It’s something of an understatement to say that the English language isn’t easy. Truthfully, it is bizarre. That’s not to say English isn’t wonderful in its complexity and richness; its ability to express nuance and constantly delight those who enjoy such things as word origins, strange spellings, and amusing homonyms and homophones. There’s no denying, however, that English is challenging and often frustrating, for native speakers non-native speakers alike. And when you throw writing “into the mix” (not literally, of course), it can be even more of a “drag” (though not physically).
English is so comically difficult to master that there are many, many comic poems about the language’s various oddities. They tend to circulate every few years, via email, bulletin board, or classroom. If you’re a writer, or an English teacher, or have one or more of those in your family, you’ve probably seen some of these, like this one, for instance:
The Funny English Language
We’ll begin with a box and the plural is boxes,
But the plural of ox should be oxen, not oxes.
The one fowl is a goose but two are called geese,
Yet the plural of moose should never be meese.
You may find a lone mouse or a whole set of mice,
Yet the plural of house is houses not hice.
If the plural of man is always called men,
Why shouldn’t the plural of pan be called pen?
…and it goes on from there.
There’s also this old chestnut:
Why English is So Hard to Learn
We must polish the Polish furniture.
He could lead if he would get the lead out.
The farm was used to produce produce.
The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.
The soldier decided to desert in the desert.
This was a good time to present the present.
A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.
When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.
I did not object to the object.
This one, too, is longer than this excerpt. Much longer, actually! It’s funny that while each poem takes on a different aspect of this oh-so-tricky language, both are affectionately commenting on the bewildering minefield that is communicating in English. Whether it’s pronunciation, spelling, or usage, English can be a real bear (and not the furry kind that eats steals picnic baskets).
Human speech is, in a lot of ways, instinctive. Studies have shown that babies as young as 8 months (and sometimes even younger) can recognize speech sounds from other types of noise. They can tell when it’s their mother speaking, or their father. They learn not just words, but phrases and expressions very quickly. But it can be years before we humans are able to read and write with accuracy, to say nothing of true mastery.
For some, writing—just like math, or sports, or most relevantly to this article, salesmanship—comes very easily. For others, it’s always a struggle to communicate via the written word. Speaking and writing are two very different skills that require vastly different approaches. Someone may be the best face-to-face salesman in the world—deft and intuitive when he or she is speaking to a prospective client—but put that same person in front of a keyboard and they may just stare at it for hours. And even when they finish writing, what they produce might be… not so great.
And that’s all right! Writing is difficult. We don’t (or at least we shouldn’t) expect everyone to be a great athlete, people person, chef, scientist, or engineer. So why do we expect everyone to be a great writer?
It takes a lot of work to put together a well-written, grammatically-correct piece of writing, that not only highlights the subject matter but also connects with its intended audience. When you’re a small business trying to get your name out into the world, you also need to present a compelling argument for why your audience should contact you/buy your product/use your service. There are a lot of aspects of good writing beyond proofreading for spelling, grammar, and punctuation. And when you’re writing specifically for the Web, you have to achieve all of that plus those tricky on-page SEO requirements.
In this blog, we’ve discussed how tricky it is for most everyone to write compelling, natural English prose. Next in our series, we’ll discuss some of the reasons why. Stay tuned!
by Molly T.