pronunciation.
          I will teach you in my verse
          Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.
          I will keep you, Suzy, busy,
          Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
          Tear in eye, your dress will tear,
          So shall I! Oh hear my prayer.

          Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
          Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven.
          We say hallowed but allowed,
          People, leopard, towed, but vowed.
          Mark the differences, moreover,
          Between mover, cover, clover;
          Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
          Chalice, but police and lice;
          Camen, constable, unstable,
          Principle, disciple, label.

        The trest can be read right here [houghi.org]. Read it out loud the first time you read it. You will start to wonder what is so adhered in the language.

        • by Kjella (173770)

          I do not believe English has had the same done to it. Otherwise you would not end up with something like:

          English keeps the pronunciation of the language they took it from, which means it's a smattering of Britons (~Welsh, -450), Anglo-Saxons ("English", 450-1066), Normans (~French, 1066-), Gaelic (~Scottish, ~Irish) with some Norse from Scandinavia, and through the British Empire it's picked up words from most of the world's languages by now. While "English" has pronunciation rules, unless you're a professor of etymology (the history of words) it's easier to just learn each word than trying to find a pattern.

          • by Teun (17872)
            Sadly(?) English doesn't keep the original pronunciation, though UK-English is closer than US-English.

            I mentioned the reason in another post, it's that damned Great Vowel Shift what makes English stand out among European languages.

            English usually retains the original spelling but the pronunciation has become an adventure :)

      • by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Sunday April 13, 2014 @04:26PM (#46742087) Homepage

        Eventually if too many linguistic rules and word meanings are discarded, communication becomes essentially impossible as statements don't have the same meaning to both parties in the discussion.

        You really need to read some Saussure, especially the principle of l'arbitraire du signe and the distinction between langue and parole. This science is a century old at this point, there's no excuse for an educated person not knowing it. Human language naturally contains some level of ambiguity, it is simply avoidable. However, this does not typically lead to multual intelligibility, and most of the human population handles diaglossia just fine.

        Furthermore, this is a discussion about a writing system, not a language. Writing systems too have a great deal of ambiguity, starting from the ambiguity in the speech they represent and then going from there. Just think about how many different lexemes are represented in speech and writing as <set>, or how two different tense forms with two different pronunciations are represented as the single grapheme <read>. And yet, readers handle that just fine.

        As an English speaker, your own language's history in writing should be enough to disabuse of the notion that divergent spellings are a threat to society. English spelling in the 18th century was not yet firmly established, and yet that era saw an explosion in popular literacy and scholarly publication.

        • by CRCulver (715279)
          Sorry, that should read "Human language naturally contains some level of ambiguity, it is simply unavoidable. However, this does not typically lead to mutual unintelligibility."
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Grammar rules, such as the correct choice of tenses for verbs, can help distinguish between close but different meaning.

    • by AK Marc (707885) on Sunday April 13, 2014 @03:37PM (#46741741)
      Communication is the goal. If you write as you speak, it's considered poor, as writings should be "more formal" but that was a declaration from a previous age when whiting cost money. Now, I can write something and be seen by hundreds in a few minutes. Something that would cost $1000 (or so, inflation over 200+ years isn't exact) in revolutionary times. So when you are paying that much to have your words seen, you would consider them more. When I can post about something and have a large audience, and I can edit/delete/repost with ease, why should I think about what I'm saying?

      So the real problem with writing is that it's becoming more like spoken language, when before, they were almost separate dialects. That always annoys the purists.
      • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Sunday April 13, 2014 @04:17PM (#46742021) Journal
        There are some ongoing differences, aside from cost: With written material, you don't get the use of tone, gesture, expression, and the various other spoken-language tricks of expression that don't directly make it to paper. It is hardly impossible to write such that the reader will (mostly) correctly infer some of them; but that's exactly the sort of thing that you have to work at, or have sufficient practice to do nearly effortlessly, that you'd get for free when speaking.

