Mind Your Language

I own a recruitment agency and come across several applications from supposedly promising Nigerian graduates who do not get far with me. I have a problem with people who do not write or speak well. I also have a problem with people who abbreviate every single word they type through text or email. Someone wants to write “How are you?” and it becomes “au a u?” If you count the letters in the correct version and the adulterated one, it is just a difference of five letters. Some abbreviations don’t even make sense at all. The worst are people trying to get your attention and cannot write or speak simple English. Language is everything. We do not carry our credentials with us every day of our lives, what we carry with us on a daily basis is our language, character and approach to issues. That is our education. So if you think an apostrophe was just designed to make our writings look nicer and has no real significance, you will not get my attention. If you think a semicolon is a regular colon with an identity crisis, I will not look at you or give you much of my time. If you scatter commas into a sentence, you might make it close enough to me but I will definitely shoot you off eventually. Some might call my approach to grammar extreme; I am certainly a grammar stickler and have a zero tolerance approach to grammar mistakes especially the ones that make people look unqualified, mediocre and downright stupid. While I realise that English is not our first language, it is mostly our unifying language and needful in our professional lives in Nigeria. As Muslims, we should understand our local language, Arabic and English. What I see are people that are not grounded in any of these three languages. If you cannot be excellent in all, at least be in one and it better be an international language spoken in every corner of the world – English. I am no English woman, I am no journalist, I do not work with any media organisation, and I am not from a privileged background. I still work on my language every day. I am not saying we should speak with a British or American accent or even fake it; people certainly sense when you fake and it becomes like an assault on sensibilities. I have a proper Nigerian accent which I am most proud of. The message is just to get a basic human trait right – communication. Good communication helps us professionally, in our relationships and in life as a whole. Everyone who applies for a position through my company takes a mandatory grammar test. If job hopefuls can’t distinguish between “to and too”, “of and off” or “been and being”, we thrash their applications immediately. Grammar is relevant for all companies. Language is constantly evolving, but that doesn’t make grammar unimportant. Good grammar is credibility, especially in this digital age, in blog posts, on Facebook statuses, in e-mails, and on company websites, your words are all you have. They are a projection of you in your physical absence. And, for better or worse, people judge you if you can’t tell the difference between their, there, and they’re. On the face of it, my zero tolerance approach to grammar errors might seem a little unfair. After all, grammar has nothing to do with job performance, or creativity, intelligence and hard work, right? I’ve found that people who make fewer mistakes on a grammar test also make fewer mistakes when they are doing something completely unrelated to writing. In the same vein, graduates who pay attention to how they construct written language also tend to pay a lot more attention to how they operate in the real world. They are usually meticulous and methodical in their approach to issues or problems. And just like good writing and good grammar, when it comes to work, the devil’s in the details. And when it comes to today’s businesses, details are everything. I hire people who care about those details. Applicants who think writing is unimportant are likely to think lots of other things are unimportant too. That’s why I grammar test people who walk in the door looking for a job. Grammar is my litmus test. When next you are making that application, or a proposal or a pitch to someone or a company, please check that your communication is convincing on all levels. I wish you Allah’s guidance always. UmmAsiyah is an Abuja based HR Practitioner, a teacher, lazy poet, wife and mum.

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