Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Recently in the teachers' room at one place I work several of us found we had observed the same phenomenon, perhaps because we were using the same textbook, which had the same activity in it, which our students had the same problem with. We all noticed that most of our students cannot read or write cursive English.

What makes this odd is that a few years ago it seemed that many of our students could ONLY write cursive English. If you asked them to print something, they couldn't. They didn't know how. Obviously something has changed in the way they are teaching English at schools.

In the textbook we are using, which is for business majors, there is a section about how to format a business letter. All of us are using this as a homework assignment. The students write a business letter. They have to print it out, and then sign it.

Trying to explain the concept of signatures to students who cannot write in cursive script is really difficult, we are all discovering. In the end I devoted almost half a hour of class to getting students to learn to write (rather than print) their own names, and then to developing some sort of signature. I pointed out to them that when they get a passport they will need to sign it, so they might as well have a signature they can repeat and that they like.

One of my students yesterday was wearing a t-shirt which had a lot of English writing on it. Most of it was in cursive script, for which I was grateful, as there was a lot of bad language in there. But in large, clearly printed letters across the back was:


That part was not cursive.

The student wearing this t-shirt is the only girl in a class of science students. On the first day of classes this semester she introduced herself by saying that she loved meeting people and making friends. She thought people were interesting. EVERYBODY was interesting, she said.

She is a lovely kid, and I'm happy to have her in the class. All the boys love her. True to her self-introduction she is brightly interested in everything and everybody. She makes everybody feel special, including the nerds and the very shy boys. She makes them laugh. In fact, when I have the students changing conversational partners I can always tell where she is by the laughter.

"I like your t-shirt," I told her yesterday. "Especially what it says on the back." I pointed.

"Eh?" she said, and turned around. Shota, who was sitting behind her, and whose English is a little better than the others, told her to turn back again. She did, very confused. "What did sensei say?" she asked, twisting around again.

"TURN AROUND!" he said, and she did, looking worried and trying to peek over her shoulder. Shota frowned with effort and read, loudly and slowly,


There was a pause as the class digested this, then everybody laughed, including the girl.

"Who?" she asked.

"You," said Shota. "That's what your t-shirt says."

"REALLY?" she said.

If it's on their clothes, my students can't read English however it's written, apparently.


Mr Cursive said...

Just a week ago I had to make up a sheet of cursive lower case & caps for a polytech (TAFE) Business certificate class I teach - the students are from Afghanistan, from Sri Lanka, from China... from everywhere! and none of them can read cursive English in hand scribbled edits in docs they have to process. Found I could hardly write cursive any more - wish it would fall out of use (well maybe it is!)

And ah! Japanese T-shirt English - poetry! "It is very summer"...

Tabor said...

Interesting phenomenon. Never thought about this change when teaching students who will need to sign their names.

Sarah said...

I once spent a hilarious afternoon with my two host-sisters walking around a mall in Kagoshima translating the English and French on t-shirts. We were all terribly amused by the exercise, but it had another result - to this day neither of my sisters will wear a t-shirt that that they don't understand (and agree with).