        There's also the difference that most spoken communication takes place in more or less real time, which allows the other person to interject, or you to elaborate on a point if the audience appears baffled, speed through a point if they appear bored, and otherwise tailor your speech to the demands of the occasion. It will lack formality; but customization counts for a lot.

        Some text communication, IM and the like, is largely the same and admits of the same sort of near-real-time course corrections; but even at the level of message board posts you really start to see the effects of delay. If I fuck this up, I can post a (hopefully) clarifying reply; but I could easily end up being misunderstood by numerous people before one of them posts something that informs me and I refresh the page and see that, and get my correction in.

        The 'purists' who spend their time harping on The True Rules, or replying purely to note that somebody has used 'there' instead of 'their' or the reverse, are an utter waste of time. Spending more time thinking about communication that will be stripped of spoken and nonverbal cues and sent out into the world with a nontrivial turnaround time, though, is something that I suspect we won't escape.

        I agree that logistical issues for most text have declined over time (and some things that used to be text, like 'letter writing' as an actual social institution are now largely dominated by spoken word replacements); but I would argue that they aren't gone, and that additional issues that the writer needs to consider start to crop up with surprisingly small delays.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 13, 2014 @03:47PM (#46741827)

      But language is not something defined by laws; it is alive, changing and evolving all the time.

      Which is of course regulated by law, for German the Duden holds the currently recognized words and their correct spellings as well as meanings in common use.

      If the text written using this method can be read as easy and fast as text written according to the rules, what really is the problem?

      The linked German article has a nice, short example "Die Bollizei isst da", "The police eats there" where the correct spelling "Die Polizei ist da" would mean "the police is here". As can be seen the few wrong letters in Polizei wont cause any confusion, however other words are not blessed with that much error correcting redundancy - "ist" being and "isst" eating mean completely different things.

      Even if you manage to correct these errors from the context they appear in it makes the texts harder to read. Most texts it is likely that they will be written once and read a many times, with basic "Textverständniss" reading comprehension already being a problem for some having texts easy to understand is important and avoids misunderstandings.

    • by Opportunist (166417) on Sunday April 13, 2014 @04:04PM (#46741939)

      Language, no matter whether spoken or written, is a means of preserving and transporting information. That's its primary function. Of course, a calligraphy enthusiast might disagree, but form is of secondary importance. But only to the point where form influences its primary function.

      In my experience, grammar rules exist for a very simple reason: Error correction. You can actually observe changes in language towards simpler grammar and fewer rules. Personally, I think this is mostly due to more standardization in other areas and hence less need for error correction. When everyone is writing in the same font, if everyone is following the same rules for writing letters and words, moreover if everyone has the same understanding of the words used, you need fewer features that ensure that these letters and words are used properly.

      You notice this mostly in some jokes in those languages, jokes that rely on the simplicity of grammar that cannot work for that very reason in other languages. Classic: "My dog has no nose. How does he smell? Aweful." That joke relies on "smell" working as a verb and a adjective, something that does work in English and a few other languages with simple grammar, but not in many others because of how verbs are being conjugated in many languages. It also becomes obvious that due to the simplicity of the language structure, word order and context become very important. English has a rigid word order exactly because words are not flexed to mark them as subject and object, something that is done in more complex grammar structures, and you will notice that word order is not such a premium in such languages (like German and Russian, for example).

      We're pretty much at the point where languages are as simple as they get. The big push for "more beautiful" writing is over. Overblown word processions that should show off just how eloquent someone can write and just how big his word stock is are a thing of the past. Actually, using such language is seen as a mark of someone taking himself as too important and generally being an elitist prick. Simple is the new sexy. But I don't think we can simplify our languages any more without actually losing our ability to express clearly what we want to convey. And that can be quite dangerous. Contracts today are already way more wordy than they should need to be, simply because our language IS already at the point where it is no longer absolutely unambiguous.

  • by Ultra64 (318705) on Sunday April 13, 2014 @03:09PM (#46741533)

    No.

