Good English language skills seem to be a pre-requisite everywhere. And why should it not be? English is after all an international language (and the only one) understood across continents. Even non-English speaking countries have realized the importance of English for faster integration with the global economy. We find thousands of English coaching institutes, mushrooming in every nook and corner, promising impeccable English language skills in a jiffy. All major management entrance examinations test the candidates’ ability in various applications of the English language.
People claim to have excellent English language abilities in their resumes. But they fumble when asked to draft a simple business letter. Even top managers, drawing huge pay packets, in leading business conglomerates write shabby English. So where exactly are people going wrong in their approach to better abilities in English?
The English Myth
1. English can be improved in 30 days: Learning is an ongoing process. There is nothing called 100% perfection. However, reaching a certain level of proficiency does take years. Books and coaching classes offering “guarantees” are just filling their coffers.
2. Learn a word list of 3000 words by heart and English is mastered! Learning 3000 words by rote may not be of much use unless you know how to place them in your everyday usage. For example: “Kill” can be used both as a noun as well as a verb.
3. English improves by speaking daily: Unless you improve/correct your fundamentals, you will be repeating the same mistakes daily. Speaking daily may only build your confidence and nothing more.
4. If vocabulary is strong, grammar comes automatically: If you know to change gears in a car, does it imply that you will automatically learn to use the steering wheel? Wrong. Similarly, building one’s vocabulary and learning grammar require a complemented approach.
5. Vocabulary is more important than grammar: In a car, is the brake more important than the clutch? A grammatically correct statement requires knowledge of both vocabulary and grammar.
6. Spoken & Written English is different: Although, there are various schools of thought on this issue, English in both forms should be same. However, while speaking there is some amount of flexibility considering the redundancy of punctuation?
7. Using powerful words indicates fluency in English language: Using the right words at the right time is more important rather than using powerful words. Moreover, using strong words in an incorrectly framed sentence does more harm than good. Also, as a principle it is imperative that message is understood by the receiver.
8. Vocabulary should be learnt before grammar: Do you learn to use the accelerator pedal first and then the brakes? Both need to be learnt simultaneously. Similarly, vocabulary and grammar go hand in hand.
9. English is not our national/official language: According to Section 3 of the Official Languages Act 1963 (amended 1967); blanket permission unlimited in point of time has been granted for the use of English.
10. Intra Office Communication by emails etc need not be well drafted: This reason is rooted from childhood days, where children assure their parents good results in the final examination while failing in all class tests. Good writing must become a habit rather than an exception. Use of SMS lingo must be strictly avoided.
11. Perfect English is for Fiction Writers and not for Corporate Employees: As the old adage goes, “The pen is mightier than the sword”, a well drafted business letter/report/resume can get your points across more easily as compared to the inferior ones. A well crafted resume may be picked up vis-à-vis a shabby resume (even though the latter may be better qualified).
It is essential to understand that there is a definite structure to master this language. Also, mastery does not come in 30 days (as some books claim).
The Coaching Class Myth
Ever seen the study material provided by most of the English coaching classes? You will find vocabulary lists, lists of plurals, lists of genders, lists of noun/adjective/adverb forms, some introduction to basic grammar followed by loads of exercises.
Their modus operandi is fairly simple. Put a few fancy words into people’s mouths and make money. This is nothing but cosmetic English.
Basic Anatomy of English
Grammar is the heart of any language, with the vocabulary built around it. The set of rules used to place the appropriate words in a grammatically correct statement is termed syntax. Grammar can be classified into two types: Prescriptive Grammar and Descriptive Grammar. Prescriptive grammar provides rules for correct usage whereas Descriptive grammar describes how a language is actually used.
Words are divided into different classes based on the role that they perform. Broadly, words are divided into 8 parts of speech: namely noun, pronoun, verb, adverb, adjective, preposition, conjunction and interjection.
The parts of speech concept is supposed to be the backbone of grammar. The usage varies depending on time, gender, quantity, quality, mood and circumstance. The above only gives an introduction to English language and achieving perfection requires study in detail.
Placing words at the right place in a sentence gives a logical meaning to any sentence. Moreover, the correct grammatical form of the word should be used in the appropriate place in the sentence. For example: “I shall drive to Pune tomorrow” uses the word ‘drive’ in the verb form whereas the sentence “Let us go for a long drive” uses it in the noun form. Using the right spelling at the right place is also essential. The spelling per se may be right but the usage in that particular statement may be incorrect.
Some people mistake English with smooth talk, usage of accents and slang words. English is not about using international accents or slang words. Also, scoring 85% in a descriptive English language paper does not signify a great intellectual ability in English. The ability to comprehend, interpret and explain goes beyond the scope of any rote learning activity!!