By Amy Sexton, Kaplan University Writing Center Tutor
One area where students often express having difficulties is using standard dialects like Standard American English. Students often tell me, “I have trouble writing because I write just like I talk.” I know where they are coming from. I grew up and currently live in a region where, like people from all over the world, I learned a nonstandard dialect and incorrect grammar. I used double negatives, incorrect verb forms, and the non-word “ain’t” regularly because that’s what I heard; it was the dialect used by most of the people I interacted with daily.
As a student, however, I prided myself on using correct grammar in my writing. I just did not realize that I also needed to use it more carefully in my spoken communication until I met Dr. Peake. Dr. Peake became my advisor and favorite professor when I transferred from a community college to a four year college. He was an amateur ornithologist who was only a couple years away from retirement, a self-proclaimed “card-carrying Protestant”, and a lover of literature. I greatly admired him. He also constantly corrected my spoken language. I would say “I’ve wrote”, and he would softly correct me, “I’ve written.” I would say, “ain’t”; he would smile and remind me, “Ain’t is not a word.” After one semester and two classes with Dr. Peake, I rarely made grammatical errors when I spoke to professors, other students, and colleagues.
Dr. Peake knew that, as a college student and an aspiring college professor, I needed to learn how to speak correctly. I had realized the need for error- free grammar in my written communication, but I had not completely made that switch in my spoken language. Once I recognized that need, it was easy for me to learn to use the same Standard American English in spoken communication as I had, by this time, learned to use in written communication. Our students can learn this, too. They can learn that we often speak colloquially, informally, and without proper grammar, and that, in academic and professional communications, we must switch to a standard dialect like Standard American English. We can direct them to resources that can help students learn what formal writing is and is not. We can also, like Dr. Peake did for me, offer gentle guidance and correction as they move from writing and speaking in a nonstandard dialect to using formal, academic discourse. What are some ways that you encourage and teach students to use a standard, academic dialect in their professional and academic communications?