English - Making the Difference Between Good and Great
By Leo Notenboom
After a long professional career, it's not uncommon to look back and reflect on what you might have done differently.
It's also not uncommon to hear this: "I wish I would have paid more attention in English class."
The ability to write and communicate clearly is a skill that knows no boundaries. Particularly in our internet-connected age, the ability to express yourself well in writing is becoming a critical differentiator. If you can say what you mean clearly and professionally, and perhaps even be a little entertaining doing so, it can often turn out to be a key difference between being just "good" at your job and being great at it.
And that's true for any job.
Now, you may have some very bad memories of writing from school. That's not at all uncommon. What many people find later is that it's not the writing that they hated at all; it was being forced to write about things they had no interest in and knew nothing about.
You can probably relate: writing a report is the classic way to demonstrate your knowledge of a subject in school. But if you don't know or care about the subject matter then being forced to write about it makes the act of writing itself a painful ordeal.
It turns out that most people find that writing becomes much easier when they begin to write about things they know and care about. If you can get over that obstacle, honing your language skills and your ability to communicate clearly and effectively can begin.
And honing those abilities is key.
It's frightening the number of people who try to write but, to put it bluntly, simply can't. Spend some time browsing comment submissions or other content on the internet that's written by visitors, not writers. Perhaps you'll even see it in the email in your own inbox.
Poor writers seem to fall into two broad categories: folks for whom English is not their native language, and those who've grown up speaking English but don't have the skills to write or speak it properly.
Whatever the reason, both are at a severe disadvantage. It's probably not fair, and it may not be even be politically correct, but the practical reality is that speaking and writing English well matters. It matters a lot.
There was once a commercial for a vocabulary product that stated "People judge you by the words you use ...". Again, it may not be fair, but it's very, very true. You might be the smartest, most qualified and professional person on the planet, but if how you communicate sounds like a spoiled teenager that never finished high school, you can expect that's exactly how you'll be thought of and treated.
Take the time to learn to speak, write and communicate well. You'll find that it's a worthy investment in yourself and your future opportunities.
Read more about Leo Notenboom's personal experience looking back on his career at http://ask-leo.com/if_i_had_to_do_it_all_over_again.html With over 30 years of industry experience, including an 18 year career as a software engineer with Microsoft, Leo Notenboom now uses his passable English skills to give real answers to real questions from ordinary computer users at Ask Leo!