Wednesday, August 15, 2012

"Why Can't The English Teach Their Children How To Speak?"


Ah, the eternal lament of Professor Higgins.  (As played by Rex Harrison in the movie "My Fair Lady" and innumerable actors on the stage in both "My Fair Lady" and "Pymaglion", the predecessor of "My Fair Lady.")  While attending a Webinar by a very major Analytic Vendor this morning (even now in fact) I was struck by the fact that so many college graduates in the field of sales and marketing, native-speaking Americans who should know better, continually end sentences with the infinitive form of the verb "to be."  Infinitely disgraceful. Terrible.  Horrible!

I suppose that this behavior could be forgiven if the speakers were but callow youth, fresh from their collegiate activities where they had been shanghaied from some technical activity, such as engineering, where public speaking is not a normal pursuit, into marketing or business because of their aforementioned indiscretions and possible habitual-absenteeism from their classes.  But that is not the case.  These speakers, ladies and gentlemen, occupy advanced positions of Vice President or Senior Management with years of experience.  These are those who should have attended many classes on public speaking and business communications.  These are those who, above all, should know better than anyone else the importance of proper public speaking.  These are those who should be teaching others the proper methods of public speaking.  And what do I hear?  Nothig but:

And, ahm, ahm,
And this gets you, ahm,
Allow me to, aahhuh
And, uh, and, uhhh
And, finally, ahmm,  from, a, ahmm,  best practices standpoint, ahm, ahm..

Really!  That was, almost, a back-to-back, verbatim, transcript of what is being said at this time.  And, to make matters worse, it is the reporters, both local and national (yes, NBC and its local affiliate here in Dallas, Texas) that is the most egregious perpetrator of all.  I'm sure that the other stations are equally guilty but I don't follow them as faithfully as I do NBC news.  Constantly they end sentences with "... this is where we're at."  This is where we are AT?  It is quite sufficient to say, "This is where we ARE."  The "at" is quite superfluous.  Listen to your office mates from now on and you will hear the same thing now that you are attuned to hear this thing.

In the Southern United States, "can't" quite often rhymes with "paint" and folks say "git" rather than "get".  Unfortunately, the "git" thing is quite common around the English-speaking world, not just the USA.  Another Southern thing is, "I'm fixing to go to the store.  Do you want something there?" Or some other thing.  Never, "I'm going to the store." But, "I'm fixing to go to the store."  What do you need to fix to go the store?  Don't know but we're always fixing to go or fixing to do something to do something else.  It's a Southern thing...  Also, I understand that "ain't" is now in the American Standard Dictionary and has even made inroads into the English Standard Dictionary.  Sad, but true.

Once, not so long ago, I spent quite a bit of time in England on a couple of occasions.  The first time that I was there I determined to adopt a truly English accent to impress my friends back home.  Unfortunately, on the third floor at Lloyds Bank where worked there were at least 15 different accents of the English language:  Cornish, Northern English (Yorkshire, etc), West Midlands, East Midlands, Essex (now that one is almost incomprehensible), Welsh, Cardiff, South Wales, Irish of all kinds (Dublin, Ulster, Connacht, Leinster, Munster), Scot, Highland-Scot, Cockney, Posh (what most consider the "true English accent"), Queens (what the Queen herself speaks), East End (not to be confused with Cockney) - and that's just SOME of the UK part. Then you have the rest of the British Empire: South Africa, Canada, Trinidad, Zimbabwe, Hong Kong, The Congo, North Africa etc.

Now, if we throw in the USA from back home we would have had Brooklyn, NYC, Chicago, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, West Virginia, Southern Virginia, Northern Virginia, California, Atlanta, the rest of Georgia, New Orleans, the rest of Southern Louisiana, Northern Louisiana, North Texas, West Texas, East Texas, South Texas, Arkansas, Alabama, East Tennessee, West Tennessee, Mississippi, etc. Yes, almost every state, and sometimes parts of a state, has its own accent in the USA.  Nope!  I decided that my accent was quite good enough and that my version of English was spoken better than most of those around me, even with the decidedly Texas Twang that marked me as an American Traveler.

So, for those of you who might be self-conscious about your own accent when visiting the British Isles these days, don't be.  Or, when speaking in public anywhere, be proud of your own heritage.  But!  And this is important, regardless of your regional accent, your English must be spoken correctly and you must strive to make yourself understood by your audience.  Never use "dese" for "these" or "dem" for "them" nor "po" for "poor."  Poorly spoken English, especially with an overly-broad accent that cannot be understood by your audience, is never appreciated.  Just remember these few main points about the English language itself:
  • A sentence never ends with a preposition
  • A sentence never ends with a verb and especially not with the infinitive form of the verb "to be".
  • Never split an infinitive form of the verb "to be" such as "he will gladly be presented..."
  • Always use the adverb form of an adjective when modifying a verb
When speaking, remember these few points that follow.  Practice them in front of a mirror, with your spouse or with your partner, or with a really good friend or business associate.  
  • Can't never rhymes with paint.  
  • Git should never be used for get.  
  • Completely remove the aaahhh's and the uuuhhh's from your speech patterns.
  • NEVER rush through your presentation.
  • NEVER insert long pauses for effect. (There should be an effective balance)
  • Maintain eye contact with your audience
  • Keep your hands below your face at all times
  • Never let them (the audience) see you sweat
If you remember those few caveats, you probably will go far in the world of public speaking.  Forget them, and, well, most folks won't notice.  Probably, your boss won't even notice.  But I will notice.  And others like me, the smart-alecky know-it-alls, in the audience will notice.  But, we won't say anything to you because we won't wish to embarrass you.  So, to keep us all from that problem, please work on your English and work on your presentations.  From those of us in the audience, thanks.  :-)