06 November 2014

Did You Learn Your Written English Well While at School?

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This article is addressed to younger readers, particularly those still in school or fresh off it. If have not learned your written English well, you really should have because you will live to regret it. Your command of English does not have to be flawless grammatically; and neither do you have to be a walking dictionary.

All you need is to be able to communicate your ideas in a manner that can be understood with vocabulary that is appreciable across all levels of an organisation. You will most likely not be asked to write works of literature; so you really do not even have to be Shakespeare’s reincarnation.

What you need is to be accurate but concise; eloquent but not wordy. As mentioned, your grammar does not have to be flawless – although that is always an advantage – but what you need is to be able to present your thoughts in an organised manner.

Organising thoughts, if I can cite from my years managing an organisation, is where people often fail when they write. So you learned to write your sentences. Did you, however, learn to write your paragraphs? More importantly, have you learned how to organise your thoughts linearly – i.e. in correct sequence – ‘on the fly?’

Here are five good reasons why you should have paid attention more to your English teachers while in school.

You can be the most hard-working employee in your organisation. You can be the most expert in your field. At the end of the day, you will have to write your reports to let your higher-ups know about your or your working group’s accomplishments. If you cannot communicate these in a way that can not only be understood but also appreciated, then they will never know nor will they fully appreciate what you do.

All is good if you are content to stay where you are – and there is nothing wrong with that in many work circumstances – but if you have dreams of working yourself up the corporate ladder, then it is always an advantage if you have good command of the language. That is, unless you work in an organisation where Filipino is the preferred language. But then, the same will have to hold true; only that the expectation will be that you have good command of this language instead.

A former colleague once asked me to look at a letter that he was trying to compose, which had taken him the better part of an hour to write. It was so confusing that I did not even bother editing it. Instead, I took the gist of what he was trying to say and rewrote the entire letter in less than ten minutes. It is always best to get to the point; but to also be polite about it.

It is not only your own productivity that you will improve because obviously, you will be able to accomplish what others will take longer to do. You will also be considerate of the person who will read it. For instance, when I was in top management, I used to hate receiving these wordy highfalutin letters that took up so much of my time; especially when I had on my desk a pile of documents as tall as a man needing my attention.

It was, like, I would think to myself who taught this idiot how to write and why would he not get to the effing point? Sometimes, particularly on toxic days when the documents were coming in fast and furious, in annoyance I would even insert letters like these that I could not understand at the bottom of the pile.

Letter-writing is standard in any organisation regardless of what position you occupy. If your vocabulary is inadequate or even if you understand certain words incorrectly, then you can land yourself in trouble or even make enemies simply because your letter comes across differently from what you intend it to.

I used to know this very charming and friendly colleague who, however, wrote in a manner quite the opposite of what she was in person. That was why I was not surprised if she aggravated people with the tone of her letters.

Sometimes, it can be down to the choice of words. The use of adjectives, in particular, can be extremely subjective. That is why, in the organisation, it is always better to write to the point and do away with flowery descriptions which are not only unnecessary but can also be interpreted in ways you never intended them to be. In the organisation, sterile is frequently better than literary. Get to the point, be polite and keep it unemotional as much as you are able to!

Especially when you get into positions of management, every once in a while you will have to communicate with people under your jurisdiction by way of memoranda. I used to be particularly careful when writing policy memoranda. Policies are referred to repeatedly in operations; so it goes without saying that there can be no ambiguity in these as much as it is possible.

Every organisation has its share of deadwood – the unhappy, unproductive employees whose mission in life is to drag the entire organisation down to their level of misery. Ambiguous memoranda are fodder for these troublesome employees, as obviously they will interpret these to their advantage.

Especially when referring to monetary policies, writing has to be precise whilst staying concise. Addenda or errata can, of course, always be released to revise or correct previous memoranda. However, repeated follow up memoranda reflects badly on management.

Google Translate and other easily downloadable or online translation tools can come in handy if you are travelling abroad. However, for formal written English such as you will need for reports and other office communications, these can often come up with really quirky translations.

This is assuming that you can even frame your thoughts clearly in Filipino in the first place. And while as with computers, there is always bound to be a guru in the workplace to whom you can run, it will always still be an imposition on his or her time.

At the end of the day, because others in the workplace will have their own concerns to worry about, you will have to rely on nobody else but yourself. This is whey you will fully realise how useful it is that you stayed awake through your English lessons or regret that you slept through these.


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