Speaking and Writing

Once upon a time I walked into a convenience store in KL looking to buy a few midnight snacks. There was a young woman working at the time. I don’t remember exactly what I was looking for but, I do remember asking the young woman if some particular item was for sale in that store. She stared at me like an animal trying to figure out if it should fight or flee. So, I asked a second time with no change. After one of the longest staring contests I’ve ever had the displeasure of being involved in she finally uttered out the word “cannot”.  My American mind had to process this.

After a few seconds of processing what she meant, I realized she meant it is not available. At that very moment I saw what I wanted on the shelf behind her. I pointed out the item and told her that’s what I want. She repeated cannot. I started to wonder if there was something wrong with her or me. I left the convenience store one item short. I was later told the girl does, in fact, speak English, but was nervous she would embarrass herself with a native speaker.

Now, there have been many times where I have embarrassed myself speaking English. And, English is my native tongue! I’ve heard many mistakes made by native speakers when speaking. I’ve heard many more by non-native speakers around the world. These mistakes in speaking don’t matter much in the long run. The point is that we try and we eventually get our point across. It might not be perfect but, it is communication. Speaking a language, especially a worldwide evolving language like English doesn’t need to be perfect as long as we are able to communicate our ideas and thoughts.

On the other hand, it is very important to be very clear while writing. Many times words can very easily be taken out of context while reading, even if what is written has followed every rule and standard. That makes it so important to get the written language correct. Especially when so many words in English can have multiple meanings or words that sound the same when spoken can look very different from each other on paper. My favorite mistakes are ones when commas are left out, changing the entire meaning of the sentence. There is a difference between “time to eat grandma” and “time to eat, grandma”.

This is why it is important to check and recheck your written work. It is even better to have at least one extra set of eyes to look over a document for any mistakes or inconsistencies before handing it for final print, whether it’s academic or professional.

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