The writing of English
The author starts with the assumption of the English boy's " scandalous incapacity " to write clear English. He maintains that, unlike the French boy, the English hoy is not taught to write, and tries to show how this defect may be remedied. A vigorous indictment of present-day secondary education.
In the first edition of this book, I omitted to point out the part played by the teachers of other subjects in the teaching of French in French schools. I am indebted to M. Emile Hovelaque, for drawing my attention to the oversight. The facts now recorded on p. 43, had indeed struck me repeatedly during my visits to French schools; and the paragraph inserted may go some way to meet certain criticisms by Professor H. E. Armstrong contained in a detailed review in School for January 1908. With the rest of Professor Armstrong's criticisms, in so far as they concern matters of principle, I hope to deal elsewhere. One or two critics have charged me with treating the uses of translation ' with contempt '. It was not my intention.
But the facts set forth in Chapter I prove sufficiently that translation fails to achieve the results claimed for the method by its extreme advocates. Narrowly viewed, it conceals, for many teachers, the whole question of composition, as a pebble held close to the eye may conceal a house. Yet we have begun to realize in our schools that it is impossible to learn to write a letter in the natural style of a Frenchman by merely translating English letters into French, and it is not too much to hope that the English teacher may come to apply this experience to his mother tongue.
Thought puts on the different garments in accordance with the language in which we speak or write to produce the same effect on our listeners we actually say different things, and the art of free and natural expression in a language can only be acquired by using the language freely and naturally, and apart from the inevitable constraint of translation. It is a commonplace truth that most translators fail, not because they do not understand the foreign language, but because they have too poor a mastery of their own. The schoolboy ' essay ' has found its defenders.
In my view, the very form and ease of the essay by a Steele or a Johnson, a Hazlitt or a Lamb, imply knowledge of life, and authority to which the schoolboy cannot pretend. Admirable as literature, as models for schoolboy imitation such essays are useless and worse than useless. It is a matter of common experience that the youth trained in * essay-writing ' after our traditional fashion not only quotes his facts without acknowledgement or criticism of their sources but too often loses all sense of lutein and men in matters of opinion. It is a facility of style that becomes his chief aim; and since he writes on subjects beyond his powers, he is led almost inevitably, in spite even of the precept of his teacher, to value ease above honesty.
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