By now I’m sure you’ve read the article Katy Waldman of Slate wrote about the surprisingly long list of words that Ivanka Trump doesn’t know. We’re not talking about knowing “your” or “you’re” or “lie” vs. “lay,” these are basic words like “birthday.”
The reason, if you think about it, is obvious. No one ever taught her English.
I want you to think about the process of learning to speak as two distinct concepts: when you learn to speak, and when you are taught to speak. Everyone learns how to speak as a baby. It just comes from being around people and being a functioning human being. Ivanka’s mother, Ivanna Trump, was born in what was then Czechoslovakia. Donald married Marla Maples, a model with a high school education, when Ivanka was 12. Ivanka was 25 by the time her father married Melania, so I think Melania had much influence on how Ivanka spoke English. My point is this: she learned her basic speech patterns from someone who spoke English as a second language, and a loudmouth from Queens.
But being taught English is kind of a separate matter. You go to school to be taught to speak, and sometimes it sticks, and sometimes you revert back to speaking the way you’ve learned rather than the way you’re taught. You learn enough to pass a few tests, and then talk the way your peers do, and no one says anything one way or another.
What I’ve learned, being a grammar pedant, is that there is a very small number of people who you can correct their grammar and it is socially acceptable. Unless you’re a teacher or perhaps “Weird Al” Yankovic, it pretty much is people in your family that are younger than you. I, being an asshole, am willing to correct the grammar of someone I meet if it’s a friend of a friend, but I’ll draw the line at someone I want to have a business relationship with.
My theory is that no one ever really stopped Ivanka and said, “no, that’s not right.” People have been either on her level or below it her entire life. Would you say to someone ,“um, actually, you can only have an anniversary once a year,” if it meant losing out on some big money contract?
So of course, the job falls to the people who do it best: assholes on the internet. Like me! We have nothing to lose by making fun of her. The sad part is, it doesn’t matter. It never did. Ivanka may not speak English properly, but she speaks better French and Czech than I do, because I don’t speak them at all. I don’t think it’s held her back. So, here, ultimately is the moral of the story, as far as we grammar snobs are concerned: If you want to be rich and famous, spend more time learning how to be rich and famous than learning good grammar. But just know that people on the internet are going to make fun of you for it.