Communication Faux Pas – Pardon My Language (Errors)


Kids today simply can’t spell.  They do so much text messaging and shortcut writing on their phones (their primary means of communication) that many graduate from high school and even college without a grasp of basic grammar.  And spelling, when it is required, is heavily dependent on spell check programs.  The problem with spell check is that you need a basic idea of how the word is spelled in the first place to get the program to work.  We are raising a handicapped generation who are missing a key part of communication.

How well spoken you are, the length and breadth of your vocabulary communicates volumes about your intelligence, your education, your background.  Every time you open your mouth to speak, the words that you choose to use are an open audio record of your accomplishment and credibility.  Choose your words wisely because they can be a great help or can do you great harm. 

I was listening to a fairly credible speaker give a presentation.  Behind her was an easel with a large pad of paper.   When she turned to write a list, she made a noticeable (in my mind) but unacknowledged spelling error.  Upon seeing that, and then realizing that she did not even recognize that it was an error made me instantly lose credibility in what she was saying and for her as a speaker.  My mind immediately shut down to the rest of the presentation and I, perhaps unfairly, dropped her intelligence down several notches in my estimation.  This happens all the time; consciously or unconsciously the error costs the person erring in lost  credibility.

I received an email the other day from an intelligent accountant I have known for a number of years.  It read in part: The board will meet on Wednesday, the 7th (instead of Monday) in order to accomdate our… We’ll meet at UNE Bleweyy [misspelled] Hall from 5:00 until  6;15 when… and I counted 3 errors – 2 typos and 1 punctuation error, the last a missed shift key resulting in a “;” instead of a “:”.  So what do I think?  Well, I know she knows better and I know she’s not stupid, so I chalk it up to going too fast, being sloppy and a healthy dose of “good enough, I really don’t care”.  While unfortunate, it’s certainly not a deal breaker.  But definitely her branding (the emotion people feel when they think of you is your personal brand) is bruised by this at some level.  And if it is repeated, as it likely will be, it will continue to slide.

English is a composite language, since America developed as a melting pot.  Our language has roots in many other languages, which makes it full of odd spellings, variations on spelling the same word (grey and gray,  potato and potatoe, etc) and many rules with many more exceptions to the rules.  It’s a hard language to learn for a non-native due to the many idioms and variety of nuances that give the spoken word multiple meanings.  Tone is critical to meaning.  And when words are written instead of spoken, tone is still there, only the tone, not always accurately, is inferred by the reader. 

Our language is not only a major channel of communication, it structures our thinking.  We can only think in concepts that our language gives us.  How can it be otherwise, to think of thoughts that we can’t structure without the words to express them?  A wise teacher once told me that the primary reason to learn another language fluently is not necessarily to use it, but to have it as a tool to step into, to view our language from another vantage point.  Without another way to view our language, we can’t see what we’re missing.   We are limited in our thought processes by our native language – we need to move outside our language to expand our thinking.

My grandmother-in-law was bi-lingual.  She would often not have the English word to express herself accurately and would then revert to her native tongue to get her point across.  English is limited, lacking much that other languages have words to convey.  Language lessons anyone?

COMMUNICATION TAKEAWAY:  Words help us to digest information.  Words can take away and give power.  Words structure our very thinking – as the only tool we have to make our thoughts into memorable pictures and sounds.  Without our language, without a good working vocabulary we are indeed limited.

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