  • by Kensai7 (1005287) on Sunday April 13, 2014 @03:13PM (#46741561)

    I call this bullshit. The latest PISA results show that Germany is improving in the verbal (language) subtests.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Sunday April 13, 2014 @03:21PM (#46741613) Journal
    I realize that Slashdot Summaries are one of the important, protected, habitats of a mixture of questionable proofreading and overt editorializing; but isn't something important being left out here?

    The scheme in question is known as 'write by reading'. This apparently boils down to 'write however you want', according to a blog post that barely touches on the matter aside from a link to a German newspaper. Is it possible that this 'write by reading' theory involves some 'reading' somewhere? Maybe the notion that children will pick up grammar by exposure to it, which would make spending the time previously allocated to Learning Your Grammar Rules Children on reading things that are both examples of good writing and also useful, interesting, or otherwise better than distilled essence of grammar a plausible alternative?

    Now, I'd be the first to agree that the standards of pedagogical research are... notably tepid... and education is much ruled by fads, many with little or no basis in evidence beyond anecdotes; but can we really have a useful discussion if we are going to start from a position of such inspiring intellectual honesty?

    The question: "Do children pick up grammar from exposure to well written, but not otherwise grammar focused, texts sufficiently efficiently that we are better off skipping the lessons in pure grammar in favor of receiving the grammar as a side effect of reading that will also have other uses?" is a perfectly reasonable one, and it isn't immediately obvious which side the facts would come down on, so some research would be nice; but I'm pretty sure that 'Writing by Reading' is not actually a polite expression for 'Thare iz no ruls in Sckool.'
    • by maweki (999634)
      In the original German article it's "reading through writing" and the posted article is an absolute mess that shows the lack of editorial oversight on slashdot, again.
  • I was raised on the phonics approach; my girlfriend was raised on the whole word approach. I'd never knowingly met anyone educated in the whole word approach and had read "Why Johnny Can't Read" years ago, wondering, "where the hell is it that they teach this crap! This sounds insane!" And yet, studies show that while we learned phonics to learn how to read, our minds actually read whole-word once we're well-practiced. Anyway, the gf has 2 master's degrees and is working on yet another post-graduate de

    • by AK Marc (707885)
      In my case, I was taught phonics for years. I was illiterate in a class of literates. Until, about 2-3 years after everyone else was reading, I started reading whole sentence reading (about 5 year jump, taking me to above where the class was). I'd read the whole sentence in whole-word style, then repeat back the sentence, with understanding. Everyone else in the class was still sounding out the letters and couldn't read for comprehension yet. Of course, this led to lots of failing grades for not matchi
  • by rolfwind (528248) on Sunday April 13, 2014 @03:30PM (#46741693)

    Do they always jump in feet first with these new teaching methods or something? Don't they test it on a small control group or a dozen to make sure it's not the latest new-age garbage?

    It always surprises me how often I hear parents complain about a new way of learning something in school. Latest was my neighbors talking about a new way to teach math, they tried helping their kids but the methodology was so alien to them that they were stumped.

    And that's where a lot of the new, marginally improved (if at all) methods fail, because parents have to be able to act as back up teachers, and if it's completely different than how they learned it. Fail.

    • Do they always jump in feet first with these new teaching methods or something? Don't they test it on a small control group or a dozen to make sure it's not the latest new-age garbage?

      Teaching methods are almost never subjected to experimental verification. They are devised by 20-35 year old academics with little teaching experience and a desperate need to get enough publications to be put on tenure track. Experiments would get in the way of such promising careers.

  • In the original article they talk about "reading through writing". The other way around would be traditional, with the help of a Fibel (hornbook?) that's being *read*.
  • by Virtucon (127420) on Sunday April 13, 2014 @03:43PM (#46741795)

    Most nations are raising illiterate people. Illiterate people vote the way their party leaders want them too and they're more content with menial jobs like flipping burgers or working in WalMart. They also produce a correct amount of replacement workers that can come into the workforce to fill more menial jobs which is good
    for the economy. As always I blame the parents.

