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September 17, 2014 - Martin Baker - martinbaker.fr

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I am often asked by my English language students to spell check and grammar check their CV’s or job application letters.

It’s a task that I enjoy doing. For me, it represents a milestone in their language learning, in that they are now comfortable making a job application in English to a company with English as its working language. Very often there are a few errors, easily corrected and often as a result of the very idiomatic nature of the English language. I would hope that among us who speak English, as their first language, there is a degree of sympathy for these very hard working young men and women. The hardest part of this checking process is to advise and make the necessary corrections whilst being careful not to demotivate them in the process. So, before you say that you are sure that a prospective employer would make allowances for errors in these circumstances, let me tell you a little story. I received a sales pitch, from an English connection, via LinkedIn today. I can’t remember what it was about but I can recall that in the middle of it there was a very obvious spelling mistake. Maybe it was a typo, maybe it wasn’t. Either way, I forgot the message and just involuntarily focused upon the error. Later on, in a moment of inactivity, I Googled the offending word and found 23,000 entries. I also checked to see if it was a genuine word in a foreign language – no it isn’t – and has anyone thought it appropriate to use it as a trade or product name – no they haven’t. It is therefore be definition, a common mistake. This raises a question: If you have invested a lot of time and/or money into developing a message to raise your profile or that of your business, they why would you wish to completely undermine that effort with common spelling mistakes? I am, or rather was, renowned, among my friends, as being pretty hopeless at spelling. I now really make an effort to get it right. Having someone review your efforts, ignoring the content and just picking out the ridiculous spelling errors was, for me, about as demotivating as it could get. Please don’t get me wrong; I am not some dictionary-thumping evangelist, in fact, quite the opposite. Generally, I am quite happy to scrawl away in my own version of shorthand, like some deranged family doctor writing a prescription, writing indecipherable text. I generally don’t worry if it is their or their or even there, inappropriately putting bullet points wherever I want and having sentences of over 200 words in length. You however, will never get to see that from me because, when it comes to writing text that could potentially be seen by millions, I want it to go viral because of the message not because of my spilling mistookkes. If you want everybody to completely ignore your message then please carry on making lackadaisical spelling mistakes and paying no attention to your grammar. Incidentally, the word lackadaisical from the last paragraph necessitated me looking it up on Google, as my first effort at spelling was so far off that the spell checker wouldn’t pick it up. It is however, a very important word, it means without interest, vigour, or determination or someone or thing that is listless or lethargic. Is that how you want to come across to your clients? Would you employ someone, listen to someone or like to be stuck in the lift with someone who is has no interest, vigor, or determination or who is listless or lethargic. I wouldn’t. There is a time and place for abbreviations, text speak and phonetic writing but not on your CV, in a sales pitch or in anything that others will see and associate as an example of your work. The English language is an infuriatingly complex beast with more exceptions than rules. However, if a student learning the language can take the time and effort to get in right then, is it asking too much for your readers, customers or potential employers to expect the same pride in English from those of us lucky enough to have it as our mother tongue. I think it was Oscar Wilde who wrote, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression”. I wonder if it would be such a well remembered and often quoted piece of sage advice if he had written, “Yu never gat a secund chanc too make a fust impresion” – Oscar who?