Writing Skills

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For the Canadian youth, armed with Cell phones, Blackberries and Ipods, texting has become the order of the day. The language skills have been relegated and new acronyms, shortcuts and smilies have taken over. Children are also not learning and enjoying social niceties like please, thank you, or it is a pleasure meeting you. They enjoy the anonymity of communicating through technology and tend to say things in text that they would never say face to face.

This phenomenon is not unique to our children. The parents are almost as guilty. They communicate with their children through text messaging. Parents mistakenly think that they are in better contact with their children when the children respond to their messages.

The use of shortcuts while texting hinders a child’s ability to switch between techspeak and the normal rules of grammar. Free flow while writing is hampered, adversely affecting a child’s ability to write a paper, prepare a presentation or write an examination, resulting in poor grades.

The children are not confident enough to speak face-to-face, especially with adults. In many Indo-Canadian homes, I have observed that the children shy away and retreat to their rooms at home when someone comes calling on. The parents need to educate the children the need to come down and meet the guests and exchange a few pleasantries and then retreat to their rooms in case they have any work.

Hence there is an urgent need to go back to the drawing board – that is to write. May be letters to grand-parents and relatives back home or their friends. Another methodology to improve the writing skills is to encourage the child to maintain a journal. In the journal, they can write about anything and everything, like any incidence at school, about a TV programme they watched and so on. Encouraging the child to maintain a diary will surely improve writing skills.

When we joined Sainik School, Amaravathinagar (Tamil Nadu) at the age of nine (Grade 5) in 1971, the only medium of communication with the parents was the most trusted Post-Card. So we started writing letters at that young age. It was a great fete I thought for a nine year old to write a short letter to his parents and siblings, describing as to how good he felt for being enrolled in a premier school and how good the food was. This was my first attempt at creative writing, not being guided as to what to write, not being corrected and marked by teachers. At the end of each letter writing session, I thought I did accomplish something. The language was Malayalam to start with, but gradually converted to English as I became better at it and could express ideas and thoughts properly. To begin with, the lines I scribbled on the postcard would go up and come down; how good I tried I could never make the letters follow a straight line.

Once we left home and returned to the school after the vacations, we used to write our status reports of our safe arrivals and post it on Monday and would reach home may be following Monday. That was the only time our parents would know that we reached the school safe. They had the trust and confidence in us that we would reach safely, despite change of three trains and bussing to Amaravathinagar. Compare it with today’s children in Canada– not of Grade 5, but even university students – the number of times the cell-phones would have gone-off, even for a trip of an hour. Has the technology made us to lose confidence in our children?  Is it that our parents, with the technology available then, could have only prayed to their Gods and may be that gave then the power not to panic or get pressurised?

Still remember the days I spent at a remote post in Kashmir, cut-off from rest of the world and the only link to civilization was radio and the letters. We used to get a lot of those “Forces Letter” which did not need any postage and that’s when I wrote letters to anyone and everyone, whose postal address I had. Some addresses were wrong and was dutifully returned by the Postal Department.

From our base, one could see the road winding down from the pass and the convoy used to take about two hours to reach the base camp. The convoy was always lead by the mail vehicle, could be that the driver was very experienced with the curves and dangers of the route, or could be that everyone wanted the mail to be the first to reach the base camp. Memories linger of our Soldiers and Officers literally “tracking” the convoy with an expectant gaze, until the convoy reached the base camp. Our Dispatch Rider who used to collect the Dispatches (letters), would be waiting outside the Field Post Office (FPO). Once the Dispatch Rider returned to the post and distributed the letters, the expressions of those who did and did not receive any “Dispatches” can well be guessed. The next half hour was an undeclared “Private” time for everyone. Mood of each Soldier who received their “Dispatches” would depend on the content of each “Dispatch”. This mood continued to be hidden under their smiles sometimes until he received his next “Dispatch”; sometimes until he went home on leave, sometimes for months to come. During the snow covered winter months (we used to get 10 to 15 feet of standing snow and the roads were closed), the truck was replaced by a helicopter which used to come once or twice a week carrying the same “Dispatches”. Rest of the story remained the same but for the difference that the “tracking” period reduced drastically to less than five minutes.

The art of letter writing may be dead and buried and with it the writing skills of our young generation. Many cannot sit and write a page, with logical thoughts and cannot describe on paper a situation, an event or an experience. Leave alone spelling and grammatical mistakes, even the main idea does not reach the target person. With this reluctance to write, many do not maintain any journals or diaries. Letters, journals and diaries are one of best and cost effective method to develop creative writing skills and you will feel the same sense of achievement what I felt when I wrote those letters at the age of nine.

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