Do You Overcorrect Your Kids’ Spoken English?

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Note: This post is directed at moms and dads. If you are one of my many teenaged subscribers, I apologize, but I’m really not excluding you. Go ahead and read it — you just might get something out of it yourself.

What bugs you the most about the way your kids talk? Is it confusing pronoun case?

“Me and Erma are gonna go fishing.”

Using sound effects instead of words?

“It was all like kaboosh!”

The ubiquitous like?

“He’s, like, such a dweeb.”

Or maybe it all drives you crazy. And embarrasses you when your child speaks like this in public. Believe me, I understand. The pressure increases when you are an English teacher and president of an online writing company. People call me just to inform me of grammar sins committed by my children.

But how do you go about correcting their teenagerese? How often do you interrupt a monologue to inform them that Johnny played well, not good? I once devoted myself to eliminating like from my teenaged daughters’ vocabulary. My initial approach — sarcasm — got tiresome quickly (Is the singer only like great, or is she actually great?). Simply informing them that inserting┬álike into every sentence is not only irritating, but also makes them sound dopey had no noticeable effect. I finally resorted to the “silent tally technique” — counting likes by holding up a finger for each one uttered.

It was during this final, failed effort that I realized I was being a pain. More than that, I was being a jerk. I realized that I was paying more attention to how my kids were talking than to what they were talking about. And it was discouraging them from saying anything to me at all. I don’t want that. I don’t want my kids to sound dopey, but I really don’t want them to feel like their dad doesn’t listen to them.

I wish I could say I have arrived at the perfect balance — that I have discovered when to correct and when to just listen. I think we need to do both, but I’m still figuring it all out. I do, however, find myself making fists and biting my tongue more often when they talk to me. I am learning to relax about their verbal sloppiness. Truth is, I spoke like a dope when I was their age too. Kids tend to figure it out on their own eventually.

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About the Author

Brian WaskoBrian is the founder and president of WriteAtHome.com. One of his passions is to teach young people how to write better.View all posts by Brian Wasko

  1. Brian Wasko
    Brian Wasko06-24-2011

    I don’t understand what you disagree with, babybre. You don’t agree that there are times when it’s appropriate to listen without correcting? A benevolent grammar Nazi is a contradiction. I am not suggesting we cease correcting — only that we listen to our children.

  2. babybre
    babybre06-24-2011

    I disagree! Just as we model proper speech for our kids, we also model proper grammar-correcting behavior! We don’t interrupt rudely, but point out corrections when it’s appropriate to do so. (Hence, our kids do the same to us – when it’s appropriate to do so.) I wouldn’t let them routinely practice poor form in other areas. Why would I in their speech, something on which the world will judge them based on a first impression?

    Nothing makes a young adult (or a mature adult!) who was never stringently corrected as a child but allowed to merely follow the crowd sound more inane than the frequent improper use of the word “like”! And, conversely, because it is such a popular form of speech these days, not sounding like your typical dopey teenager makes kids stand out.

    I will continue to be (a benevolent) Grammar Nazi. Heil proper English grammar!

  3. Rachelle
    Rachelle06-24-2011

    I love this! My kids are younger, so we are not dealing with “like” and “um” so much as the baby talk, such as dropping verbs. “I hungry.” “Tori mean.” It drives me crazy and I am constantly reminding them “You are not babies, stop talking like that!” But I also struggling with when to cool it and finding that balance. Great thoughts!

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko06-24-2011

      It’s all about balance, isn’t it? Parenting’s a tightrope.

  4. Thorsten Wetzig
    Thorsten Wetzig06-24-2011

    Just 2 days ago my daughter (6 years) corrected me: It doesn’t call “catched”. It is “caught”. I did the same when I was younger. ­čÖé

  5. dani
    dani06-14-2011

    i used to tally every ‘um’ on the board during class. that worked with all but the class clowns… positive peer pressure, and they helped me by counting mine! i think they liked when i used ‘like’, it always seemed to help with translation:)

  6. Merri
    Merri06-14-2011

    You struck a wise balance here – and I’m listening. I too tend to overdo the correcting.
    Many thanks,
    Merri

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