Saturday, January 23, 2010

Grammar Rules Rule

I have two boys who were born and are raised in the Midwest. How on earth they ended up sounding like two little California valley girls is beyond me. I can't say they are channeling Julie from the movie Valley Girl when I hear them say, "like" and "um" 20 times in one sentence because they obviously have no knowledge of the valspeak explosion of 1983.  But, I'm a little concerned that the insidious "like" and "um"  keeps hanging around.  Can we erase it from our vocabulary... please? It's so, like, gag me with a spoon!

Christopher says, "Um, mom, can I, um, go into the garage and, like, um, play?" Really?  Did he need two ums and one like to ask me a simple question?  Did he really need to say in 13 words what he could have accomplished in seven?  How about, "mom, can I play in the garage?" That is all I need to understand his request. I zone out with each and every "um" and I stop listening. Which is what everyone else will eventually do, too. I stop Christopher at every "um" and say, "start over."

Nicholas says, "Mom, you know my friend Fred, he, like, said the "s" word (stupid) and his mom, like, heard him but didn't, like, say anything to him." Seriously? Three "likes" in one sentence? I stop Nicholas at every "like" and say, "start over."   The boys get very frustrated every time I interrupt their speech, but it's nothing compared to my frustration at the very thought of raising boys who are unable to speak articulately and coherently.

Grammar rules are around for a reason.  The English language isn't easy to learn and we have lots of weird rules to live by, but grammar rules do improve our speech.  Grammar rules prevent us from sounding unintelligible or lazy.  My kids are in for a lifetime of hearing the same frustrating lessons I was taught as a kid. My family members were constantly on my case with rules like not using a preposition at the end of a sentence (Where's it at?  UGH.  It sounds terrible...really terrible).  Or how to correctly use "me" vs. "I" in a sentence (as in, "you can sing better than I," not "you can sing better than me" because if you were to continue the sentence you would say, you can sing better than I can sing, not you can sing better than me can sing).  I know, I know...it gets complicated. I understand that the boys find it maddening now, but they will thank me later.  I am forever grateful to my relatives for providing me with a solid foundation of language rules that I remember to this day. 

The problem is, my kids seem to relapse as soon as they get the hang of a certain rule because their friends are using equally appalling language.  I hear them on the playgrounds and in our backyard. Every single one of them overuses "like" and "um" in every single sentence and every single conversation. They say other infuriating things like, "I seen it, too" or "I ain't got a skateboard."  Why aren't their parents trying to correct them, too? Am I fighting an uphill battle?

I know my kids will learn proper grammar and usage in school.  I know they are young and are just learning to navigate this weird, sometimes awkward language called English.  But, I intend to make sure they never, ever say "ain't"  and understand quirks like using "somebody" as the singular pronoun that it is ( "somebody forgot his lunch today" instead of  "somebody forgot their lunch today").   Does it matter in the overall scheme of things?  Will Nicholas or Christopher be that much farther behind if they don't know that "somebody" is a singular pronoun?  Yes.  They will.  Is it worth it to nitpick?  You bet it is.  People who speak well are taken more seriously than those who don't.  The way my kids communicate will be a solid measure of their future success just as much, if not more, than any math, science or technology skill.

I know my kids' grammar journey is just starting and I will have to stand firm and stay committed. I am prepared for lots of frustrating moments but I believe they will heave a big sigh of relief when the grammar rules start kicking in and making sense.  They will be that much farther ahead of the game.

For starters though, I just have one simple request.  Please, for the sake of my sanity, stop saying "where's it at?" Nails on a chalkboard, people!  Nails on a freakin' chalkboard!

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