Learning English

Most of you must have noticed the writing and grammar suggestions your email composer or word processor offers when you start typing a mail. There is a myriad of English writing apps available—offering services such as grammar-check, spell-check, writing styles, and vocabulary and syntax suggestions.

Some may find them irritating, but many firmly believe that these apps would help them improve their English language skills and grammar. 

So the million-dollar question is — do these apps help, and if so, to what extent?

Experts say while they may help you detect typos and errors, or even offer alternatives and suggestions, you won’t get your English grammar and language right unless you are thorough with your Wren and Martin.

Learning a language doesn’t happen in one day; it’s a process. The more you read and write, the more refined your language skills will become, experts say.

But some feel some people may not be strong in the language and so there is nothing wrong if they use such a facility to correct their communication. All experts are, however, unanimous that over-dependence on these apps won’t do any good. 

Sajni Mukherji, a former Professor of English at Jadavpur University, finds such apps irritating.

“I am conservative and don’t believe in the efficacy of these apps, which without my asking correct my spellings as I send messages or write on the phone. It is usually wrong because they are assuming something and I want to say something completely different,” she says. 

Mukherji says the suggestions obstruct the flow of writing. “I think ‘O good Lord’, I didn’t say that, so why is it saying that? Frankly, I don’t like spelling or grammar checks by apps on a phone or computer. I prefer to do it myself.”

Some well-known apps are Grammarly, ProWritingAid, Linguix, Writer.com, Beewriter, Scribendi, WhiteSmoke, Sapling, Slick Write, Hemingway, etc.

Most are used for checking grammar and plagiarism. They offer writing styles, suggestions for grammar, vocabulary and syntax, thesaurus and run a readability analysis.

Mukherji, however, feels such apps could be useful for people who have a problem with writing in English or with spelling.

The best way to make sure one doesn’t make mistakes in grammar or spelling is to read a lot of good books, she said. 

“I have taught for so many years. When I found somebody making too many spelling mistakes, I would say to him/her ‘I want you to read one chapter of something very carefully, and I will ask you the spellings afterwards’.” 

Mukherji says if somebody corrects her grammar, she would want to know the reason. “And usually, it’s not the reason that convinces me. But I guess if people need it, they need it, that’s their requirement. I don’t want to say don’t use them at all. But I wouldn’t, and I won’t recommend them to people either,” Mukherji said.

How reliable are such apps? 

KV Sridhar (Pops), Global Chief Creative Officer, Nihilent Hypercollective at Nihilent Limited, feels it is okay to use them if they make your work faster. But when it comes to professional writing, one has to learn the language from the beginning.

“Technology provides you with clues to check grammar, spelling, etc. It is far more accepted today. The predictive nature of computer intelligence allows you to type even WhatsApp messages with a bit of prediction. Technology is helping people. But I am not talking about professional writers,” he said.

A lot of content today is written by a machine and so taking the help of technology is accepted now. “Earlier, if you didn’t know how to form a sentence, or a sentence was grammatically wrong, people used to curse you and correct it.” 

Today, if the grammar is wrong even in newspapers or in spoken English, people forgive, Sridhar says. 

“On Twitter, famous people write using autocorrect. Earlier, grammar Nazis used to spot mistakes. The old school people from, say, Hindu and The Statesman, who subscribed to the right language, used to get annoyed by celebrities not writing in the proper language. Later, they gave up because, in the ocean of words, which is moving fast, nobody can hold anything.”

All these apps help you do your job a little better and quicker, Sridhar explained. He thinks it’s far more advisable to run a grammar and spell check in a piece of content than going through it alphabet by alphabet as we are living in a LIVE world.

“You can call it laziness or incompetence. But it is agility, convenience and precision. If you set all your parameters right, it is fine for me. It is okay to take the help of technology to do anything better,” he says. 

But to learn the language and to frame sentences to express your ideas better; you have to learn it from the beginning, from school, he adds.

“If you are a professional writer, you should know the language well. Learn it properly, and then take the help of technology,” added Sridhar. 

Choice of words on the computer will be a little advanced, and appropriate words help you express your thoughts better or the personality of your writing style. “You just need to use it wisely and judiciously,” Sridhar says.

Sridhar says the human voice is coming in a big way and who knows tomorrow spoken English would be converted into proper English by the computer. 

Thoughts and ideas are far more important than the play of words, he says. “Running a grammar check before sending a mail in a split second is far more appreciative than not sending or sending it the next day,” he said.

Benita Sen, a journalist, editor, author and creative writing teacher, feels these are shortcuts. “If you want to learn the grammar, is there any shortcut to learning the rules and then using them? I doubt that. Unless you learn correct usage, you will be app-dependent for far longer than you need to be. I would say read books on grammar.”  

Don’t these suggestions hamper the spontaneity of a writer? “It would not hamper the flow of thoughts if you decide to write come what may, and put the completed piece through the checker,” Sen said.

If you are bound to use some app, do some research. “Do not trust any app blindly. If the app makes a suggestion, look up the context. Nuances may be lost if we leave all our writing to AI.” she added.

These artificial intelligence-based grammar-checking apps come in handy in finding missing articles or punctuations or errors, but one should never be over-dependent on them, feels Nilutpal Thakur, a senior journalist.

“These are not learning tools, they are reviewers based on algorithms. They may suggest alternative sentences and words that may have different, nuanced meanings,” Thakur added. 

Many experts explained that people who use these apps do not get to the bottom of why artificial intelligence suggested a change. They tend to blindly correct a sentence without understanding their mistake and forget about it the next moment. And this is not helpful because they are not learning from their mistakes.

So if you want to be a better writer in English, learn the language from the beginning and read more because no app can help you much, besides finding an error here or a typo there.  

Also Read: India’s mainstream entertainment scene & the rarely seen northeast faces

 The writer is an independent journalist and video content creator based in Delhi-NCR. Runs a YouTube channel Think Positive: Live Healthy. 

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