English Plus+ News, September 2000
Greetings newsletter readers! School has started with a sprint here in Connecticut. I feel fortunate to be able to find time to do this small English Plus+ newsletter. I hope those of you who are students and teachers will have a great school year, and may all your anguish be vanquished.
In the last newsletter I reflected on one significant difference between the Chinese system and the American system and how American schools might learn from this difference. This time, as promised, I want to reflect on one thing that I learned to appreciate about English from my month in China.
The level of the English curriculum was very similar to the level of American French and Spanish texts. The goal in Chinese middle schools is to have graduates who can speak English fairly well and begin literary studies in college. That is very similar to the goals set by most high school foreign language curricula in the United States.
As best I could tell, the level of science courses was also similar to that in the United States, though China may put more emphasis on Chemistry and Physics than many schools in the U.S. History was different because of the obvious geographical and cultural differences; but Chinese students seemed to have a level of knowledge of their history commensurate with a students from a high school that takes U.S. History seriously.
At "my" school, English was required, so most students could speak it with some comfort. I was able to discuss these things with students and others there. I learned why the Chinese classes were not at a level comparable to our English classes. One brave adult suggested that most modern Chinese writings are shorter because of the government control of the presses. That may be a factor, but I was thinking more about the level and depth of the material, not the specific subject matter.
By fourth grade (age nine), the average Americans who have learned phonics have learned to decode most standard English. If they see a familiar word, they are normally able to read it even if they have never seen it written before. In most cases, if they see an unfamiliar word, they can pronounce it. Children who learn to read at home before school can attain such a level much earlier. Author Nathaniel Hawthorne read "Pilgrim's Progress" in one sitting when he was six.
I am reminded of the chapter in the American classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird in which the six-year-old Scout tells of being bored in school because the teacher "was waving cards at us on which were printed 'the,' 'cat,' 'rat,' 'man,' and 'you.' No comment seemed to be expected of us, and the class received these impressionistic revelations in silence. I was bored, so I began a letter to Dill [a friend]. Miss Caroline caught me writing and told me to tell my father to stop teaching me." 1
Actually, the Korean and Japanese character systems are based on Chinese, and the Chinese can read much of those writings as well (and vice versa). The spoken languages are quite different, but the writing is the same or similar. The the system of characters makes it possible for disparate languages to communicate via writing. In an age of ethnic chaos in many places, such a system brings a certain amount of unity.
Interestingly, while English does not have the character system of China, students in English-speaking countries still spend a lot of time in classes studying the structure native language. This is true of most other national language, too. Most written languages have grammatical and spelling standards so that their writing can be widely understood among various dialects. English is no different.
We have also changed the name of Language Vanquish to Grammar Slammer Deluxe. We did this because of confusion among some customers about the features of each program. We had originally named the two programs differently at a time when "suites" like Microsoft Office and Lotus Smart Suite had become popular. We saw Language Vanquish as a "suite" containing Grammar Slammer and Spelling Slammer. We were never able to make that very clear, so we decided to rename it Grammar Slammer Deluxe--a version of Grammar Slammer with the extra Spelling Slammer feature.
To check out a trial copy of version 3.2 of Grammar Slammer, download it from http://englishplus.com/pub/grmslm32.zip or http://englishplus.com/pub/grmslm32.exe.
You should have already been notified that English Plus+ has gone over entirely to the Listbot.com e-mail service. Some of you signed up for our newsletter through this service, but most of you have not. We have been pleased with their integrity and service, and hope you will be pleased with it as well.
Once again, may you have a great autumn, and may all your anguish be vanquished,
Your friends at English Plus+
Any suggestions for our web site, please send them to email@example.com.