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Badly written English is more than embarrassing


An interesting piece in the Times this week reported that “The written English of British undergraduates is significantly worse than that of overseas students – they make 52.2 punctuation, grammatical and spelling errors per page on average, whereas international students make just 18.8.” How frightening is that? People who do not know how to write their own language? And, through my work helping people to write clearly and concisely, I know it is true. I see so many examples of poor business writing when I go into organisations. Most are of these errors are caused by poor teaching at school. I feel so sorry for students who were taught English at a time when it was fashionable to encourage creative writing and not worry about sentence structure. They were often taught too by teachers who themselves had no real understanding of English Grammar or who were poor at spelling and seemingly not worried by it. I was recently asked to run a business writing session for a group of Japanese business people who were concerned their written English was not as good as it could be. However it was soon obvious that there was nothing wrong with their English. The fault lay with their English managers who were not aware of correct grammar or punctuation. The overseas business people were being given faulty advice on when to use apostrophes, when to use singular or plural endings and how to identify the object and the subject in a sentence. Grammar and punctuation are not difficult to learn as an adult. And when you can use English well you can be sure your message is being understood by your customers. Quicklearn specialises in teaching Business Writing skills. Workshops include using Emails effectively, writing well structured Reports which people want to read and making sure Minutes from meetings are a true reflection of what was discussed.

9 Responses

  1. Punctuation

    Thanks for a very interesting article. Editing your business writing is also important. Your article started with poor punctuation – the Times is a proper name and should start with a capital letter!

  2. EFL

    Working in EFL training this is of course something close to my heart.

    We normally receive about 4 or 5 CVs every day applying for a position as an EFL trainer, and the range of competence in using English is astounding – for those applying to teach English.

    The major culprit I believe in terms of business writing is not lack of ability however, but using the right level of formality and forgetting to proof-read; in other words, language sloppiness.

    I have seen cover ’emails’ (cover letters seem to be going the way of the fax) with a complete lack of capitalisation and sometimes even lacking punctuation and using txt-speak – on one memorable occasion I truly wasn’t able to make out what she (a recent graduate in English) was actually trying to say.

    It has almost become a mark of pride that we’re far too busy to proof-read or edit our 

    Alex Taylor

  3. Well spotted typo

    — Charlotte Mannion

    Thanks for your comment Helen. It’s a good point.  I always tell my students to try and get someone else to ‘proof’ their work before they send it out.  I should listen and act on my own wise words!

  4. Indikayshun of Kompetens, innit
    I often get laughed by my wife for being a bit anal about grammar and punctuation. I get this trait from my father who is so pedantic about these things it hurts, but I truly believe it shows a degree of pride, quality and attention to detail that translates into the individual’s general work standards. I personally find it a real turn-off when I receive pieces of marketing with grammatical errors and typos, and get really annoyed with myself when I commit the same. That being said, there are times when grammar can be deliberately abused for impact – “To go boldly where no man has gone before” just doesn’t have the same impact as “To boldly go…”.

    I recently read a piece (also in the Times) about a retailer and their ‘offer’, which had a section at the end stating facts and figures about the company entitled “Retail is Detial”(sic). Now I’m not sure if this was an ironic statement or a genuine error, but I’m thinking the latter, which is really quite shocking considering the Times is supposed to be a bastion of correct and accurate English!

    On that note, was the last sentence in Alex’s EFL post also an ironic statement?

  5. Oops!

    You’ll be devastated to learn then, Owen, that there is a word missing from your opening sentence! 

    I am also a bit of a stickler for the old correct grammar usage although I never suggest that I am an expert by any means. I do often ask my 12-year-old niece to show me courtesy by writing in complete words and sentences when she contacts me on Facebook though, she duly obliges.

  6. 3voluti0n of tone and meaning

    Might I suggest that on future versions of computer keyboards the key for the letters E and O – letters which have so evidently become redundant in modern written language – be replaced by the emoticons 🙂 and 😉 .

    I feel that this would facilitate the modernisation of language and the communication of tone, and rectify the disgraceful lack of use of these emoticons by certain members of online communities, as was demonstrated in such a shocking manner by the undersigned.



    Hi Becky

    I had to read that first sentence about 10 times before I saw the missing ‘at’. And I thought I had thoroughly proof-read it…Tail firmly between legs, egg on face – oops indeed!


  8. I remember it well …


    When you and I were involved in setting a standard (should that have a capital ‘S’?) for an organisation some years ago now, one of my fondest memories of you is hearing you extol the virtues of correct English almost above what was, at that time, the point of the discussion.  That particular Standard has some of the best phrased competences (or should that be competencies?) in the whole (or should that be hole?) of the profession (or should that be Profession?).

    Keep at it gal!


  9. Picking up on pickyness

    — Charlotte Mannion

    Fancy being remembered as a pedantic old fossil  ….but I do so love the language and I want everyone to use it for clarity and conciseness.  It is wonderful when there is no ambiguity and everyone can understand the message

    Those were the days.  Thank you for the happy memories….

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