    Also, stop picking on Germany they may go all Reichy on your ass!

  • So now this should be a great thread. Slashdotters will comment on an article about writing without rules, wondering about whether this creates a generation of illiterates, without actually reading the article.

    If a literate person chooses not to read, or an illiterate person cannot read, will the decrease in paper demanded raise a generation of enough trees in forests that can fall without making sounds?

  • by maweki (999634) on Sunday April 13, 2014 @03:46PM (#46741819) Homepage
    I went to primary school in Germany from 1996 on and I was in one of those classes that learned "Reading by Writing" (I explained above that the referenced article gets the German original article the wrong way around).

    The way it basically works is, that you get a phonetics-alphabet and learn just the sounds and then you write them down in the way you think is right. My class was, in direct comparison to the class that learned traditionally, on average half a grade better in writing and reading by year 4. But my class had only eleven pupils and our teacher had the chance to explain errors and nuances. Usually, classes nowadays are more than double the size.
    I am sure that, without proper guidance, many mistakes can be made. The primary thing my parents loved was, that I was able to read stuff the first day I came home from school with my phonetics-alphabet. I could read my children-books from day one. We didn't start with the letter "e" or "o" and only short words. This gave me a real thirst for books and I read "Robinson Crusoe" in second grade.
  • by prefec2 (875483) on Sunday April 13, 2014 @03:55PM (#46741865)

    Honestly, the article was published in a WAZ group newspaper. They are conservative and opposed to this learning concept. While it is true that there is no evidence that the method is more effective than other methods, especially not in German (German education scientist seldom read work from other countries), there is also no prove that this other more regulated approach is more effective. In the WAZ article, there are also no publications referenced only statements and opinions of people opposed to this present education method. I am personally in favor for the method which tries to teach the correct writing in the beginning, however, I have no prove that that method is more effective.

    BTW: Most people becoming teachers in Germany choose this path, because it is easier than other subjects at university (except economics). German teachers education is actually the real problem, but it will not be fixed any time soon.

    • Honestly, the article was published in a WAZ group newspaper. They are conservative and opposed to this learning concept.

      +1 Informative. I read the article, and it to a swipe at "children of immigrants" who are part of the problem.

      Go figure.

  • by chispito (1870390)
    Having poor reading and writing skills is different than none and, besides: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B... [wikipedia.org]
  • Write as you wish, you're not bound by any rules

    This was (maybe still is) the fashion in UK schools for a long, long time. So long in fact that the current generation of teachers were brought up this way. The idea being that correcting grammar and spelling mistakes would somehow "stunt" creativity - and that creativity was more important than you know: being understood or communicating clearly.

    Since the teachers were not taught that there was a correct way of writing, they cannot possibly pass on to the next generation a skill they never gained, themsel

  • by excelsior_gr (969383) on Sunday April 13, 2014 @04:52PM (#46742207)

    Spelling in German is quite trivial, because you spell a word exactly as you pronounce it. There are some exceptions, but they are, too, bound by rules that one will learn eventually; they don't have to be force-fed to schoolchildren. So, considering this is a language where a spelling-bee makes almost no sense, no, Germany isn't raising a generation of illiterates.

  • Just a note that the linked blog page trots out the old chestnut about Cambridge researchers discovering that it doesn't matter what order you put the letters in a word, as long as you get the first and last ones right. Which is, of course, a load of blockols [cam.ac.uk].

  • English has very little in the way of grammatical marking. Counter-intuitively (to English speakers), this makes English harder to learn, because the grammatical structure is just as complex as any other language, but it's not explicit.

    In most European languages, children grow up with a good intuition about the grammar of their language, but some amount of formal instruction is very valuable so they can understand how to structure their communication with a minimum of ambiguity. In Canadian schools, for e

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